President Stephen C. Ainlay's Charge to Graduates

Publication Date

I want to thank our honorary degree recipients – Gov. Dr. Baker and Dr. Kimbel for being with us today. Each of you in your own way has reminded us of the importance of connections – a signature concern of a Union education – whether those connections be across the political aisle or across time. We are proud to count you as members of our Union community.

Please thank again our student speaker, Alexandra Speak, for her 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.

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. Also, I want to recognize Brenda Wineapple a faculty member who is retiring this year. Please join me in thanking all of these people with your applause.

I want to especially acknowledge Therese McCarty, Dean of the Faculty and Vice President for Academic Affairs. This is her final Commencement Ceremony as Dean. For eleven years, she’s had to wake up on Sunday morning and consult with experts about the weather, call me, and make the difficult decision of staying out or going inside. For eleven years, she’s dutifully prepared for and read the names of all our graduates. For eleven years, she’s done more: she’s guided our academic programs and given of her very self. She will rejoin the Economics faculty and I’m pleased that students will once again have the opportunity to study with her. I’d ask you to join me in recognizing her exemplary and generous service to Union.

Members of the Class of 2016, you have many to thank for helping you reach this day. In particular, you owe a debt of gratitude to family and friends. They’ve been there to encourage you and they’ve supported you with their love and in so many other ways. 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.

Would you please be seated for just a few more minutes.

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 and join those receptions, allow me to say a few words to the members of the Class of 2016. Congratulations! Your path to today has taken hard work and commitment. It’s also taken resiliency and “grit” – qualities that I spoke about at yesterday’s Baccalaureate ceremony. I hope you feel satisfied and proud.

As some of you know, I’ve admired some of the things that one of my predecessors, President Dixon Ryan Fox and his wife, Marion Osgood Fox, did for Union during the 1930s and early 40s. Together, they tried to rekindle an appreciation of Union’s history and they struggled to keep Union moving forward during the Great Depression. President Fox wrote a book titled Union College: An Unfinished History and in it he charged all of us to care for and advance this storied place. As he put it, Union has been here long before us and it will be here long after us but we, as the current stewards of this great school, have an obligation to “write its next chapter.”

Class of 2016: you’ve responded to President Fox’s charge and you have indeed helped write the next chapter at Union College.

You joined faculty and administers in selecting a new Dean of the Faculty and Vice President for Academic Affairs, Strom Thacker. This was important work and you represented us well to the candidates. Thanks in part to you, we successfully recruited Dr. Strom Thacker and he joins us today. I’d ask you to welcome him to Union with your applause.

You were generous with your time as we reviewed dining at Union. And, you also helped envision the infrastructure needed to fulfill our mission, advising on conceptual plans for a new dining hall and the renovation of the Arts Building (soon to be the Feigenbaum Center for the Arts) and Karp Hall. You also weighed in on the design and construction of our new cogeneration facility that moves us closer to our goal of carbon neutrality. And, you consulted on the largest project we have ever undertaken, Science and Engineering. Your best thinking about all these projects will benefit generations of Union students.

Members of the Class of 2016 took the lead in changing the College’s motto – bringing it into alignment with today’s Union. And you did it in a way that demonstrated sensitivity and ensured success. Members of your class also helped us recruit our Title IX Director, Melissa Kelley, and otherwise demonstrated a commitment to making Union an environment in which all can thrive. When confronted with profoundly troubling instance of harassment and persecution, you called our community together to stand in solidarity, mobilizing students, faculty, staff, and administration to speak and stand together.

You extended a hand of support to members of our community who needed to know we were there for them. You founded the Dutchman Dip and continued the Home Run Derby and Run, Ribs and Reggae. You show Union’s support for our surrounding community, supporting the Boys and Girls Club, the Heritage Home for Women, the City Mission, Cocco House, Vale Cemetery, the Schenectady Schools, Habitat for Humanity, and a host of other agencies.

Wishing to make it easier for students to access the surrounding area, you introduced Zip Cars, arranged for students to have better access to the public bus system, and secured student discounts from local restaurants.

Members of the Class of 2016 were instrumental in attracting the largest number of applications in the College’s history. You shared your own experiences with prospective students and their families, served as tour guides, interviewers, and interns, and played other important roles in the admissions process. And, you greeted visitors in ways that made them want to join our community.

The Honor Code had just been introduced when your class arrived at Union and many of you participated as Honor Council members, working to support a culture of academic integrity. You have been active in ICE initiatives, focusing on innovation, creativity, and entrepreneurship through new programs such as the Maker Corps and the entrepreneurship boot camp. The Henle Dance Pavilion opened during your first year. Many of you, majoring in almost every possible major, have inspired us with your dance – from ballet to Bangra to hip hop. And, we dedicated the Kelly Adirondack Center during your first year and members of the class of 2016 have helped us leverage our location in Upstate New York and heightened our appreciation of our own backyard. Members of your class sought and were awarded prestigious awards including Fulbright, Watson, and Minerva Fellowships that will take you around the world. In fact, you’ve helped Union earn a spot on the Chronicle of Higher Education’s list of top Fulbright producing college and universities.

Yes, you’ve helped write Union’s most recent chapter during your four years here. 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.

And now, it is up to you, members of the “great” class of 2016 to take the best of Union into the world, improving it the way you improved this campus. Come back to report, come back to share, come back to inspire the next generation.

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 2016, you sisters and brothers under the laws of Minerva, you daughters and sons of Union College.