Connor May '16
May 15, 2016
My name is Connor May and hopefully I’ll be receiving my diploma in a few short minutes. This isn’t my first time experiencing an HWS commencement. My first was five years ago when my older sister, Allison, graduated cum laude from William Smith. It was an overcast Sunday morning in May of 2011 and the student speeches were inspiringly profound and entertaining. That day five years ago, I promised myself two things. First, I promised myself that I was going to change my last name to Summa Cum Laude so that they would announce it as I walked across the stage at my graduation. Second, I promised that I was going to try my absolute hardest to deliver an intelligent, thought-provoking, meticulously researched, inspirational and carefully manicured speech at my college graduation. Ladies and gentlemen, today I stand before you having only fulfilled one of those promises. So, before I forget, Dean Baer, I don’t know if you got the name change but it’s Connor Francis May Summa Cum Laude.
Now before I formally begin, let me quote Caleb Campbell Hobart College Class of 2011 with something that applies to my speech, “There’s no way I’m doing this in five minutes…I don’t do boundaries.”
Hello and welcome! President Gearan, Provost Ufomata, Board of Trustees, Distinguished Faculty and Honorary Degree Recipients, Family, Friends, and, of course, the Classes of 2016.
Fellow graduates, I think it’s safe to say that Hobart and William Smith Colleges has given us four of the most amazing years of our lives. And to be totally honest, I never thought that those words would ever leave my mouth. This amazing institution has been nothing short of a dream come true. We have been absolutely spoiled by the camaraderie and sentimental values that thrive on this campus. We have been molded and fostered into liberal arts thinkers who will go on to lead lives of consequence. We will undoubtedly become leaders in our respective fields whether those fields are in the private sector, public service, the arts, medicine, education, or other industries of the world. All of these anecdotes and all of these accomplishments will be plentiful in the future and they will all have found their footing in the community that we are leaving here today. This tiny little community in Geneva, NY extends its branches to all continents, an extraordinary amount of countries, and lives all over the world. This tiny little community produces Fulbright Scholars, championship-winning athletes, groundbreaking visionaries, and forward thinking entrepreneurs. If a community is defined as a place that inspires change, promotes growth, instills a sense of steadfast pride in its patrons, and changes lives, then yes, Hobart and William Smith is by all means a community.
On a personal note, today it baffles me that there was once a time where I turned my back on this community. During a foolish lapse in judgment almost four years ago, I was convinced that Hobart and William Smith couldn’t help me with adversity that I was facing. For the rare few that don’t know at this point, I once had a problem with drugs and alcohol. As a teenager, I struggled with various substances and found it necessary to get sober at the young age of eighteen. I came up here with almost three months clean, but strayed away from my path and relapsed, resulting in a month of old-habits and a descent into a dark spiral. My first instinct was to blame this institution, to blame Geneva, to blame everything around me. I was convinced that HWS was the root of my problem and that I had to find the solution elsewhere. Unbeknownst to my close-minded self, I was a part of a greater community that had different plans for me. There is a man behind me by the name of Thomas Poole who also had different plans for me as we sat down to dinner at Halsey’s in October of 2012. Tommy has been a surrogate grandfather to me my whole life and he’s been a member of the Board of Trustees for over twenty-seven years. He’s been a tremendous proponent of my success here and an amazing mentor. I had many criticisms and he had even more answers. I went into that dinner with a large resentment against Hobart and William Smith, but I left that dinner with a newfound love for this amazing community. I learned that if you ever plan on leaving an institution, the absolute last person you want to discuss that plan with is a trustee of that institution. Fortunately I had an incredibly supportive mother, father, sister, aunts, uncles, and other family members who wanted nothing more than to see me succeed. I had great friends that cared for me, and now I could add a tight-knit community to that network of figures that wanted to see me prosper. Because of that love and because of that support, I stand before you all today having been sober since October 7th, 2012. These past three and a half years could not have been accomplished without the support from my HWS Community.
Making the decision to stick it out and use Hobart and William Smith as a resource was one of the best decisions that I ever made. It wasn’t easy, but it provided me with a wealth of opportunities as I look back at my career here. I pledged a fraternity and then was able to serve as treasurer and President of that fraternity. I learned about the delicious delicacies of Southern Mississippi from our motherly cook, Lisa, or as I like to call her “my baby”. I forged friendships working in the office of Admissions, serving on the Stewardson Society committee, and taking advantage of community service projects through Days of Service and other of the many programs we are afforded here.
I think one of the greatest assets of our community is our ability to come together. We’ve come together to celebrate the good times with our amazing athletics and activities. We’ve come together to open the beautiful Gearan Center for Performing Arts. We’ve come together to welcome fantastic musical acts such as OAR, T-Pain, Chiddy Bang, 5&20 Shuffle and more. We’ve come together to welcome inspirational visionaries for the President’s Forum and other special guest lectures. We’ve come together to cheer on the amazingly talented works put on by our students in the Theatre Program, the Dance Program, the Music Program, and the Koshare Dance Collective. And, finally, we’ve come together to stand in solidarity against sexual assault, cowardly anonymous racist social media posts, and many other important issues.
If you think about it, life is all about sticking it out and rolling with the punches. Life is about facing whatever adversity stands in our path and overcoming it. It’s not the things that happen to us that matter, it’s the way we react to them - that’s what really counts. A sober companion once told me, “If we change the way we look at things, the things we look at will change” and it’s that attitude that will prove to be triumphant if we adopt it. The steps that we have taken to better ourselves in whatever capacity; that’s where we should measure whatever success we have. All of us have faced some sort of adversity at one point in our lives. We’ve all gone through trials and tribulations and we’ve all come out on the other side.
Come tomorrow, our lives are going to be different. No longer will we have to go to the post office to open a cold, hard, unforgivingly empty mail slot. No longer will we have to sit in the café, the pub, or saga for hours upon end just to avoid starting that paper. No longer will we waste endless amounts of time staring out the window of the library at the little ant-sized students walking in and out of Scandling. No longer will we be able to cap a daunting all nighter with a beautiful sunrise at the Bozzuto Boathouse. No longer will we be able to walk from point a to point b with an extremely high chance of seeing a familiar face. No longer will it be socially acceptable for us to order Domino’s in the wee hours of the morning, fall asleep, and wake up hungry with no pizza and multiple missed calls from a furious Domino’s employee. And finally, no longer we will be able to call ourselves current students of Hobart and William Smith Colleges. For today we become graduates. We become alums. Today marks the beginning of the rest of our lives – it marks the day that we can begin to be what we’ve always dreamed of becoming. For some, this day will be looked at with gratitude and appreciation. For others, this day will forever live in infamy. For myself, today only marks the end of a chapter. I’m only just finishing the first couple chapters in this book of life. Come tomorrow, I get to start a new chapter, a chapter that’s exciting and thrilling, but also a chapter that couldn’t be written without the pages that I wrote while here, at Hobart and William Smith. Because of the pages I wrote while here, I have themes, conflicts, symbolism, motifs, and recurring characters that will surely make my book all the more interesting.
If we all take a step back and look at our four years here, I think we’ll find that these four years have provided us with invaluable experiences that we will never forget. There is no doubt in my mind that all of us will go on to lead lives of consequence. It’s in this tiny little community that we have earned our stripes and it’s in this tiny little community that we will always have a support to fall back on and a campus to love. Thank you Hobart and William Smith and Thank you Classes of 2016.