President Mark D. Gearan
May 14, 2017
We have heard three powerful speeches:
President Clinton - talks about our common humanity and how diverse groups not only can do things, but are better together. "No one should be left behind," he told us. "And you have a life of permanent possibility ahead."
Matt Skinner – urged us to reflect on the importance of listening and insuring that we’re not in our own echo chamber
Sydney Gomez – spoke about the power of Open Doors and while one door closes here at HWS – it will always be a place in our hearts and minds.
And now for some brief valedictory remarks.
It seems like every week – a video will surface and quickly go viral. With the proliferation of cellphones in the last decade it means that nearly everyone now has easy access to capturing events on video.
Some are consequential – police and citizen interactions that have fostered movements for social change.
Some may fascinate but are less consequential and we’ve almost become immune to them.
Caught on video. Caught on tape. Reality TV – from car crashes to shark attacks.
The recent video capturing the United Airlines passenger being forcibly removed from his seat by security dragging his bloodied body on the floor to the exit was yet another of a broadly viewed video.
The writer James Martin made this compelling point: “When we watch the video of the event something in us says ‘That’s not right.’ Pay attention to that feeling. It is our conscience speaking.”
I think this point bears some reflection as you prepare to leave Geneva – to pay attention to those feelings of unease; to listen to your conscience and to act on it.
At Hobart and William Smith you have received a world class education from a talented faculty and dedicated staff. And you now enjoy the privilege that only 2% of the world does – a college degree.
So my final charge to you is to fulfill the mission of Hobart and William Smith Colleges: lead a life of consequence. How and where you do that, of course, is a highly individualized conclusion.
But all of you have had the experiences here – and exposure to the values of Hobart and William Smith that we hope will carry with you:
a commitment to service, citizenship and global understanding;
an appreciation of the importance of difference and inclusion;
a responsibility for the stewardship of the environment
and a lifelong passion for learning.
All of those values will assist you on your journey.
It is likely that the years ahead will test your resolve, your capacity to listen to your conscience and to act on it. It may be in the workplace, in your community, your social group or family. And unfortunately, there is no easy prescription I’ve found – no easy guide or textbook to listening and acting on your conscience.
But I believe part of the answer may lie in a recent book I read by Anthony Tjan entitled "Good People."
Tjan argues from a business and organizational perspective that good people are the most critical asset for any organization. And the encouraging point he makes is that goodness is a lifelong, proactive commitment that can be exercised, honed and taught.
I believe part of listening to your conscience is this lifelong proactive commitment to goodness. Tjan suggests that Good People put people first and they help others become the fullest version of themselves.
Our Honorary Degree recipients – President Clinton, Debbie Bial and Mary Herlihy Gearan offer us guidance on lives of consequence at the local, national and global level. Each one of them – in different venues and spheres – helps others become the fullest version of themselves. Good people.
So – listen to your conscience – and act on it; Pursue goodness in yourself and surround yourself with good people; And Lead a life of consequence.
And finally – as this will be my last valedictory remarks at Hobart and William Smith – allow me the chance to express my gratitude and speaking for Mary and our daughters, Madeleine and Kathleen.
To the HWS Community – 18 years ago you welcomed us to this very special place and we will treasure the friendships and memories made here.
To the Board of Trustees who took a chance on a ‘non traditional’ president and a faculty and staff who taught him each and every day – I thank you.
To Hobart and William Smith students and graduates who have enriched our lives, livened our home and left us with lifetime bonds of friendship – thank you.
And to the Geneva community – a city filled with good people working hard each and every day for their families and their city – we are so grateful.
Hellen Keller said: “What we have once enjoyed, we can never lose. All that we love deeply - becomes a part of us.”
Well, we love Geneva. And HWS has deeply become a part of us.
Today – Mary and I join the ranks of those fortunate few with a Hobart and William Smith degree and honorary membership in the Class of 2017.
We will treasure this.
We will honor it with our work.
We will honor the mission to lead a life of consequence.
And, we hope in so doing, bring credit to this very special place.
It has been the honor of my life to serve as President of Hobart and William Smith Colleges.
Thank you and Godspeed.