As I walked into Hobart Admissions that October day nearly ten years ago, a picture on the wall caught my eye. I came as any other high school senior, like many men have done no doubt for generations before me. I sat in Durfee House, orange folder in hand, waiting for my tour guide. I didn’t know what to expect, and I didn’t know that the next two hours would absolutely change my life.
The picture was not of a famous quote or a panoramic view of campus or even of a famous alumnus from days gone by. It was a drawing. On one side stood a man, looking tattered and torn, his clothes ragged, dirty and patched. Under the man were the words “BEFORE HOBART.” On the other side of a bright Orange “H” stood another man, looking very well kept in his three piece suit and hat, carrying a briefcase. Under him was written the words “AFTER HOBART.” At the time, I didn’t understand. I thought, wow, this place must be really something, but that was about it.
After finishing my education here and spending time in the world outside of Geneva, that small drawing means more to me at this point in my life than it did to a 17-year-old kid from an hour down the road. It was a sign of things to come not in the sense of the money I would make, the job I would land or what those things would get me, but of the journey I would take as an individual to find my own definition of success.
As you sit here now, each of you is at a different point in your own journey. Yours will take twists and turns of which I could only imagine. You probably have your own idea of what success is.
I am truly honored to be here tonight, and it was a call I never expected to get, but honestly, I’m not famous. I didn’t invent, find, write, invest in or promote something that has made me a CEO or a millionaire. I’m a 26-year old guy from Fairport, New York, who’s looking forward to coming back for his five-year anniversary of graduating from Hobart College.
But wait, that’s the special thing. When I was waiting for my campus tour, I didn’t know what that meant. I didn’t know what it meant to walk down South Main Street on one of my many trips to and from Henry House. I didn’t know what the grass on the Quad or Boswell Field felt like. I didn’t know that I was going to be a history major, student teacher, Druid, RA, Assistant Area Coordinator, athletic trainer, Hobartone, White Ribbon Campaign coordinator, lacrosse manager, Frankel Award and Maxwell Award winner all in the same year.
Now I understand what it means to be a Hobart man; I understand what Dean Butler used to love to call “the goodly heritage.” All of those things contributed to the success I have had so far in my life. I have a feeling that my definition of “wealth and success” clashes just a bit with that of society’s. But that’s okay. I don’t have a lot of money, or expensive things, and that’s okay, too. What I have are experiences, both here and beyond, that have shaped me into who I am right now.
Over the past few days, and for the next few after this, many people have been and will be talking to you. What I hope you will take away from my standing before you tonight is this: your time, your experience and your character are what you make of them. Your class rank makes no difference. You’ve probably been told, you only have so much time-make the most of it. We all know that this is true of life in general, but it’s particularly true of This Place.
Get involved, find out what’s going on, and be active. I really disagree with the common utterance here that “there’s nothing to do in Geneva.” If that’s true, you haven’t cleaned up a house on the Day of Service or coordinated an effort to support William Smith women during the Take Back the Night March. If that’s true, you haven’t been at the Boz when we play Syracuse or Cornell or been in the audience during a President’s Lecture Series talk. If that’s true, you haven’t heard Professor Baer talk about Plato, analyzed the I Have a Dream speech in a rhetoric class or listened to Professor Dobkowski talk about the Holocaust. Find those things that you enjoy, that are fun, and when it’s all over, you can look back and remember that you accomplished something. That, to me, is success.
To have the feeling of pride I have when people say, “you went to Hobart?” and I can say, “yes, I did.” I always smile when I get to tell someone that. That’s what it’s about. Within those words are all of the friends, classes, teachers, mentors, hard work and memories that are so unique to this great place. I am so grateful that I was able to experience those things here. There are few places where you can come back to campus five years later and have your professors and coaches remember you; there are even fewer where I could say that walking across the Quad on any given day, I knew the majority of people I saw. That is something truly special.
I haven’t always had the easiest road to walk. But this place honors where you’ve been and what you bring to the table. It takes you in, welcomes you, teaches you more than you can imagine and then sends you out a better person. I honestly believe that I would be a different person right now if I hadn’t walked out on to the Quad that fall day and said, “yep, this is where I want to be.” I believe I couldn’t have been anywhere else.
I work in the athletic department at RIT now, helping to coordinate our intramurals program. Aside from finding it hard to cheer against the Orange and Purple when your teams visit Rochester, it has been a great experience to work there over the past four years. But it’s different. There’s a different feel to it that is hard to describe. Whenever I come back to Seneca Lake, I realize again how important it is to remember this place and the opportunities it gave me.
Was every day great and perfect? No. Did I struggle and question and fight battles? Sure. There were days that I nodded off in class. Sorry! There were times out on the lacrosse field when I wondered how I could get any more wet and miserable.
But I have also helped my friends through tough times and had them there for mine. I’ve spent time just walking around campus, finding places I’d never been before. I’ve sat in Saga, watching the rookie football players have to stand up and serenade us, thanking God that wasn’t me. I know how it feels to be accepted by a lacrosse team that took in a kid with CP and never saw me as any different than them.
My wife, co-workers and, someday, grandkids will get sick of me telling the stories. Yes, Grandpa, we know how Jamie Breslin scored the winning goal with two seconds left to beat Cornell in 1999. The first time you told the story, there were ten seconds left on the clock! Those are the kind of things that help you build your life after you leave HWS. Those are the things that stay with you for a long, long time. That’s success.
All of you are here tonight because you’ve achieved, whether it be in ways great or small. That’s tremendous, and you should be proud of yourselves. There are so many things here that will influence you, and you won’t be able to add them to your resume. To me, the most important thing all of your experiences can teach you is how to be successful in life.
When you’re cramming for an organic chemistry final, writing your paper for senior seminar or getting up for five-a.m. practices, you probably don’t realize how those things are impacting you. I never realized until I was suddenly out in the so-called real world: this is what I went through all that for. How I treat other people, the respect I always try to give others-that was strengthened here. How I carry myself as a man and view my responsibilities—that was shaped here. How I always try to be there for others and do what needs to be done—what a good friend and co-worker of mine calls “coming off the bench”—here is where I realized how important that really is.
How do I measure success? If I can do each of those three things as best as possible, I’ve achieved it. The fact that I can come home to my beautiful wife and our own house after a day at a great job tells me I’ve achieved it.
I have been blessed so many times and in so many ways throughout my life. I’ve been able to overcome challenges because I never looked at them as any different than those the person next to me might face. I’m making my own way, and I’ve been accepted and encouraged every step of the way. It just so happens that a lot of that acceptance and encouragement has come from folks wearing the Purple and Orange; people who are proud to say that they are students, faculty, coaches, staff and alumni of this special place called Hobart College.
Thank you so very much for the honor of speaking tonight. It is a privilege for which I am very grateful. Though it never takes much arm twisting to bring me back to Geneva, I sincerely appreciate the opportunity. Thank you.
Benjamin Hale Dinner 2007, Brennan Coon '02
April 13, 2007