Good morning classes of 2003, President Gearan, trustees, faculty, staff, honored guests and families. First of all, no commencement speech would be complete without some congratulations. Congratulations on working hard and receiving your degrees today, but also congratulations on being the last graduating class to have experienced in-person registration, where showing up at 6 a.m. would not guarantee a place in the class you wanted. Congratulations on being the last people to see bulk candy in the café, and for having a real "folk-fest weekend," complete with tie-dye and dancing on the Quad. Congratulations on surviving the "great transition" from trimesters to semesters. I still cannot figure out how I ended up with 31.87 credits going into this semester. Luckily the people in the registrar's office were looking out for us.
While all those things are done and gone, there is one aspect of Hobart and William Smith that I hope will never change. No, it's not the rumors about the scissors in front of the library, nor is it the personal pan pizzas at Saga, it is the Quad. Students, you all know exactly what I am talking about. For those of you who don't, imagine this space on a bright spring day. On a nice day, or any day over 40 degrees in upstate N.Y., there are crowds of students on the Quad. I used to think it was all an act created by admissions to attract potential students. It's just so perfect and happy. I pictured this tour group walking down South Main and someone behind the scenes yelling "Cue the Frisbee players on the Quad." Everybody rushes into place and it looks like the perfect campus. But it's not an act.
Seriously though, you have all been there. You grab your sandals, a Frisbee or a football and some reading material and head out to join the rest of the student body on the Quad. Now I have had four spring semesters on this campus in which to conduct very unscientific observations on the actual activities that take place in this setting. First of all, you have the people running back and forth, engaged in very active games, attempting to avoid hitting the random security officer or professor walking by. Then you have the students on the periphery, who are watching the active people, attempting to get a tan from the Geneva sun, and pretending to do school work. The key word here is "pretending." To any underclassmen who may be here today, no one was ever able to learn on the Quad - so you might as well stop trying!
So my goal for all of us is to become those Frisbee players on the Quad. Become the people who are doing something, not those who are merely watching. After graduation, become as involved as possible in your field. Do not allow others to do the work and achieve their goals while you watch and pretend to study on the Quad. Take charge of the world around you instead of simply watching it on CNN. You are all capable of this challenge because Hobart and William Smith has given us the tools. Nearly all of our classes here required us to go out and actively participate in the field in which we were studying. This occurred in biology, where hands-on experiments were a weekly occurrence, sociology, where students were interviewing community members and gathering real research, and many other courses. Some of us participated in service- learning courses, or in off-campus programs where the world was our classroom, literally.
You all know how to be involved in your own way, because you have all done it here. As a class, we were concerned about literacy, so we taught Geneva school children to read. As a class, we were interested in women's issues, so we ran a women's collective. We organized protests, symposiums, concerts and teams. We did not wait for opportunities to fall in our lap, we went out there and actively sought them. We should be proud of the accomplishments of the classes of 2003. Please don't forget this after you walk across this stage and receive your degree today.
Bill Cosby once said, "When you're younger, you want to be sure that by the time you're 80 years old, you can sit on a bench and look back and say, 'Man, I did it all. I didn't miss a thing.'" So the world is your own Hobart and William Smith Quad and your diploma is a Frisbee. Get off your beach blanket, kick off your sandals and ask to play. I promise you, the world will let you.
"Live Every Day as if it were a Frisbee Day on the Quad," Marie Fiero, William Smith Senior Speaker
May 11, 2003