- Mass. Gov. gives graduates a lesson in history
Mass. Gov. gives graduates a lesson in history
Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker offered some practical advice for the Class of 2016:
Don’t be a jerk. Don’t settle for average. And don’t be afraid to fail.
“I would ask all of you to appreciate the value and the importance of civility in your personal and professional lives,” Baker told the 550 members of the Class of 2016 at Union’s 222nd Commencement on Hull Plaza Sunday. It was one of Union’s largest graduating classes.
The governor is the father of Andrew (A.J.) Baker, a member of the class. Baker is familiar with Union’s campus, visiting often to see his son play on the football team. He’s familiar with the statue of Chester Arthur, Class of 1848 and the nation’s 21st president.
Arthur is widely considered one of the country’s most obscure leaders, regarded mainly as the man who became president upon the assassination of James Garfield.
Arthur has not been given a fair shake by historians. But ticking off a list of his accomplishments, Baker told the class much can be learned from Arthur.
“Chester Arthur was a standup guy,” Baker said. “Throughout his personal and professional life, he was a man of his word, and he treated everyone with dignity and respect. New York politics in the 1800s was a very rough-and-tumble business. But he was universally referred to as a gentleman among brawlers. And a man who lived by a code that was built on trust and decency.”
Arthur chose to rise above the noise and nonsense around him, Baker said. Today, with social media and the 24/7 news cycle, it’s easy for this generation to ignore Arthur’s ideals. That would be a mistake, Baker said.
“It might be hard sometimes to turn the other cheek, but it’s not as hard as some suggest. And over time, it will serve you well,’’ he said. "As my dad has often said, 'When people see two folks fighting, they’re pretty sure one of them is a jerk. They just don’t know which one.’ Don’t be the jerk.”
Baker, elected in November 2014, was inaugurated Jan. 8, 2015, as the commonwealth’s 72nd governor. A Republican, he previously served as a cabinet member in the administrations of Gov. William Weld and the late Gov. Paul Cellucci.
He urged the class to not be deterred by failure.
“I ran against former Gov. Deval Patrick in 2010 and lost,” he said. “But (wife) Lauren and I learned a ton from the experience, and I sincerely doubt I would have won in 2014 if I hadn’t run and lost in 2010. And early on in my career, I got counseled out of a job, not because I was horribly bad at it, but because I wasn’t all that good. I was down about it, but a friend of mine said to me, “You know, there’s a reason why the Germans make cars and the French make wine. It’s what they’re good at. This was not the right fit for you.”
Baker received an honorary doctorate of laws degree.
Also receiving an honorary degree Sunday was William H. Kimbel, the Virginia M. Ullman Professor of Natural History and the Environment at Arizona State University’s School of Human Evolution and Social Change.
The director of ASU’s Institute of Human Origins, one of the preeminent research organizations in the world devoted to the science of human origins, Kimbel was awarded an honorary doctorate of letters degree. He was nominated by Mark Walker, the John Bigelow Professor of History.
In his charge to the graduates, President Stephen C. Ainlay recounted a number of their accomplishments, both academically and in the community. This included supporting the Boys and Girls Club, the Heritage Home for Women, the City Mission, Schenectady Schools, Habitat for Humanity and a host of other organizations.
He expressed appreciation for their input in a series of campus infrastructure projects such as Karp Hall, the conceptual plans for a new dining hall, the renovation of the Visual Arts Building and the design of the co-generation plan. He also praised them for their role in updating the College’s motto to reflect today’s Union.
Collectively, Ainlay said the Class of 2016’s contributions honored the charge of former President Dixon Fox in his book “Union College: An Unfinished History,” in which he urged stewards of the school to continue to write its next chapter.
“You’ve helped write Union’s most recent chapter during your four years here,” Ainlay said. “I hope you will look back at your time at Union with fondness. I hope you carry with you special memories, special friends, special faculty, special staff and special places. I hope you will stay connected to each other and to the people you developed relationships who will remain. We need you to remain connected as we look to future chapters in the story of this special place.”
In his baccalaureate remarks on Saturday afternoon, Ainlay shared the inspiring story of Richard and Mary Templeton, members of the Class of 1980. In 2013, the couple was vacationing with family in Hawaii when Mary was struck by an ocean wave and slammed to the ground. The accident left her paralyzed from the waist down.
Rather than be defeated by what happened, Rich, the president and CEO of Texas Instruments, and Mary, a financial analyst and computer scientist, insisted that the fundamental lesson they learned through their experience is the importance of resilience, Ainlay said.
“I hope and pray that none of you will encounter the likes of the rogue wave that changed Rich's and Mary’s lives on that day in Hawaii,” he said. “But life is certainly going to pose difficulties and challenges – that I can guarantee you.”
Union, Ainlay told the graduates, has provided them with a hidden curriculum of sorts that will enable them to face life’s challenges.
“Lean on what you’ve had and learned here,” he said. “You’ve made the friends here who will be there for you when you face life’s challenges and changes. Your studies in chemistry, biology, sociology and engineering have equipped you, whether you know it or not, with the ability to put challenges in context and ask the questions that will help you work through change. The poems, novels, and plays you’ve read or performed will inspire you and help you, as Mary Templeton puts it, ‘get on with it.’ ”
Student speaker Alexandra Speak reminded her classmates of the bonds created over the past four years, the lessons learned and the challenges that await beyond Union.
“My call to action for the 550 of you before me is to understand this privilege we have been given,” said Speak, an economics major from Montreal.
“It is very easy to be persuaded by the lure of money, recognition and comfort. But as it goes, comfort is the enemy of change and it is our responsibility, with this privilege we have been granted, to be agents of positive change. Your value and your worth are not measured in your salary, in a GRE score or in Instagram likes. Our value is in the challenges we have collectively overcome and the challenges we have the courage to take on in the future, whether we overcome them or not.”
Two members of the Class of 2016 received public recognition: Valedictorian Mihir Patel, a biology and economics interdisciplinary major from Nashville, Tenn., and salutatorian Joshua Tryon, a political science major from Buffalo, N.Y.
Also, Therese McCarty, the Stephen J. and Diane K. Ciesinski Dean of the Faculty and Vice President for Academic Affairs, announced William Keat, professor of mechanical engineering, as the winner of the Stillman Prize for Excellence in Teaching. Keat will be presented with the award at Convocation in the fall.
This was McCarty’s 11th and final commencement as dean; she is stepping down at the end of the academic year to return to the classroom. Ainlay thanked McCarty for her “exemplary and generous service” to Union.
Baker is the latest governor to be the featured speaker at Commencement. Others have included Thomas Dewey (1950) and Charles Evans Hughes (1908) of New York and Earl Warren of California (1947).