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Commencement 2010

 

Commencement Valedictory Remarks
President Mark D. Gearan

May 16, 2010

Several months ago I happened upon a powerful maxim used by the cadets at the United States Military Academy at West Point. I believe it offers us a text to reflect and puzzle upon before we take our leave.

"Risk more than others think is safe. Care more than others think is wise. Dream more than others think is practical. Expect more than others think is possible."

As you prepare to pack your lives and rooms into the family van, let's unpack each phrase and consider some of its implications.

Risk more than others think is safe.

Honorary degree recipients George and Harriet McDonald saw a world of devastating homelessness, broken lives and despondent families.

They did indeed risk more than others might have thought safe. They risked careers, finances and reputations to build the Doe Fund that is now changing lives.

You may find your risk in less dramatic ways. You may have to take the risk and do the right thing, the ethical thing when others are trending another way.

Take a risk by getting out of your comfort zone to improve and expand yourself. A friend of mine observes that you learn most from the people least like you. So risk that conversation or invitation to dinner like David Butterini described. Travel to places you never imagined yourself going. Read that book you never thought to encounter.

Care more than others think is wise. We hope you leave us caring about your community - and caring about your responsibility as a global citizen. Caring may come in obvious ways: To care enough to vote; to care enough to volunteer and serve; to care enough to lead organizations that need your talents; Our newly minted degree recipient Pat Heieck embodies this concept of caring at an extraordinary level. Not only does she care deeply for her family and friends and faith. She cares to volunteer and visit those who cannot get out. She cares for her colleagues who work hard each and every day to prepare, serve and clean up after all of us. She cares about visitors to the Colleges whose sense of HWS will be marked by our hospitality. She cares more than others think is wise to nourish our bodies and our souls. Take a lesson from her model of caring.

Dream more than others think is practical.

George Bernard Shaw wrote: "You see things and you say Why? But I dream things that never were and I say - Why not?"

Forty years ago, the State of New York established the Higher Education Opportunity Program at independent colleges and universities. It was the dream of a junior legislator from Buffalo. Today, as we celebrate its 40th anniversary and the thousands of New York students who gained access to higher education - including hundreds of HWS students - we also commend the vision of Arthur Eve.

Four years ago the Governor and Legislature approved formally changing the name to the Arthur Eve Higher Education Opportunity Program in recognition of Mr. Eve's important role in increasing access to higher education in New York State.

This fall our nation will observe the 50th anniversary of John Kennedy's call to create the Peace Corps. Both the Peace Corps and the Higher Education Opportunity Program - bear witness to the power of an idea. The power of a dream. Both, I'm sure, started with an idea and dream that others deemed impractical. How can we possibly provide assistance to academically and economically disadvantaged students? How can we send young people out alone to remote areas in the most desperate nations on earth? But both 'impractial' dreams changed lives in real and powerful ways.

Expect more than others think is possible.

Here, we hope you leave us expecting more of yourself. After all, you are now blessed with a privilege that 99% of the world does not enjoy - a college degree. And so - much is expected of you. Our distinguished Commencement Speaker, the Honorable Dan Glickman, has truly led a life of consequence. He has clearly set high expectations for himself. With a record of impressive public service at the highest levels of our government, he now takes his many skills to advocate for the 41 million refugees and internally displaced people around the world. He advocates for solutions and summons governments, NGOs to work for lifesaving assistance and protection for displaced individuals. We need - and indeed, here we expect you to be engaged as responsible and responsive citizens who understand that the torch has now been passed to your generation. Much like President Kennedy's oft-quoted statement 50years ago, you now must wear the mantle of engaged, global citizens. And much is expected of you. As daunting as this expectation may be, take inspiration in the guidance of Eleanor Roosevelt who said: "You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. Do the think you think you cannot do."

Risk more than others think is safe. Care more than others think is wise. Dream more than others think is practical. Expect more than others think is possible.

And so we really now come to an end. Saga is closed, Dave Butterini. And you must now contort your college degree, Meggie Schmidt. No more late nights in the library, no more early morning walks along the lake at sunrise, no more visits with faculty; no more Cam's; no more Mark's; and no more Wegmans. Several years ago, I told graduating seniors to note the writing on the outside passenger side mirror of your car which reads:
Warning: objects in mirror are closer than they appear.

And so too for Hobart and William Smith. It will be closer to you than it appears. While geography and time may separate us - we are closer than it might appear. For Hobart and William Smith will always be with you in the academic preparation you received, the friendships with fellow students, faculty and staff you have developed and in the cherished memories you take with you.

We congratulate you on your accomplishments. We thank you for your engagement on this campus and in the city of Geneva. We wish you every success and hope you will stay connected to Hobart and William Smith.

Once again, we end with Thoreau: 'Go confidently in the direction of your dreams! Live the life you've imagined.'