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Text of President Stephen C. Ainlay’s charge to graduates

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.

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Old Union

Posted on Jun 12, 2008



Recent news of the closing of Sheldon Jackson College in southern Alaska has caused some to wonder about the man for whom it was named.

The Rev. Sheldon Jackson in May 1899. (Photo courtesy of the Alaska State Library Photograph Collection.)

He was the Rev. Sheldon Jackson, Class of 1855, Presbyterian missionary, health and education advocate for Alaska’s natives and reindeer importer. Much is known of William Henry Seward, Class of 1820, who rose to Secretary of State under President Abraham Lincoln and became a key driver in the purchase of what would become the 49th state. Jackson is a less well-known figure but is vitally important to Alaska’s history. Jackson, a native of Minaville in New York’s Mohawk Valley, was born May 18, 1834. He arrived at Union in 1852 as an 18-year-old sophomore, and, according to letters to his parents, immersed himself in the academic and spiritual offerings.

“We recite Greek at 6 a.m., Latin at 11, Botany at 2 p.m., Trigonometry at 4 and have chapel at 5,” he wrote in one letter.

He became a student leader, was elected clerk of the House of Representatives of Union College, vice president of the Adelphic Literary Society, and a member of the Geological Society.

Many letters refer to his interest in religious life. He wrote of chapel services and prayer meetings in his room. In his junior year, he received communion at a Presbyterian church near his hometown and after graduating from Union took up the study of the gospel ministry at Princeton Seminary in New Jersey. That experience cemented his desire to pursue missionary work.

“A feeling came upon him which he had never had before, that he should relinquish everything for Christ and be content to labor amidst the greatest deprivations and dangers, if only he could win souls to Christ,” wrote Willard E. Rice, minister of the Union Presbyterian Church in the pamphlet, Sheldon Jackson: Union Worthies Number Fifteen (Union College, 1960).

He was ordained in Albany at a service presided over by Union President Eliphalet Nott in 1858. Three weeks later, Jackson married Mary Voorhees and the couple set out for an assignment from the Presbyterian Board to work with the Choctaw tribe in what is now Oklahoma. Jackson suffered ill health in what was then a malarial area, so he was moved to remote Minnesota, where by 1869 he had launched some 200 new churches.

But he would find another calling in Alaska, a territory purchased by the federal government from Russian Empire in 1867 through the labors of Seward. A writer in the Union Alumni Monthly in 1912 suggested that Jackson ultimately vindicated “Seward’s Folly.”

For a decade after the purchase of Alaska, little was done for the native peoples in terms of education, government and alleviation of poverty. Jackson established a mission in 1877 in Wrangell, Alaska. In nearby Sitka, he launched a church and a boys industrial school for Tlingit Indians in an old military barracks. He also traveled north along the coast, above the Arctic Circle, finally to Point Barrow, where he established a church, a school and a hospital.

The school in Sitka became a boarding school in 1917 and Sheldon Jackson College in 1944. Before closing down in July 2007, Sheldon Jackson College was the oldest educational institution in continuous existence in Alaska. The college had about 100 students and 100 staff and faculty and closed due to excessive debt.

In the mid-1880s, Jackson was appointed general agent for education in Alaska by the U.S. government, a position he held for 23 years. When he resigned, he was credited for advancing the cause of education among natives.

Perhaps his most unexpected role came in response to the lack of food for the Eskimo. Jackson found the solution in the importation and domestication of reindeer. Undaunted by ice flows, ridicule and lack of funds, he raised $2,000 to begin a program to import animals from Siberia and Norway. Congress, convinced of the merits, appropriated funds to import 1,200 reindeer.

Jackson found time for other projects too. He inaugurated the first canoe mail service in 1883. He founded the Alaskan Society of Natural History and his collection of native artifacts is today the Sheldon Jackson Museum. The museum erected with Jackson’s help in 1897 was the first concrete building in the state and was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1972.

In 1901, still plagued by ill health, Jackson handed over his Alaskan work to his colleagues and took up a leadership post in the Presbyterian Church. He died in 1909 in Asheville, N.C., and was laid to rest in Minaville.

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In Memoriam

Posted on Jun 12, 2008



John E. Miller inspired students and colleagues during a career at Union’s Theater and Dance Department that began in 1987 and included dozens of productions at Yulman Theater, the former theater at the Nott Memorial, and at local and regional venues. He died Feb. 14, 2008. He was 59.

During the winter term, Miller had been teaching a class in lighting design and preparing for a winter dance concert. On the morning of Thursday, Feb. 14, Miller was stricken while on campus and transported to Ellis Hospital, where he was later pronounced dead. Miller was a graduate of the State University of New York College at Brockport, having earned degrees in history and theater. Brockport is where Miller was introduced to the theater and the college always held a special place in his heart. He also earned a master’s degree in theater from the University at Binghamton. He was a man of great passions; the first being his family and the second being the theater.

