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President Stephen C. Ainlay's charge to graduates

I want to thank our honorary degree recipients – Dr. Lewis and Dr. Tabin – for being with us today.  Your presence has indeed connected us to history and to discovery.  We are proud to count you as members of our Union community.

I also want to recognize Congressman Paul Tonko who joins our stage party today.  Congressman Tonko has done so much for our city and region and has been a good friend to Union College.  Your very presence today honors Union and the Class of 2013.  Thank you.

I would call your attention to the list of prize recipients, printed in the back pages of the Commencement Program.  They received their awards at Prize Day but I would ask you to join me in recognizing them today with your applause.

Would all of you join me in thanking the members of the Union faculty who have shared their love of learning with you these past four years and especially those who are retiring: Ruth Stephenson from the English Department and Robert Wells from the History Department.

We need to also thank Professor William Finlay, our Marshall, the members of the Commencement Committee as well as the entire Union staff for making this day so special.  Many hands have readied our campus and prepared for this day of celebration.  Please join me in thanking all of them with your applause.

I’d also like to thank Stacie Schwartz (’13), U-Sustain, and the Commencement Committee for implementing a change in our hydration strategy for the Class of ’13.  You will note that you enjoy boxed instead of plastic bottled water today.  These boxes are made largely from renewable resources and have much lower CO2 emissions that their plastic counterparts.  Please join me in thanking them for helping us advance our institutional commitment to making more sustainable choices.

Members of the Class of 2013, you have many to thank for helping you reach this day.  In particular, you owe a debt of gratitude to family and friends who sustained your with their love and support.  I would invite you all to stand, turn to face your family and friends who are in attendance today, and join me in thanking them with applause.

I invite all of you – graduates, friends, family members, faculty, staff, and administrators – to join the divisional receptions immediately following this ceremony.  Before we take our leave, however, I’d ask you to be seated for just a few more minutes and allow me to say a few words to the members of the Class of 2013. 

Your class, the “great” Class of 2013, has contributed much during your stay at Union.  You’ve inspired us with your intellectual curiosity and pursuit of ideas.  We’ve marveled at your poster and oral presentations at the Steinmetz Symposium and in the Wold and Olin Atriums; your theatrical performances in Yulman Theater; your exhibits in the Arts Atrium and Mandeville Gallery; your musical performances in Memorial Chapel and the Emerson Concert Hall; your athletic performances on Bailey and College Park fields, the Central Park diamond, and the Mohawk River as well as in Messa Rink and the Viniar Center; and, your dancing in the Nott Memorial and the Henle Dance Pavilion.  Members of the Class of 2013 have earned honors for themselves and the College through their participation in regional and national competitions, including the SAE Aero Competition, the SAE Aero Design Competition, and the ASME Human Powered Vehicle Competition.  Members of your class have added luster to Union by presenting at prestigious professional meetings such as the Experimental Biology Conference and gatherings of the Geological Society of America, Northeastern Geologic Society of America, and the American Neuropsychiatric Association.  Members of the Class of 2013 have received national recognition, earning Watson Fellowships.
And, you’ve accomplished much more through your generosity of spirit and commitment to improving the lives of others.  At yesterday’s Baccalaureate ceremony in Memorial Chapel, I talked about Congressman Lewis’ impact on history through his commitment to social transformation.  I also quoted from his book, Across That Bridge, wherein he asserts that “social transformation begins from within.”  I voiced my hope that your experiences at Union had helped facilitate an internal transformation that prepared you to take your place in the world beyond Union.

All evidence suggests that your class, the “great” Class of 2013, has already translated inner convictions into actions and that you have and will indeed make the world a better place.  Members of your class forged a College Honor Code that sets a premium on integrity.  Members of your class have raised our awareness of the need to attend to the mental and physical wellness of our community.  Members of your class participated in “Mont Lawn,” a program offering free summer camp experiences to inner-city children. Members of your class opened the eyes of local children to the value of the arts by creating a free “Dance is Life” program and a program in “Visual Thinking Strategies.”  Members of your class helped other local children, providing after school programming, tutoring in the schools, and mentoring those in need of role models.  Members of your class aided patients facing psychological challenges by developing dance-based therapy programs.  Members of your class increased our awareness of the tragic consequences of human trafficking and gender violence.  Members of your class organized major fundraising efforts and provided direct assistance to victims of super storm Sandy.  Members of your class coordinated U-Care day, bringing hundreds of local children and their families to campus and building bridges to our local community.  Members of your class organized a Greek Task Force, seeking to harness this important part of our community to advance Union’s mission and to help communities beyond our gates. Members of your class have helped feed the hungry through Campus Kitchens and Empty Bowls projects.  And the list goes on.

I have tried to remind you throughout your four years here that with the opportunities Union has given you comes responsibility: responsibility to make a difference.  You are well on your way but keep at it.  The world needs you! 

I would like to close today’s Commencement ceremony and send you on your way, by paraphrasing the charge that Union’s first President, John Blair Smith, gave to Union students over 200 years ago:  “as you leave this place, do so ready for a useful life.”  No matter what you choose to do in the years ahead, remember that your academic lineage is a great one and your lineage beckons you to make a difference.

All of us at Union look forward to watching what you do and to welcoming you home to this special place many times in the years ahead.  I wish you the best, members of the Class of 2013, you sisters and brothers under the laws of Minerva, you daughters and sons of Union College.