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.
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.”
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.
“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.
“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.
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.”