Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, Herons and Statesmen, hold on tight. It’s the end. This is it. The end of the most privileged four years anyone could ask for. Four years and several months ago, our founding gut-instincts led us to the banks of Seneca Lake. We walked with the numbing winter wind, around the sidewalks of the most beautiful campus in New York State, and then—we saw it. The quad. We had seen it in pictures; in that admissions booklet with the big shiny silver brain on it and on the ever-popping up www.hws.edu., but never before had we known what it would actually feel like to be standing there, in front of iconic Coxe Hall. That winter we visited, even with the snow and the cold, we felt the warmth of possibility. The quad gave us that feeling of tremendous anticipation for what could be a wide open field of opportunities, completely surrounded by Hobart and William Smith’s remarkable tradition of honor and excellence. The open quad represented the open doors of one of the finest liberal arts educations available. Now, here we sit, in what was once openly unknown, now knowing enough to leave this quad just as open as we once found it. To do this, we must let go of what we have been holding onto so tightly. We all must open our hands and feel the grass of new fields. The first thing I asked you to do today was to hold on tight. Soon, I will ask you to let go. This is the idea of the open hand of love and compassion.
You may have heard about this open hand from the Venerable Tenzin Yignyen, HWS’ own Tibetan monk, the biggest little man I have ever met. The idea of the open hand believes that if we wish for experiences of great beauty and love, we must always be open to their arrival. We must be as open as an open hand and we must live our lives compassionately, every day, always. Now, if you keep an open hand, you may be lucky enough to have a gorgeous bird decide to perch in your palm. Of course, if I were speaking at Ithaca’s graduation today, then the bird would be gorges. This wonderful creature, when loved healthily, may fly freely away from your open hand, with a karmic chance of a fortuitous return. However, if you close your hand over this bird, you are not allowing this bird freedom. In fact, you are preventing yourself and preventing others from seeing the true beauty of the bird, in its entirety. With a closed hand, we also prevent the opportunity of other gorgeous birds landing in our palm. So, let go! Allow yourself to see this bird’s beauty and to hear its lovely songs.
Here, on the quad, in what will always be our field of dreams to return to, keep your hands open. Open up your ferociously liberal minds and remember the open hands that helped us along the way and made our four year experiences so very hard to let go of. Remember the hand that received your high school diploma from Central Bucks High School West and LaGuardia High School of Music and Art. The same hand that shook President Gearan’s hand 1,364 days ago under the Orientation tent. The same hand that choreographed Koshare piece after Koshare piece, in between servings of York Peppermint Patties. The hands that completely missed those fly balls in the outfield of that Fiordland National Park kickball game in the South Island of New Zealand. The hand that waved to hometown family and friends after its last handball-free home Heron soccer game to chants of “Wendzel! Wendzel!” The hand that shattered the Hobart division 1 lacrosse record for points against St. John’s before somehow finding time to spray paint the words “Hobart Aesthetics” on used clothing to benefit the Boys and Girls Club. And the hand that made absolutely stunning color prints with the printing press in the basement of Houghton House until 4 o’clock in the morning a week ago.
Remember the hands that have helped us along our unbeaten paths. The tenacious hand of Chorale Director Bob Cowles that directed us to pitch-perfect singing, the same hand that would brush his luscious locks out of his coke bottle glasses. The hands of Betty, Anna, Gwen, Paula, Roxanne and all of the beautiful dining hall staff who have always left us stuffed and smiling. The hand of each and every one of our professors, continuously catching our attention every day and motivating us to listen, learn, and love absolutely everything we do in life.
Let us be grateful for the hands of our friends, who have slapped every one of our high fives and punched each of our pounds. The hands that hugged us after a rough day and the hands that we held on those walks by the Lake. The open hands that threw us a Frisbee, a baseball, a bone, and the keys to a racing white, four cylinder, 1990 Geo Prizm.
Don’t forget the open hands of our family members. They helped us unpack into our first dorm rooms on Jackson 2 four years ago, and now they are helping us pack up one last time from Odell’s 28 and the Brick House at 124 Hamilton Street. The open hands of our parents, that are always there to pick us up when we are down and always ready to give us a nice kick in the pants when we need to get our lives in gear. The open hands of our brothers and sisters. In the McNeil family, I always had five brothers and two sisters with open hands, although, they always seemed to use their open hands to slap me around or just to point fingers of blame and ridicule. Over the years, our hands stayed open, though, and today I hope that every pair of them will be used to cheer me on across the podium, pat me on the back (maybe even some hugs)—and then they will continue to make fun of me. Incredible things happen when you have an open hand.
Have an open hand to the experiences that await us. And when the experiences land, do not close your hand, for you may be preventing other experiences of great beauty and love from joining the handful. There are memories that we have of our last four years that we will never want to let go of. Now, for the last time, hold on tight, real tight! And then do with your hands what is best when we want never to forget: let go! Open those hands and live! Thank you.
Valedictory to the Classes of 2005, Paul Martin McNeil '05
May 15, 2005