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Schenectady, Union: Getting to know you

Posted on Jun 23, 2008

The Union-Schenectady Alliance, a group created by Steve Walker '08 and Josh DeBartolo '08 to improve relations between the College and the city, was recently featured in the Times Union.

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Student remnants become charitable contributions

Posted on Jun 16, 2008

Marion Porterfield, site coordinator for Weed and Seed of Hamilton Hill (foreground) and Sara Erickson, YWCA director of development and communications (right/background), sort through student donations at the second annual furniture drive to benefit Habi

When Union students left their dorms last week, they donated dozens of lamps, electronics, appliances and chairs that were too big to take along.

On Monday, some 70 campus staffers distributed the donations to three local agencies: Habitat for Humanity, Weed and Seed of Hamilton Hill, and the YWCA.

Sara Erickson, director of development and communication for the YWCA, was pleased to see the number of lamps and small appliances left behind. “We have 50 women living at the Y year-round and we also operate Schenectady County’s only domestic violence shelter,” she said. “These will be especially welcome to our residents.”

Last year’s donations from Union students to Habitat for Humanity enabled the organization to open its ReStore, a public thrift store on Foster Avenue, in August. Proceeds from the business are used to build homes for deserving families.

“The student donations are especially needed since we specialize in furniture and small appliances like the mini-refrigerators,” said Jenny Mann, office manager for Habitat.

Habitat for Humanity Office Manager Jenny Mann sorts through student furniture and electronic donations at the Memorial Field House. Selected items will be delivered to the ReStore on Foster Avenue and sold to raise money to build further homes.

Weed and Seed of Hamilton Hill provides assistance to families who have children going off to college. “We’re always in need of furnishings and electronic items like TVs and stereo equipment,” said Site Coordinator Marion Porterfield. “These donations will help defray some of the burden for these families and allow them to use their money for other things.”

“It’s a win-win for everyone,” said Loren T. Rucinski, director of facilities services. “Union can provide some much needed help to the community while reducing the amount that goes into a landfill.”

For more information, contact Residential Life at (518) 388-6117 or housing@union.edu

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Yates students: This is UC

Posted on Jun 15, 2008

President Stephen C. Ainlay shows Yates School students a compartment on a desk used by Union alumnus Chester A. Arthur, who would become U.S. President

A group of 32 soon-to-graduate sixth graders from Yates Magnet Elementary School in Schenectady got a taste of Union – and Union food – on Friday, June 13, 2008.

The students toured Schaffer Library with Librarian Tom McFadden; the engineering lab and the Baja car with Prof. Brad Bruno; and the Nott Memorial with Prof. Carl George. They had lunch in Hale House.

The students also met President Stephen C. Ainlay in his office, where he showed them portraits and described the lives of alumni Chester Arthur (1848), U.S. President; and William H. Seward (1820), U.S. Secretary of State under Lincoln, among other Union notables.

The students were invited to campus by President Ainlay in return for the school’s invitation last year to have him speak at the sixth grade graduation. In his address to the graduates last year, Ainlay urged the students to pursue their dreams, citing the perseverance of electrical pioneer Charles P. Steinmetz and a number of Union alumni.

Prof. Carl George describes the Nott Memorial to students from Yates Magnet School.

The exchange grew out of a project called “Colleges We Could Attend” coordinated by Yates teachers Melissa Hinds and Simone Masterson.

 “We wanted to expose them to college and to show them that college is an attainable goal,” said Hinds. “We also want to show them that college is something you need if you want to live well.”

With all 32 of the students crowded into Ainlay’s office, it appeared to be one of the largest groups to be hosted in the space. “And one of the friendliest,” Ainlay noted.

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Commencement 2008 caps four years of hard work

Posted on Jun 13, 2008

Commencement speaker Ruth J. Simmons. Commencement 2008.


Invoking the wisdom of such notable figures as Martin Luther King Jr. and William Faulkner, Brown University President Ruth J. Simmons urged the newest Union graduates to use their knowledge wisely and generously for the greater good.

“I believe man will not merely endure, he will prevail. He is immortal because he, alone among creatures, has a soul, a spirit, capable of compassion, sacrifice and endurance,” Simmons, quoting Faulkner’s acceptance of his 1949 Nobel Prize for “The Sound and the Fury,” told students, families and guests who gathered in Hull Plaza Sunday for the College’s 214th Commencement. 


More Commencement 2008 coverage:


Some 500 students received diplomas on the walkway in front of Schaffer Library under majestic blue skies on Father’s Day.

