Ratigan to graduates: 'Lead us into the renaissance'

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Talk show host Dylan Ratigan ’94 returned to campus Sunday with an upbeat and energizing message for graduates nervous about leaving college to face the harsh realities of a world markedly different from the one when they entered Union.

graduation Dylan

Dylan Ratigan '94

“I sat where you are 18 years ago to the day and told myself I am going to find out what in the hell is going on out there in the world,” Ratigan told the 530 students in the Class of 2012 who received their degrees during Union’s 218th Commencement on Hull Plaza.

“Well, I’ve returned to report back what I’ve learned, because I know it’s looking a little scary right now from where you're sitting. Despite what you may have heard on the news, it’s all going to be fine. In fact, a cultural renaissance of creativity, quality, adaptability, sustainability and tolerance is just beyond our reach. And I’m sure we are going to get there.”

Ratigan, the opinionated host of his own popular daytime talk show on MSNBC and the author of the recent New York Times bestseller, Greedy Bastards: How We Can Stop Corporate Communists, Banksters, and Other Vampires from Sucking America Dry, said this class is poised to lead this renaissance “through a new culture of ruthlessness and compassion.”

He cited examples of people from diverse backgrounds who are thriving because they share a single mission of turning “fearful and unsustainable cultures into a joyful sustainable culture.”

“What the music entrepreneur, Marine sergeant, doctor and criminal justice professor all have in common is their culture,” Ratigan said. “It’s a mission-first, leave-no-man behind culture. They are awake and asking questions. We need you to join this culture, to help lead us into the renaissance through your collective collaboration, innovation, experiments and excitement.”

He challenged the class to “throw out the rulebook and dive head first” into their individual pursuits, despite a gloomy outlook.

“It doesn’t matter if you’re an environmentalist or a history buff, a political science major or a law student - a musician, an author, a thespian or an animator. Don’t worry about the negative headlines or the unemployment numbers. You will see, as I have, that there is a burgeoning culture that has been awakened from a general malaise. People are occupying, studying, researching, investigating, challenging and resolving new maps for their future.”

Ratigan, who grew up in Saranac Lake, N.Y, and graduated from Union with a bachelor of arts in political science, received an honorary doctor of humane letters.

For the full text of Ratigan’s remarks, click here.

The College also awarded an honorary doctor of laws degree to G. Bingham Powell, Jr., president of the American Political Science Association. Powell, the Marie C. and Joseph C. Wilson Professor of Political Science at the University of Rochester, was nominated by Cliff Brown, professor of political science at Union.

In his charge to the graduates, President Stephen C. Ainlay cited a number of academic, athletic and community accomplishments achieved by the class, from the first group of student interns sent to IBM global research centers to the top honors for all colleges and universities in per capita recycling, to the men’s hockey team’s first-ever ECAC championship and subsequent appearance in the NCAA’s Frozen Four in Tampa, hockey’s version of March Madness.

He urged the class to adopt as its motto the response given by Hockey Coach Rick Bennett when asked by reporters if he thought the College had a chance to win the national championship, “Why not Union?”

“I loved his response; it showed a certain confidence but it also said something about not being intimidated by the scale of the undertaking,” Ainlay told the graduates in asking them to shorten Bennett’s words in characteristic Union fashion to “Why not U?”

“As you enter your new communities, take responsibility for meeting the seemingly insurmountable challenges you will encounter with similar confidence,” he said. “When you encounter injustice in your communities and wonder who will address it, imagine your alma mater asking: “Why not U?” When you encounter political inertia and wonder who will break the logjam and bring about change, again, imagine old Union asking: “Why not U?” When you confront failures of technology, organization and wonder who will develop new innovations, reform the organization, and create a will to persevere, ask yourself “Why not U?” Don’t look to the next person or the next generation. Take responsibility.”

In his baccalaureate remarks on Saturday, Ainlay called on graduates to remember the moments when "somebody kicked open the doors to your mind," much the way Bob Dylan's "Like a Rolling Stone" did for him and many others, including Bruce Springsteen and Steve Jobs.

For text of Ainlay's baccalaureate remarks Saturday, click here.

Student speaker Tri Trang of Worcester, Mass., urged his classmates to harness what they have learned at Union as they move on.

“The world awaits us. Change awaits,” said Trang, a biology and economics major in the Leadership in Medicine program. “The world is riddled with unpredictable obstacles but we enter it with the skills necessary to face the surprises brought on by change and more importantly, the skills to surprise the world with what we’re able to change. Change cannot be predicted but I can guarantee you this, we are ready for change and change had better be ready for us.”

For the full text of Trang’s remarks, click here.

Class valedictorian was Mark Chaskes, a biology and economics major in the Leadership in Medicine program from Williamsville, N.Y. The salutatorian was Erin Delman, a geology and Latin American studies major from Rolling Hills, Calif.

Click here to learn more about their accomplishments.

For a list of the Class of 2012, click here.

For a list of previous Commencement speakers, click here.