Interim Provost DeWayne Lucas
Special Commencement Address
May 14, 2018
On behalf of the Trustees, faculty and staff, I also wish to welcome all of our student athletes, families and friends to campus as we honor five very special undergraduate students and one master’s candidate today.
I surprisingly remember the roughly 25 years ago when I sat at my graduation. The venue of course was different. It was a big university setting, outdoors in a football stadium, on a nice day with approximately 4,000 classmates. I’m sure I may have known 100 of them, taken classes with another 1,000, but lacked the connection that defines HWS.
What I do remember is two questions dogged my friends and me in those final months and a few months to follow: The first was what was I going to do now with my life; the second was what did I learn from this experience. It took me awhile to figure out answers to both of those questions—at least adequate enough answers. But before I get there, I want to talk about your experiences at William Smith and Hobart Colleges.
The Fall of 2014 as you may remember was an interesting time for you and for the campus. We had just read weeks prior to your arrival the appalling story in the New York Times about our failure in handling a sexual assault case and we were taking steps to deal with that. Undaunted, you came to us anxious, excited, and eager to engage with the campus as we took steps to address and ameliorate those problems…often you and your classmates pushed and led us to do more. And, while we still have more work to do, you know that you have already made us a better place since.
I imagine nonetheless that there was more than the normal trepidation about starting a new school that year but, you came here also with optimism, bravado, and curiosity. As you moved into your dorms; met your roommates, hallmates, and other individuals that would become your lifelong friends; went to your first First-year Seminar meeting; were reassured by Board Trustee chair Maureen Zupan that we were the right place for you--slowly you started seeing your space here. This scary newness was far more approachable than you originally thought.
On that hot day in August, optimistic, eager to learn but nervous, you and your parents walked from Stern lawn to the parking lot to say your goodbyes. During that time, I imagine that one of your parents—probably your mom—reached over to you and whispered something to the effect… “It’s going to be OK. I know you can do it. Let me know how you’re doing. I’ll miss you. Call me every day. I love you.”
While you may not have managed to keep up the everyday phone call, I image that you thought of them and in their confidence in you and what they had taught you for your time here--to be respectful, to be engaged, to listen, to learn, and to be confident in your abilities. But when you did call, I also imagine that the call went something like “HI Mom. Hi Dad…Oh I’m doing good. The school’s Ok…I just wanted to say HI… See how things are going. ... Oh, a little extra cash? Definitely. That would be great…”
I also imagine—in case you can't tell I have a very active imagination at times—that those conversations talked about the roommate you couldn’t stand or the person down the hall who you argued with only to find out that in the end you were in agreement. Or, you discussed the four friends—the biologist, the historian, the sociologist, and the major in critical social studies—that you hang out with regularly and debate the problems of the day. You may not have told them about how you figured out a solution to half of the world’s problems during a 3 am chat following a late night of “study”. Or the 20-page paper that you knew about four months ago, but just started two nights before, realizing how brilliant it would have been if you had spent more time on it.
I suspect you also told them about the opening of the Gearan Center, the arrival of ABP, Deb Steward being named Division III Administrator of the Year, the sad news of President Gearan’s retirement, the new members of the team. However I hope you told them about the talk by Chrysa Chin—the executive VP for the National Basketball Players Association; the poet Claudia Rankine; the political commentators Mary Matalin and James Carville; the law school dean Eduardo Penalver, the author and writer in residence Jeff VanderMeer; the mayors of Rochester (Lovely Warren) and Ithaca (Svante Myrick), the political strategist and party leader Donna Brazile, the AIDS researcher Christopher Beyrer and other speakers who spoke on campus about the climate, the environment, changes in the US and international politics; the role of journalism, debates in popular culture around feminism, activism, racism, and globalization; the developments in biotechnology.
Or you may have mentioned the Fisher Center talks on sexuality and racism, contemporary challenges of facing the LGBT community, approaches and perspectives to racial harmony, and innovative perspectives about place and space. Or you told them about the study abroad trip to Denmark and Prague, the courses in Religious Studies, Psychology, Philosophy and Environmental Studies that you struggled with but which have changed your views on the world. You see, I think it was those opportunities, those events, and those experiences that we tried to impart upon you that profoundly affected who you are today.
Socrates, once said that, “I cannot teach anybody anything. I can only make them think.” In my eyes, it has been our mission to teach you how to think…to conceptualize the world differently than you had before. To see the full range of opinion, thoughts, and ideas in the human lexicon. It was through these processes that you are able to reach out to make new connections, find new paths, and understand new things today.
And it is through these new ways of thinking that you will be successful tomorrow. That was the life experience of our honorary degree recipients yesterday. Gerry Mendez '58, P'97 saw his passions in helping those that were incarcerated find and see new ways forward for themselves. His Hobart education helped him to envision a way to support them. Carolyn Carr McGuire’s '78 love for others led her to create an organization that connected business leaders to new opportunities. Her William Smith education provided her the foundation to pursue those goals. A first generation student, Thomas Buzzuto '68, a natural leader since his time at Hobart as a Druid and Student Body President, pursued a career that provided him the ability to become a leader in the real estate market. And, John Grotzinger '79, Sc.D. '13 took an idea all the way to Mars. Their Hobart education provided them the ability to make those connections and to see a future forward.
I also think they – and you—provide the best answers to the two questions I began with—what was I/you going to do now with your life and what did you learn from this experience. I suspect that when you look back on your experiences here you will realize that you learned how to think in new and different ways, to see opportunities and connection that lay before you, to struggle and wrestle with challenging questions of the day to reach a solution that you could embrace, and to emerge as a citizen of the world. The interests, passion, concerns, and events that preceded your arrival at the Colleges first opened the doors to your global and broader awareness. The roommates, friends, classes, and social activities have shown you the perspective of others, the interconnectedness of the local and the global, the need for understanding, compassion, and wisdom, and the diversity of the global community for your action. The faculty, staff, speakers, and student body gave you direction to channel your activism to causes that you feel passionate about and the confidence to take on any challenge laid before you.
We’ve taught you how to be citizens of the world, individuals that understand and can see its complexities, and champions for a better tomorrow. It is now in your hands to make the most of those lessons and make a better tomorrow a reality.
Finally, in the words of my imaginative conversation with your parents at orientation: “It’s going to be OK. I know you can do it. Let us know how you’re doing. We’ll miss you. Call us every day.”
Congratulations to you all.