Commencement 2007

President Mark Gearan, Valedictory Address
May 13, 2007

Before you leave us — a final word. And the word is dedication.

In reflecting on these Valedictory remarks, I have been struck by how dedication has been a thread throughout your four years here. It’s a word for what I believe you have experienced here and a description for what I have observed in all of you these past years. And so, it is the right word for my last word to you.

Allow me to explain.

On one level dedication in its most obvious definition has been a part of the events during your time here. You have participated in, spoken at, or seen the benefits of important dedications: The stunning Goldstein Family Carriage House, Katherine D. Elliott Studio Arts Center, Stern Hall, Bozzuto Boathouse, Finger Lakes Institute, McCooey Field, Salisbury Center at Trinity Hall, de Cordova Hall, and North Hall.

You have seen the dedication of your faculty who have brought their commitment to teaching and scholarly interests into the classroom here in Geneva and round the world.

You have taken classes with talented faculty members who have spent their careers here and those who have just joined this community. All of them reflecting the dedication to students and who, like the late Professor Deborah Tall, and pushing you to excel.

You have seen the dedication of staff members at the Colleges—like Head Librarian Bill Crumlish who completes 35 years of service or Ruth Shores in the Registrar’s Office after 25 years. Dedication to the mission of these Colleges and the generations of students who have studied here.

This dedication is seen across campus in the quiet, faithful and unfailing dedication of staff members in housekeeping, Alumni House, dining services, admissions, the bookstore—all engaged in providing the best possible student experience. The dedication of Pat Heieck, Bob Murphy, Ann Warner, Laura Sposato, J.J. Smaldone or Betty and Tom at Saga.

You’ve seen dedication here in Geneva as well. Look at this platform party and see the dedication of Honorary Degree recipient Marge Shanahan who has tirelessly worked for nearly 10 years to feed the hungry in Geneva.

Look at Senator Mike Nozzolio who has devoted his many, considerable talents to public service and has brought needed focus on the environmental priority of the Finger Lakes.

I would also think you have seen the dedication in your classmates. Fellow students who dedicated themselves in the classroom and labs with honors work, research. Those who took academic chances for simply the love of learning, those who struggled and those who made it all look easy.

Classmates who dedicated themselves to their athletic team, club, student government, ISA, LAO, Sankofa. Those who committed themselves to making HWS a more vibrant community.

You witnessed students’ dedication to their passion: whether it was lacrosse, dance, jazz ensemble, debate team or squash.

You are classes that showed your dedication to making HWS a better place in starting new groups, a new public policy journal, a new mascot, a re-instituted fraternity, a never before women’s conference. Dedication. 

So as you prepare to leave Geneva—I ask you to take this notion of dedication with you. Take the lessons of exemplary dedication you have seen on this campus and beyond. And dedicate yourselves anew.

Dedicate yourselves to your family and friends just as your parents and family have undoubtedly done for you. In a commencement address former Texas Governor Ann Richards urged graduates to “Cherish your family and friends as if your life depended on it—because it does.”

Like Allison Toepp’s fine address reminded us, dedicate yourself to a life of extending that warm hand on a shoulder to a friend as Tracy Spates did.

Dedicate yourselves to your career. For while you have been well prepared at Hobart and William Smith. The Dalai Lama would remind us that “education is like an instrument. Whether that instrument, that device, is used properly or constructively or in a different way depends on the user.”

Dedicate yourself to using this fine instrument in your chosen field wisely and ethically like Al Hunt or Judy Woodruff.

Dedicate yourself to your community and your country. And here, we really need you. Hopefully you leave Hobart and William Smith Colleges with a sense of the importance of citizenship and service. I share Nick Cream’s hope that you can now take this extraordinary experience to “change the world.”

All of you have a unique opportunity to work for change. All of you have a unique responsibility to work for change. Don’t be deterred by the cynics who say it can’t be done or it’s always been this way. You leave Hobart and William Smith Colleges as critical thinkers and doers.

Recall Margaret Mead’s worlds: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

Dedicate yourself to your alma mater. Keep in touch, cheer us on, tell us when we’re on target—and especially when we’re not. You have built an enormous legacy during your time at the Colleges. Because of you and what you have accomplished here—more students than ever applied to take the seats you leave today. Keep in touch with us.

I have reminded past year’s graduates of the writing on the rear view mirror of your car. You may notice it when you drive out of Geneva for the last time—it reads:

Objects in mirror are closer than they appear.

Objects in mirror are closer than they appear.

So, too, for Hobart and William Smith Colleges. While the miles may distance us, we are closer than it may appear.

In the memories of your faculty, staff and coaches, in the friendships that you’ve made here, in the understanding of the world and its global complexities, and in our genuine desire for your lives of meaning and satisfaction.

In sum, I ask you to think about the dedication you have seen here and the worlds of experience you have been afforded. Today, you are among the most privileged people on the planet. For only 1 percent of the world has what you now have: a college degree.

Dedicate yourself to lives of consequence.

Good luck and Godspeed.