Posted on Jun 13, 2008

Could we have asked for a better way to celebrate the accomplishments of the Class of 2008?

I want to thank our honorary degree recipients for being with us today. You both honor us by your presence and we are proud to count you among our own.

I would call your attention to the list of prize recipients, printed in the back pages of the Commencement Program. They received their awards at Prize Day but I would ask you to join me in recognizing them today with your applause.

President Stephen C. Ainlay speaks at Commmencement 2008.

I would also invite all the members of the Class of 2008 to stand, turn to your family and friends in attendance today, and join me in thanking them with applause for their love and support which prepared you for Union and sustained you the past four years.

Would all of you join me in thanking the members of the Union faculty who have shared their love of learning with you these past four years and especially Professors Tom Werner, Byron Nichols, and Vuk Fatic as they will all be retiring at the end of this academic year.

I also want to thank Professor William Finlay, our Marshall, the members of the Commencement Committee as well as the entire Union staff for organizing this day, readying this beautiful campus, and preparing food that we will enjoy. They have approached this day as they approach every day, with devotion and care.

I invite all of you – graduates, friends, family members, faculty, staff, and administrators – to join the divisional receptions immediately following this ceremony. These divisional receptions offer a fine opportunity to affirm the bonds that have been forged.

Now please allow me a few words to our graduates. 

I told you at the Senior Dinner on Tuesday that your class had made a difference; that Union was better for your having been here. That is true. That is your gift and your legacy at Union College. And, we are grateful for what you’ve done.

After today, you join the ranks of those who have graduated from Union College before you. 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 still be members of the Class of 2008. 

I hope you will stay in touch with faculty and staff here – people who made a difference in your life. I hope you will stay in touch with me. Like a good novel, I want to know where the story goes from here. By staying in touch, you will keep relationships alive. And relationships that transcend your four years here are part of the legacy of Union in your lives.

Over the past four years, you have walked in the footsteps of other graduates of Union, people who became luminaries in many fields of endeavor. You have walked in the footsteps of our 21st U.S. President, Chester Arthur, Union Class of 1848. You have walked in the footsteps of William Seward, Union Class of 1830 who helped shape Abraham Lincoln’s opposition to slavery. You have walked in the footsteps of Solomon Deyo, Union Class of 1870, who designed the first New York subway system and thereby revolutionized urban travel. You have walked in the footsteps of Gordon Gould, Union Class of 1941, who invented the laser and thereby enabled many new industrial and therapeutic applications. You have walked in the footsteps of Baruch Blumberg, Union Class of 1946, whose work led to an effective hepatitis B vaccine and earned him a Nobel Prize. You have walked in the footsteps of Andrea Barrett, Union Class of 1974, winner of a National Book Award, whose writings have challenged, inspired, and moved her many readers. You have walked in the footsteps of Kathy Magliato, Union Class of 1985, one of a handful of women heart/lung transplant surgeons who today works to develop an effective and reliable artificial heart. And, you have walked in the footsteps of others, whose contributions have earned them honorary degrees, Oscars, Olympic Gold Medals, and a host of other prestigious awards. This has been your privilege as a student at Union College. This too becomes part of Union’s legacy in your lives.

Let me turn down the pressure a notch: I am not going to charge you with becoming Presidents or Secretaries of State. Nor will I charge you with winning Nobel prizes, Oscars, or Olympic Gold Medals. Although I am confident that some of you will undoubtedly do such things and receive such things. 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.

I would like to close today’s Commencement ceremony and send you on your way, by paraphrasing the charge that Union’s first President, John Blair Smith, gave to Union students over 200 years ago: “as you leave this place, do so ready for a useful life.”

I look forward to welcoming you home to this very special place many times in the years ahead. We all wish you the best, you sisters and brothers under the laws of Minerva, you daughters and sons of Union College. Godspeed.