A prominent national leader in higher education and the first African-American president of an Ivy League institution, Simmons is noted for her commitment to diversity and engineering, two key initiatives that are also integral to the Union campus.

Simmons encouraged graduates to "influence change when needed and model resilience in the face of challenge." She summed up her Commencement address by charging them to “embrace life, reap the rewards of your hard work and light the way for others.”

A graduate's mortar board at Commencement 2008.

In his remarks to the Class of 2008, Ainlay said, “You honor us by your presence, and we are proud to count you among our own… Hopefully you carry with you memories, friendships and commitments that will last a lifetime. In my time at Union, I have been struck by the hold that four years at Union seems to have on people. I think I can safely predict that, decades from now, some of your best friends will be members of the Class of 2008.” 

He underscored that the graduating seniors “have walked the footsteps of other graduates of Union, people who became luminaries in many fields of endeavor.”

He cited, among others, U.S. President, Chester Arthur (Union Class of 1848); Abraham Lincoln’s Secretary of State, William Seward (1820), who helped shape Lincoln’s opposition to slavery; Solomon Deyo (1870), who revolutionized urban travel by designing the first New York subway system; Andrea Barrett, Union (1974), winner of a National Book Award; and Kathy Magliato (1985), one of a handful of women heart/lung transplant surgeons currently working to develop an effective artificial heart.

Teasing that he would “turn down the pressure a notch” by not expecting students to become president or win Nobel prizes, Oscars or Olympic Gold Medals – “although I am confident that some of you will undoubtedly do such things and receive such things” – Ainlay said, “I do want to charge you with making a difference. That is, it is now your turn to be the innovators who find ways of reducing our environmental impact and develop better, more humane, and ethically-bound organizations, institutions and political systems.

Student and professor hug at Commencement 2008.

“It is now your turn to improve people’s lives, mend brokenness in all its forms, heal wounds, educate and improve the communities in which you will live.”

Ainlay, Simmons and another featured guest, noted author and historian John W. Dower, arrived on campus Sunday in a 1914 Duplex Drive Brougham Detroit Electric Automobile once owned by Union Professor and Electrical Engineering wizard Charles Proteus Steinmetz.

Dower, a leading expert in relations between Japan and the United States who teaches Japanese history at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, is the author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning “Embracing Defeat: Japan in the Wake of World War II” (1999). He received an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree Sunday.   

The student speaker was Varun Shetty of East Hills, Long Island, an interdepartmental major in Biology and Political Science who is also pursuing his MBA in Health Management. An aspiring doctor, he reflected on the graduate’s task of reconciling “the wisdom of our youth with our more adult ambitions.

Graduate at Commencement 2008 tips her hat.

“We can, as Mahatma Gandhi once said, bethe change that we wish to see in the world. We can embody that change, in our actions, in our interactions, in our most private thoughts and our most public endeavors. We can. I know this because during our time here at Union, many of us have. And as we leave this campus, we must continue to do so. The lessons of our youth must not end as we enter adulthood,” Shetty said.

Co-valedictorians for the Class of 2008 were Josh DeBartolo of Middleburgh, N.Y., and Kaitlin Canty of Cheshire, Conn.

DeBartolo earned a Bachelor of Science with a double major in Psychology and Economics. He begins his career this summer as an analyst with Goldman Sachs in Salt Lake City, Utah. Canty earned a Bachelor of Arts with a double major in Political Science and Women’s & Gender Studies. She will enter the University of Connecticut School of Law in Hartford this fall.

COmmencement 2008

Michelle Koo,a Psychology major from Las Altos, Calif., was salutatorian. In the fall, she will pursue a 10-month Fulbright English teaching assistantship in Madrid, the prelude to joining Teach for America in Northern California.     

Ainlay closed Commencement 2008 ceremonies by paraphrasing the charge that Union’s first president, John Blair Smith, issued to students more than two centuries ago: “As you leave this place, do so ready to live a useful life.”


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Text of President Stephen C. Ainlay’s Baccalaureate remarks Saturday

Posted on Jun 13, 2008

We gather together for this Baccalaureate Ceremony in Memorial Chapel, one of the most beloved spaces for many graduates of Union College. Memorial Chapel was completed in 1925 and was intended to honor Union alumni who had been killed in wars up to that time, especially the then recent conflict of World War I. Over the ensuing years, it’s evolved into a place for remembering the passing of all graduates of the College and other members of the Union community. For this reason, each year at the Baccalaureate ceremony, we take time to honor those members of the Union family who died during the preceding year. We do so again today. Their names are listed in the program and I would ask that you join me in remembering them, their many contributions, and their love of Union with a brief moment of silence.

