Commencement 2021

Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden
Commencement Address
May 16, 2021


President Jacobsen, members of the Board of Trustees, faculty and staff, thank you inviting me to be a part of this historic commencement ceremony. Graduates, family and friends it is an honor to be with you as you celebrate—congratulations to the Class of 2021!

Go Herons!

To the parents, grandparents, brothers, sisters, family and friends that got you here - this is your day as well.

It is a special honor to be with other awardees today, Mary Beer and Chris Lavin (HWS grad) who are my colleagues in working to make sure everyone has an opportunity to have healthy and successful lives.

Graduates-hats off on the hard work and perseverance that brought you here today. Four years ago, on your first day of school, I know it was probably hard to imagine this day would ever come. Yet the last year’s events made this day even harder to imagine and YOU MADE IT! I know you’ve worked hard to reach this day, especially during an exceptional time.

You are not only part of a long line of Hobart and Smith Colleges graduates, some here today like my good friends who are alumni and supporters of this great institution, Tom and Barbara Bozzuto, and others in the audience or even watching online as this commencement is streamed live; you are part of a nationwide, even global class of graduates who spent their last year in the midst of a once in a lifetime set of events. You know them well, everyone here today does. A series of events that made history, events that we all lived together.

It is especially significant for me in this time of medical emergency to receive the Elizabeth Blackwell award. As you know, she was another HWS graduate who made history in 1849 as the first women to receive a medical degree in the Northern Hemisphere. The list of remarkable Blackwell awardees who came before me is truly humbling. Last year we celebrated the centennial of the women’s suffrage movement, started in nearby Seneca Falls, and Elizabeth Blackwell’s achievement provided inspiration for young women throughout the world.

Janice Nimura’s recent groundbreaking biography “The Doctors Blackwell: How two pioneering sisters brought medicine to women-and women to medicine” shares some of the feeling of that historic day here in Geneva in 1849.” The day was full of sunshine as all of Geneva was trying to get a glimpse of the unprecedented event. An hour before the commencement exercises, the best seats were already the very townswomen who had been horrified at Elizabeth’s eager to glimpse the Lioness of the day. She was given her diploma last and alone-a bit of choreography that had the happy side effect of highlighting her singular achievement...with the undivided attention of every member of her audience. Upon accepting Blackwell said “By the help of the Most High, it shall be the effort of my life to shed honor upon this diploma.”

And interestingly enough, the commencement speaker Dr. Lee, included some of the same sentiments I want to share with you today at this historic commencement “You have learned how to learn, and what to learn–how to observe, and what to the work of actually learning and observing will begin.”

Fast forward to today—another historic day. We have spent months on a historic rollercoaster and your last year and a half at HWS was probably full of twists and turns, with uncertainty even around this very ceremony. It is wonderful that the Class of 2020 will be able to experience an in person ceremony in the coming weeks—your classes are joined forever.

It is widely acknowledged that the pandemic accelerated plans for a digital future, one that you were uniquely ready for and now can help shape. The phrase “covid as a catalyst” has had resonance on campuses, in institutions, governments, and businesses. A catalyst for thinking about the nature of work, what is important in life, and how to help everyone move into the digital future with equity and dignity.

Elizabeth Blackwell predicted “one hundred years hence, women will not be what they are now.” She endured and graduated at the top of her class. She famously said: “None of us can know what we are capable of until we are tested.”

This past year has been a test for all of us. It made you stronger and opened your eyes to opportunities and some surprise possibilities.

As you embark on your life after graduation, I have to tell you that despite the fatigue, hard work, and reality of your journey to get here today, some of your worst days may lie ahead, but you have already persevered and proven you can face challenges with determination and grit.

You know change can come fast and that what you know now is most likely not what you will need to know in the future. Today is another step in a journey of discovery and the most important and lasting skills you have gained are how to learn and persevere.

Here at Hobart and William Smith Colleges, you were students with a mission; you had definite goals and objectives with recognition from the school and professors about those missions, and everything in the school was tailored to advance you in achieving your goals. I am a living example of the need to use those skills that got you here to face a changing professional future. You may need to continue learning and investing in yourself so you can find meaning and purpose in work in a rapidly changing world.

Look around, opportunities are out there for you, many that you can create. This challenging year has also opened minds and some hearts to the possibility of creating a world where everyone is valued and can contribute if given the opportunity. Many predications about what is called a post pandemic world, stress the need and opportunity for people who can cope with uncertainty and see the possibilities in that state.

You have demonstrated your ability to do just that. You made it through a time that people will study for decades to come. In fact many books have already been written about it, with more in the pipeline.

And so as you close this chapter in your own history, there is still more to be written in your book of life. Even though you might have a plan for the future in your professional careers, just know and remember that there are still plenty of opportunities for unforeseen twists and turns. This year certainly demonstrated that fact! This year you also have learned to identify opportunities and adapt to change, so you are ready.

Your degree is another passport to opportunity, a ticket to ride and continue your journey with a few less obstacles. It is a ticket that allows you to decide where to go. And the fact that you brought yourself to this juncture says you want a place at the table. You can decide what table and what place you want. You and your family have invested in your future and I can assure you that the time, treasure, and sweat to get it will be paid back tenfold.

Remember today’s feelings of optimism and promise. Today you’re not only being presented with a degree, but you are being presented to the world, a world that needs you.

You are graduating in what has been called one of the most significant inflection points in history. Even though you might have missed out on some things, you have been part of something truly historic, a collective shared experience that will be something to look back on by historians like Janice Nimura.

Now, you can make your own history with even more self-determination and faith in your abilities. Remember this is your time. This is your history to be made.

Part of your history took shape here at HWS. Always remember the values this institution has instilled in each of you. These values should help fuel your motivation and provide inspiration in the future.

I urge you to celebrate today and continue to take time for the people who were with you and in memory of those who are not. Take time for yourself, family, and your circle of friends (your support group). This will make your journey even more meaningful and rewarding because these are the people who made it possible for you to imagine a better future.

As I stand here at the Colleges, a place that has embodied empowering both women and men, I will end with a quote from Susan B. Anthony. “The older I get, the great power I seem to have to help the world; I am like a snowball - the further I am rolled the more I gain.”

Be that snowball. Seize life and use your power!

Congratulations Class of 2021! The world is waiting for you. Good luck and God speed.