I cannot begin to tell you how excited I am to give these remarks. Do you realize how long I have waited to have the last word on Chris Matthews? Can you imagine the joy I have in knowing that Chris just has to sit there while I have the last word. Well the time has now really come to a close. We’ve heard wonderful words from Evan Griswold, Heather Harris and Chris Matthews. We’ve been inspired by the professional success and commitment to Hobart and William Smith Colleges of Emily Fisher, Will Weinstein, Grady Jensen and Elizabeth Perry.
But it’s time. Time to say goodbye to your faculty and coaches, to Betty and Anna and Ron on the bus. Time to say goodbye to the lake, the goals of the curriculum, the Café, Odell's, downtown and our frequent power outages.
Time to pack your car, clean your room and close your college days.
But like Chris Matthews on his television show, I get to have the last word – and while I may not talk as fast as Chris, I’ll make it brief.
In fact – I suspect there will be time in the future – perhaps six months, six years or when you’re back for your 60th reunion like Grady Jensen will be – and someone will ask “Who spoke at your commencement?” You’ll certainly be able to recall the fine address of Chris Matthews.
Another question will follow: “Who was the college president at the time and what did he or she say?” Trust me. You won’t remember Mark D. Gearan, President of HWS. So, I only ask you to take away two thoughts.
First – the importance of mentorship. Specifically: To get a mentor. And to be one.
Second, the importance of civic engagement.
Let’s talk about mentorship. You cannot possibly graduate from Hobart and William Smith without knowing the importance of a strong mentor -- a faculty member, coach, dean, community service partner, intern coordinator – someone who has taken the time in your life and brought out the very best in you.
Indeed, I bet if you thought about it, there are one or two people who inspired each of you long before you came here—and perhaps are responsible for you being here. We’ve honored two such individuals today—high school teachers we presented the Touching the Future Award. You all have other examples I am certain.
As you prepare to depart Geneva, my hope is that you can take your memories of these mentors with you, keep in touch with them, and develop new ones throughout your life. McMullen and Miller write that a mentor’s “example, questions, and shared experiences helped protégés clarify their paths, crystallize their values and experience the freedom to explore unimaginable vistas.”
The other part of the equation of mentorship is to be one. That should be part of your compact in life beyond your days here at Hobart and William Smith.
Before you say you’re not ready to be a mentor. I would remind you that just how you conduct yourself in life, in ways big and small—from common courtesies to a good work ethic—can make you a mentor even if you don’t realize it at the time.
Think about the experience of Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell. For all the challenges she faced in studying here in Geneva to become the first American woman physician. She well understood the importance of being a mentor to others. Dr. Blackwell served as a mentor to Dr. Marie Zakrzewska, a German-born student trying to make her way in American medicine in the mid-19th century, at a time when few women could even dream of becoming a physician. Dr. Blackwell helped her young protege obtain her medical degree, and they went on to establish a teaching hospital together.
It’s this kind of story that should serve as an inspiration to us all about the powerful influence that a mentor can have on someone else’s life. So: find a mentor and then be one, as well.
Second, I urge you to stay involved in our civic life as a 21st century citizen. In your time here, you have been exposed to new ideas, critical thinking, thoughtful faculty, international study, the importance of our environment and visiting speakers at the Fisher Center and President’s Forum.
Take all of that with you and continue to be the dedicated, committed, socially and politically active young people that I know you to be. Stand as examples for what it means to be a good citizen in the 21st century.
I know how you have made a difference in the community of Geneva with your many hours of service. I know how you have thought about the world through your own travel and study. I know you have reflected on the importance of difference in today’s society—difference in gender, race, class and orientation.
Embrace all of that and become a 21st century citizen who gets it—who prizes our nation’s diversity, understands our global community and engages in community service.
But let’s face it: we live in cynical times. My hope, however, is that you will fight these forces who want you to travel down the aimless road of apathy and ignore the many critical issues of our day. My hope is that you will not fall prey to the forces of cynicism, but instead work for change and put your beliefs into action.
Teddy Roosevelt prodded his fellow citizens to “get in the arena.” Chris Matthews urged you to “get in the game.”
Whatever you call it, our country needs your ideas, your commitment and your leadership. It needs you to vote. It needs you to join boards and organizations, and to give your time and energies and intellect to serve in ways that will make your community, your country and our world stronger, more prosperous, more peaceful and more just.
More than 100 years ago, a graduating senior stood at these Commencement exercises and urged his fellow students to “retain the power of speech, no matter what other power you may lose.” And offered his “one rule of conduct”: I quote it this morning: “Do what you will, but speak out always. Be shunned, be hated, be ridiculed, be scared, be in doubt, but don’t be gagged. The time of trial is always. Now is the appointed time.”
A month ago, I lost a dear friend of ours who was one of the most remarkable people I’ve ever known. Mary McGrory possessed a gifted mind, and through hard work, and extraordinary tenacity, she reached the pinnacle of her profession as a journalist. She won a Pulitzer Prize for her commentary and was a columnist in one of the nation’s most important daily newspapers.
But her lesson in life for me was less about what she accomplished and more about how she lived her life.
She mentored numerous young journalists and politicos in the ways of Washington and Capitol Hill. She took time with people, hosted them, believed in them – as her own mentor once did when he took a chance and hired her as a reporter at a time in our nation’s history when that was less than ordinary.
Second, she was engaged as a citizen. She was always “in the arena,” following the issues of our time, and making time each week to serve as a volunteer with orphan children. Each week reading to them, teaching them to swim and helping them get into schools and colleges. Each week for 40 years.
Her life is over. But yours is right in front of you. At the end of her four score and five years, I am certain that Mary took far more joy and satisfaction in fulfilling her duties as an engaged citizen than in the certificates that hung on her office wall.
And this is my hope for you. That you will be able to reflect back on your life knowing that you’ve made that kind of difference.
I am confident that you will take your Hobart and William Smith degree and make a difference in this world. We have done our best to prepare you for a life of meaning and satisfaction, a fulfilling career with all of the challenges that lie ahead. Now it’s your turn. Find a mentor. Be a mentor. And be an active citizen in our great democracy. Now is the appointed time.
Thank you. May God bless you. And good luck.
Valedictory to the Classes of 2004, by President Mark Gearan
Commencement, May 16, 2004