Look around you. Surrounding you are the portraits of my 17 predecessors. Some, like Jonathan Maxcy, Union’s third President, served for a relatively brief time. President Maxcy served for just two years (1802-1804). He himself started college – at what was to become Brown University – when he was just 15 years old and then served as its second President before coming to Union. He was regarded as one of the most eloquent preachers of his day. His presidency here was brief due to what he perceived to be the ill effects of Schenectady’s weather on his health. Some of you may feel the same way!

To Maxcy’s left is Jonathan Edwards, Jr, Union’s second President. He also had a short term as President and died in office. In fact, he is buried a few blocks from here in the graveyard at the Presbyterian Church on Union Street in the Stockade District. Edwards was the son of Jonathan Edwards, a prominent theologian. He was among the early abolitionists and we just purchased a rare document in President Edward’s own handwriting, an anti-slavery sermon. Unlike Maxcy, he wasn’t likely called “eloquent.” He seldom looked at his audience and his sermons reputedly went over the heads of most people. He was said to lack “social graces,” to have been incapable of small talk and absent of wit. However, what he lacked in grace, he made up for in courage. When most ministers stayed on the sidelines in the early days of the American Revolution, Edwards blessed militia heading to Boston to confront British troops.

To Maxcy’s right is Eliphalet Nott, the fourth and most celebrated President of Union. He holds the record for the longest serving President of any college or university – 62 years. Nott’s accomplishments are the stuff of legend. As a minister serving one of America’s most prestigious congregations, he eulogized Alexander Hamilton (then our country’s Secretary of the Treasury) after he was killed in a duel with Aaron Burr (then our country’s Vice President). Nott the inventor, designed stoves that competed with those of Ben Franklin. As you’ve probably heard before, he defied the curricular wisdom of his day, allowing modern languages to meet graduation requirements alongside the classical languages. It was Nott who brought engineering into the liberal arts curriculum, making Union the first liberal arts college in the nation to do so. 

I could take you on a biographical tour of many more of the Presidents whose portraits adorn these walls. But, I’m sure you’ll be relieved to hear, I won’t. The portraits of the Presidents, like plaques honoring those alumni who died in battles in far off lands, are intended to ask us to remember. Memorial Chapel is special to so many students who have gone before you for this reason. When they enter this space, years after they graduated, they remember. If they were students between 1946 and 1965, they gaze at Carter Davidson, at the far end of the wall opposite Edwards, Maxcy, and Nott, and they remember him as their president. They remember their time at Union College. That particular generation of students remembers studies interrupted by World War II, rumors of the formation of a “Little Ivy League,” and fields full of army tanks where College Park Hall now stands. More importantly, they remember roommates, friends, faculty and staff who cared for and about them, classes they loved and classes they didn’t love so much, the challenge of crossing campus on blustery winter days and the seeming promise inherent in warm sunshine-filled days of spring. They remember a time and a place that mattered in their lives, mattered to the person they eventually came to be.

I know that Commencement is still a day away, but I suspect a sense of remembering is already beginning to grow within you if its not taken hold already. I hope that you too will remember your times here and this very special place overlooking the Mohawk Valley. Some of you will remember Maya Angelou speaking in this very place to a packed house. Some of you will remember what it feels like to be part of an athletic team, savoring victory together and sharing the pain of defeat. Some of you will remember lending a hand in the demolition and then reconstruction of the Habitat for Humanity House on Barrett Street. Some of you will remember raising funds to support the Diana Legacy program and thereby reduce suffering in Africa. Some of you will remember standing against hate crime. I hope you will all remember good times, fun times. I hope all of you will remember the time when your understanding of the world was shaken by a book that you read or a piece of music you heard performed. I hope all of you will remember and keep in touch with faculty and administrators who, I assure you, will continue to care about what you do. I hope all of you will remember the friends you’ve made.

And, remember this: while you graduate tomorrow, this doesn’t end your relationship to Union College. When you were accepted to Union, you were given a sort of life-long membership in this great and storied institution. I hope you will see tomorrow as the commencement of the rest of your lives and the commencement of a rich and abiding relationship to Union as graduates. I hope you will come back to campus for ReUnions, alumni symposia, special games, concerts, lectures, and exhibits. I hope you will be active participants in the alumni clubs near whatever cities in which you decide to locate yourselves. And, I hope you will come back many times to Memorial Chapel, gaze upon its walls, listen to its chimes, and remember: You truly are Union.

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