President Stephen C. Ainlay's charge to graduates

Publication Date

I want to thank our honorary degree recipients – Dr. Birx and Dr. Fine – for being with us today. You have affirmed our belief in the importance of making a difference in the world. We are proud to count you as members of our Union community.

Please thank again our student speaker, David Masterson, for his compelling affirmation of what is so special about Union.

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 and join me on the platform today: Yu Chang, David Hayes, Thomas Jewell, and Ellen Fladger.

We also need to thank Professor William Finlay, our Marshall, the members of the Commencement Committee as well as the entire staff for making this day so special. As they say, “it takes many hands,” and many hands have readied our campus and prepared for this day. Please join me in thanking all of them with your applause.

Members of the Class of 2014, you have many to thank for helping you reach this day. In particular, you owe a debt of gratitude to family and friends who have cheered you on, loved and supported you. 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 your 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 2014.

As I told you at the Senior Dinner on Tuesday evening, your class, the Class of 2014, has left its mark at Union. You’ve made us laugh, gasp, and think with your dance, theatrical performances, and documentary films. You’ve astonished us with your remarkable research and excellent presentations at Steinmetz, on topics ranging from the development of adjustable prosthetic devices to the impact of student debt on the American economy.

Members of your class helped bring home the first Liberty League Championship in baseball. You’ve led the lacrosse program to new levels of achievement, with thrilling victories on Bailey field and a trip to the NCAA playoffs. You’ve led our volleyball team to the finals for the Liberty League Championship and you’ve led our women’s soccer team to its 18th consecutive winning season. You’ve won Track Athlete of the Meet honors at the New York State Championships. You’ve won All-American honors in swimming. And, of course, you thrilled us at Messa Rink, Lake Placid, Bridgeport, and Philadelphia, winning a National Championship that even had the opponents cheering.

Members of the Class of 2014 received national recognition for their academic prowess. You’ve earned not one but two prestigious Watson Fellowships. You were selected as Minerva Fellows and Fulbright Scholars and we’ll happily follow your exploits as you fan out across the world. You have been recognized as the best of student-citizen-athletes and you’ve been featured at the Final Four Innovation Summit, named to the Good Works Team, and selected as Academic All-Americans. Your powers of argument took you to the regional and national levels in the Ethics Bowl competition.

You demonstrated your endurance by climbing all 46 Adirondack peaks. You helped raise a record amount of financial support for the College in a one day period during ADay4U. You helped others succeed through your tutoring work in our Supplemental Instruction Program. You helped Union develop a novel advising tool, called “Notice-Choose-Tell,” that will benefit future generations of students. You’ve improved the well being of many by staffing dental clinics and food banks. You’ve been honored for your volunteer efforts, a reflection of your service to life sustaining organizations like COCOA House, testimony to the impact you’ve had by launching new programs like Phenomenal Males and Leading Ladies, acknowledgment of the hope you’ve given to young people through your selfless assistance in the homework, tutoring and reading programs, and a celebration of the caring touch you’ve provided to those who needed it at places like the Joan Nicole Prince Home and the Heritage Home for Women. Members of your class have raised funds to battle cancer. Members of your class spent hours working in historic Vale cemetery so that loved ones could mark Memorial Day without lamenting the condition of their loved ones’ gravesites.

And, you’ve accomplished much more, you’ve given much more, because you have a generosity of spirit, because you have commitment, and because you believe. At yesterday’s Baccalaureate ceremony in Memorial Chapel, quoting Robert Kennedy, I talked about the importance of believing that you can make a difference. You clearly do.

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. Believe that you are needed and believe that you are equipped to make the difference that your families, your communities, your workplaces, your country, your world needs.

Let me 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 2014, you sisters and brothers under the laws of Minerva, you daughters and sons of Union College.