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Service: Ancient and Universal

Posted on Saturday, May 15, 2010

"Let these readings, songs, music, prayers and words of others during this Baccalaureate ceremony help us find comfort and inspiration in this time of transition," said Hobart and William Smith Chaplain Lesley Adams, beginning the Colleges' 2010 Baccalaureate ceremony, which, celebrated each year before Commencement, grows out of an Oxford University ritual marking graduation.

"Today, with that transition in mind, we will remember and celebrate something ancient and universal," Adams said, "Service to others."

The Colleges' current Baccalaureate ceremony is derived from traditions that required that each student earning a bachelor's degree deliver a sermon in Latin, and although Baccalaureate has been part of our campus graduation rituals for more than 180 years, the ceremony is now in English, and students no longer have to preach.

However, this year's Baccalaureate ceremony, focused on service to others, prompted graduating seniors to reflect on the opportunities for service they have had at HWS.

Francesca Antonucci '10, Seher Syed '10, Mike Austerlitz '10 and Cliff Gardner '10 each spoke about their varied service opportunities-in Geneva with initiatives like the cancer fundraiser Relay for Life, in which Antonucci participated; around the country at institutions such as the University of Richmond, Virginia, where Austerlitz and Gardner presented findings of community-based research projects at the Bonner Foundation conference; or around the world in places like Bangladesh, where Syed interned at Grameen Bank, which, founded by Nobel Peace Prize recipient Muhammad Yunus, is dedicated to helping impoverished communities.

"To work together, we must focus on what unites us-similarity of spirit," Syed said, recalling what she learned at Grameen Bank.

Speaking, as HWS President Mark D. Gearan said, to "the value of service we prize at the Colleges," George and Harriet McDonald gave the Baccalaureate address.

In 1985, after months of feeding homeless people on the floor of Grand Central Terminal, the McDonalds created the Doe Fund, an organization that empowers homeless men and women to achieve lives of self-sufficiency.

"We are all remarkably similar in spirit, hearts and basic values," George said, "but there are great injustices, and we cannot be all we can be if we don't do something."

"When thinking about this speech, I asked myself, ‘Why do we serve?'" Harriet said.  "And my answer is, ‘If not you, who?' There are great injustices in this world and service changes our communal fate."

George McDonald was a private sector executive when New York City's homeless crisis began to peak in the early 1990s.  Having helmed the New York City volunteer office for Ted Kennedy's presidential campaign and run for Congress on a platform of ending homelessness, he eventually decided to leave his lucrative career and devote himself full-time to drawing public attention to the homeless problem.  What started as raising money to provide cash assistance for homeless individuals grew to the development of the Doe Fund, an organization that empowers homeless men and women to achieve lives of self-sufficiency. It does this through, among other means, a residential paid work and training program.

Harriet McDonald is the executive vice president of the Doe Fund. She and her husband worked together to develop and implement "Ready, Willing & Able," the first residential paid work and training program for homeless people.  As part of this initiative, they secured the funding to purchase and renovate an abandoned building on Gates Avenue, in Brooklyn, and a work contract to hire and train people to renovate city-owned apartments for occupancy by homeless families. Their idea was to forge a workforce from single homeless men and to house them at the Gates Avenue residence. George and Harriet went to the streets, to Grand Central, and to every men's shelter in the city to recruit participants. From day one, the men outperformed the expectations of the city contract.

The McDonalds will each receive the Colleges' highest award - honorary degrees - at this year's Commencement.

The earliest records of Baccalaureate services appear in the 8th century in England.  Held at Trinity Church, this year's ceremony featured readings by students, faculty and administrators from the New and Old Testaments and the Holy Qur'an as well as poetry from Thich Nhat Hanh and Rumi. Led by Professor of Music Robert L. Cowles, the ceremony included performances by the Colleges' Chorale which sang Old-World Mexican works and African-American Spirituals. Baccalaureate was ended by a reading and prayer from Lorinda G. Weinstock, Director of the Abbe Center for Jewish Life and Hillel Adviser at HWS.

For more Commencement events, visit the Commencement page.

 

 


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