As I look out at all of you—having enjoyed this past senior week and indeed these past two years with you; having been inspired by your commitment to service and internationalism; having enjoyed getting to know you at dinners together in Saga, or the co-ops or fraternities; or on the athletic fields or in classrooms—I am tempted to offer only two words of advice: Don't leave. Go back to your room, lock the door, and refuse to leave.
But leave you must.
And so before we close these ceremonies and send you forth—inspired by the words of Gwen Ifill—I have the privilege of the last word. I offer three reflections.
My first reflection, you leave this campus to live and work in this exciting new century filled with unlimited promise. With the dynamism of the 24/7 information age and global economy—you will pursue careers that could not have been imagined a generation ago. HWS graduates who have preceded you have never had the opportunities and advantages that await you. Students have graduated from this Quad into our nation's civil war, begun their careers in times of economic depression; faced their future with uncertainties of world war, and forged their lives amidst legally enforced racial and ethnic prejudice.
To be sure you will have your own challenge to balance your ever-accelerating lives, to keep up with your e-mail, check your voice mail, take your kids to the soccer games, stay in touch with friends, and remember to put your pager on vibrate during a movie.
But my hope for you is that amidst this exciting time ahead you allow yourself to direct the accelerated pace rather than be managed by it.
In Antoine de Saint Exupery's The Little Prince, he tells of the little prince encountering a fox and upon their parting writes:
"Goodbye" said the fox. "And now here is my secret, a simple secret: It is only with the heart that one can see rightly: what is essential is invisible to the eye."
"What is essential is invisible to the eye, " the little prince repeated, so that he would be sure to remember.
My hope is for you to remember as well—What is essential is invisible to the eye.
Second—leave this institution and fulfill its mission by becoming an active, involved and engaged citizen of the world.
In an address at the Sorbonne in Paris in 1919, Theodore Roosevelt summed up what I believe a most worthy personal philosophy. He said:
It is not the critic who counts, not the man who points out how the strong man stumbled or where the doer of deeds could have done better.
The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena;
whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood;
who errs and comes short again …
who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, and spends himself in a worthy cause;
who at least knows in the end the triumph of high achievement;
and who, at worst, if he fails, at least fails while doing greatly,
so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.
So in the spirit of TR—I urge you to get in the arena.
Get in the arena of the life and future of these colleges as alumni and alumnae as Mr. Horvath and Bensley embody.
Get in the arena of our civic life and the engagement of important issues of our day. Whether Democrat, Republican, Independent, or Green—take on the challenge and responsibility of living in a free and open society—as Congressman Freylinghuysen has done with such commitment.
Get in the arena to make a difference with a worthy cause knowing that you can fight intolerance and hatred one person, one community at a time.
Get in the arena and speak the truth. Take risks and dream dreams and set expectations as Gwen Ifill shows us.
This country and our world needs you to take the lessons learned here at Hobart and William Smith and remain engaged. Don't be timid or fear failure. Instead, commit yourself to get in the arena and spend yourself in a worthy cause.
My third and final point is to say goodbye—and, come home.
For today, you say goodbye to your friends and faculty; goodbye to Caffeination and the Cellar Pub; goodbye to Saga - to Betty and Anna and Paul Z. Goodbye to the Statesmen and Herons, the beauty of the Lake, and the quiet of Houghton House; goodbye to parties at Odells, fraternity brothers, and co-op housemates—goodbye to bad pizza and good pizza, good times and not-so-good times.
But as I told graduates last year:
Come home to Geneva and to Hobart and William Smith—and tell us of your accomplishments and disappointments.
Come home to inspire future generations of students with your success.
Take Hobart and William Smith with you into the arena and remember that what is essential is invisible to the eye.
As you drive out of Geneva for the last time today—look at your passenger side mirror of your car. It says: "Objects in mirror are closer than they appear."
Well—so, too, for Hobart and William Smith, it will be closer than it appears for you in your life.
In fact, Hobart and William Smith will always be with you.
In the rich liberal arts academic preparation you have received.
In the friendships you have made here that will last a lifetime.
And in the memories of this wonderful place.
It has been a privilege to serve as president during some of your time at Hobart and William Smith Colleges.
Goodbye. Come Home. Godspeed.
And get in the arena.
Commencement Address by Mark D. Gearan, Hobart and William Smith President
May 13, 2001