HWS President Emeritus Mark D. Gearan L.H.D. '17, P'21
May 13, 2018
Well…. Graduating seniors, first thank you very much for this invitation to be with you today. I'm very honored. And thank you to Interim President Pat McGuire L.H.D. ’12 for your courtesies and for your unyielding dedication to the Colleges. Once again, you've answered the call to service and once again we are deeply, deeply grateful to you. Thank you, President McGuire.
To the members of the Board of Trustees, distinguished members of the faculty, the extraordinary staff at Hobart and William Smith, parents, family members, and Geneva neighbors, happy Mother's Day.
But before I begin, let me note that when the class presidents Isaiah and Micaela called me to invite me to participate in Commencement, they did not say that I would have to follow Quinn and AC. Apparently that was in the fine print. Those, with Dr. John Grotzinger's ’79, Sc.D. ‘13, were two great speeches. And let me say, I know senior speeches, because from this podium I have heard 36 of them. And they were terrific, we should give them another shout out.
I am deeply honored by this invitation, and it means a great deal for me to be back in a place that means so much to me and my family. In preparing these remarks, I had the occasion to look back on some of my reflections to the graduates over the years. And one of them, delivered in 2005, stood out to me as appropriate for the moment.
In 2005, I urged the graduates that when they were driving out of Geneva for the last time, to look at the passenger side rearview mirror where it says, "Objects in the mirror are closer than they appear." And I told the graduates it would be true for them, for Hobart and William Smith would always be closer than it appears.
It would be closer because of the liberal arts education they received with critical thinking skills and communications. With the leadership, the athletic and the service opportunities that they've enjoyed here in Geneva and they take with them. They will be closer because of the friendships born here that will remain with them throughout their lives. That's what I said in 2005.
Well today, having myself left Hobart and William Smith, now living in a different state, now working at a different university, I can tell you with certainty, that Hobart and William Smith will always be closer than it appears. For Hobart and William Smith is a great place. Hobart and William Smith is a special place.
There has not been a week in the past year when Mary I have not run into a Hobart and William Smith graduate. Whether I'm on the “T” in Boston, or we're walking our dog Dublin — who says hello, by the way, or shopping at Wegmans — yes, we have Wegmans, or at Fenway, or meeting many Hobart and William Smith alums who are now enrolled in some of the Harvard graduate schools. It always is a thrill to see them and it makes me immensely proud of the graduates, immensely proud of the lives they are leading.
Look at this podium. Today's honorary degree recipients and our commencement speaker provide yet more evidence to the distinction of our graduates. Thomas Bozzuto ’68, Carolyn Carr McGuire '78, Garry Mendez '58, P'97 and John Grotzinger '79, Sc.D. ';13—all of them having distinguished themselves in their professional lives and have nurtured their alma mater with care and focus and support. Honorary Trustee Roy Dexheimer ’55, P’89, GP'18, LL.D.'80 on this stage, similarly with his professional accomplishments, will greet his granddaughter who graduates today, after decades of giving back to his alma mater.
One year later, I return to this podium. I now have a view of Hobart and William Smith that is new and a different perspective, because I am now a parent of a rising sophomore at William Smith. And I see the dedication of our faculty and the commitment of the staff to the student experience in deep and meaningful ways.
This of course did not surprise me, because I had known and worked with the talented men and women behind me here on the faculty. And the staff around the Quad, many of them have given their whole professional lives and their careers to Hobart and William Smith. Like Hobart Dean and Professor of Philosophy Eugen Bear P'95, P'97. Like Professor of History and former William Smith Dean Susanne McNally. Like Hobart Athletic Director Mike Hanna '68. Like Faculty Secretary Ann Warner. All of them giving every day for the student experience.
But I can appreciate the emotion of today's graduates who are preparing for this next chapter of their lives. As my old boss President Bill Clinton L.H.D. '17 would say, "I feel your pain."
About a year ago Mary and I sat at this commencement preparing to close this chapter of our life, and of course, we were preparing to pack as well. And if you think you have a lot of stuff, imagine 18 years of life to move. Now, that is the equivalent of going to college four times in a row plus two PG years.
But I know that the emotion today is more than just about packing for I know what it's like to leave Hobart and William Smith. I know what it's like to leave the friends that you love. And I know what it's like to leave this amazing community of Geneva. But I'm here to tell you that my words of advice in 2005 about that rearview mirror are validated by my own experience. HWS will always be closer than it appears. It will stay with you. And for all these reasons, I know you will always be proud to be a Hobart and William Smith graduate. For you now enter the circle of Hobart and William Smith, with men and women like Bozzuto and Carr McGuire and Mendez and Grotzinger and Dexheimer and thousands of others with an ever-widening circle.
And finally, a closing word to the Classes of 2018, for this is a special class and one that I'm especially fond of and grateful for. You arrived on this campus four years ago in the summer of 2014 at a time when this institution was tested. But thanks to your leadership, thanks to your engagement, you made Hobart and William Smith a better place. You made Hobart and William Smith a stronger place. And that is one of the many reasons why these classes are so unique and so special, and that is why so many of us are so very grateful.
So go forth and do great things. Go forth and make us proud. Live our mission to lead a life of consequence, and look at that rearview mirror from time to time, and remember the lake, remember the Quad, remember your friends, and stay engaged in the life and the future of this very, very special place.
Thank you for the invitation.