Nick Stewart

September 1, 2014
Nick Stewart '15

Good afternoon and welcome.

To the first year students, congratulations on surviving Orientation. It’s a lot to take in—the enthusiasm of the Orientation Mentors, the separation anxiety of your parents and families—the experience of so many new things can be overwhelming. But I hope that you have found the first day of classes refreshing.

Entering college as a first year I wasn’t fully aware of the changes my life would go through academically and socially; the responsibilities that I had to take on and the excuses that I had to stop making. I was terrified, but I soon learned that if I became involved in something that made me feel comfortable, like I belonged, I would find my place on this campus. I joined about seven clubs and I was soon overwhelmed and over-scheduled. I wasn’t getting the downtime I needed and started putting my activities before my academics. And then I got my first C.

Although no one was able to see my transcript – I was deeply disappointed in myself. That C didn’t represent who I am or who I wanted to be.

I grew up around people who have nothing but a dream – a dream to be someone and to achieve something other than what we saw in our neighborhoods. It is sad to say that many of those people have not yet made a better life for themselves. Coming to college, I felt a responsibility and a purpose to make something of myself, to stand out from the social construction of where I grew up, to create a future and legacy that would allow me to make a difference in the lives of others. That C was a wakeup call.

So I began to question my involvement. Were the activities I was prioritizing too much or impacting my life negatively? Were they benefiting me and others? I began to focus and I grew up. Maturity does not only come with age and responsibility; it is also a sense of self and self-worth.

I narrowed down my involvement to things I knew I cared about. I am heavily involved in the performing arts, and I see it as expression, a method of teaching, and a way of connecting minds and hearts. As an actor, dancer, stepper, singer, artist, and architect I have focused my energy.

So ask yourself - what are things that you are involved in that you care about? Whether it is civic engagement, sustainability, social justice, athletics, performing arts, or biomedical engineering; do not let anything hold you back from being who you are meant to be.

Martin Luther King Jr. once stated that: “Faith is taking the first step. Even when you don’t see the whole staircase.”

Step out on faith and be yourself no matter what judgment comes your way. The purpose of attending a liberal arts institution is to experiment academically and find your niche. Find it. Explore. Not everyone will get what you do and that is fine. Stay true to who you are by remaining positive, hungry and focused.

In doing so, you will become a leader. And when I say leader, I don’t just mean the kind of leader who runs organizations or runs for president. Instead, I urge you to become the leader that you see in yourself. Do something that makes you happy and do something that influences someone else positively.

Be the moving force that brings this institution into a positive light. Bring awareness and change to sexual assault and misconduct, to racism and homophobia, and to bullying and ignorance on this campus and on college campuses around the nation. We can indeed be the pioneers of a new era. An era where inclusivity is no longer something we are working toward. Dedicate yourself to those things that mean the most. Start a movement, join a club, do Honors, graduate summa cum laude, volunteer as a Geneva Hero, and commit to something that will enhance the growth of our campus community and the Geneva community.

About two weeks ago I began re-reading one of my favorite sports novels:  “Friday Night Lights.” There is a phrase about the town that resonates with me: “[this town] had a deep and abiding sense of place and history, so unlike [any other].” 

Hobart and William Smith is that place. There is rich history on this campus and you are the reason it continues. Every year an incoming class further establishes the Colleges' purpose and I hope that you will affirm your beliefs by further advancing our institution.

As you have transitioned from a high school graduate to a full time college student within this past day - think of all the possibilities of what you make of your experience. Academically, socially, and philanthropically. Do not settle. Do you and the rest will fall into place. With great pleasure I welcome you home.