Friend and former colleague Barry K. Smith, who taught at Union from 1971 to 1998, wrote a eulogy that is excerpted below:

“John’s work as a lightning designer always took him above the stage, a special vantage point from which he artistically illuminated the stories below. He loved light. He loved students who helped him create atmospheres that bathed actors and sets with the magic of rainbow colors. “He was a man of quite integrity and sense of humor; a deeply caring man who loved his wife, children, friends and students. “He loved to watch communities of actors being created. He loved to watch students grow in confidence as they found their reasons for performing their roles.”

Miller also worked at the Bristol Valley Playhouse in Naples, N.Y. and was a founding member of Home Made Theater of Saratoga Springs. He was technical director for Curtain Call Theatre of Latham and actively involved with the Blue Roses Theatre of Schenectady High School. He had a deep appreciation for the outdoors and loved camping at Fish Creek in the Adirondacks.

Miller was a native of Amityville, N.Y. and the son of Victor and Lucile (Schaaf) Miller. He is survived by his wife, Linda Dott; their children: Erik, Alyssa, Kristen and Tiana; his brother, James Miller; sisters, Jane (Robert) Riggs and Sally Miller; and several nieces, nephews and cousins. He was predeceased by his siblings Susan and Thomas.

In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions for the children may be sent to: John E. Miller Memorial Fund c/o Trustco Bank 1048 State St., Schenectady, NY 12307.  



David D’Agostino ’06 was well known on campus for his curiosity, warmth and wit. He was also widely admired for the independence and perseverance with which he overcame blindness.

He died March 14, 2008 at his home in Colonie, N.Y. He was 25. “He was such a nice guy, so polite, bright and hardworking,” said his advisor, Professor Linda Stanhope, of psychology. “He just never let [blindness] keep him down at all.”

D’Agostino was an interdisciplinary major in history and psychology. He transferred to Union from Schenectady County Community College at the start of his junior year. He had been blind since his mid-teens, the result of a brain tumor.

He had a strong interest in music—especially hip-hop, reggae and blues—and he took on the persona of “DJ Wits” to provide music for campus events. He was a popular DJ the last three years at Union’s Party in the Garden.

While at Union, he was a frequent reporter and commentator to the Concordiensis. He took public transportation each day from his home in Colonie to Nott Terrace, and from there he would walk to campus, said Shelly Shinebarger, director of Student Support Services, who worked closely with David to provide academic and logistical accommodations. Rarely, she said, he would ask for a ride from Campus Safety.

Shinebarger recalled the day David showed up in her office after being hit by a car while crossing the street. “He said he was fine and that he just needed to sit down,” she said.

Professor George Bizer recalled David as a student in his experimental psychology class, a challenging course that requires data analysis. “I thought, ‘how is he possibly going to understand this stuff ?’” Bizer recalls. But using a small tactile graph to communicate concepts and occasional explanations from the professor, David mastered the material.

William Thomas, director of International Studies, recalled David’s fearless approach to the unknown. He made two trips to England, and one to Germany. “The amazing part of David was his independence,” said Thomas, who helped arrange his term abroad in York, England.

At York, he received the Kate Hollister Prize as an outstanding study abroad student, and he returned to commencement at York St. John University to receive the prize and a warm ovation, Thomas said.

“He loved participating in everything we arranged for the exchange students during his term abroad, especially going to Paris and realizing a childhood dream of visiting the Eiffel tower and the Louvre,” said Maggie Williams, a coordinator at York.

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Alumni Council

Posted on Jun 12, 2008


Alumni Council

John Vero ’97 is president of the Alumni Council and a College Trustee. The Union College magazine recently spoke with Vero about the Council and being an active alumnus.

The Alumni Council was formed in 1910 as clearinghouse for the exchange of ideas between the Board of Trustees, the College’s Administration and active alumni. That remains the Council’s main purpose today, especially as the College begins to implement President Stephen C. Ainlay’s Strategic Plan. To turn ideas into actionable recommendations, the Alumni Council employs a host of subcommittees that focus on specific issues such as Greek life on campus. Vero was a member of the Phi Delta Theta fraternity and earned a bachelor’s degree in political science and economics. He earned a law degree from Albany Law School in 2000. He is a partner with the law firm of Couch White, LLP. Vero and fiancée, Sarah Delaney ’02, live in Albany.

What is the Alumni Council today?

The Alumni Council is, in many respects, what it was in 1910: an organized group that helps alumni get involved in the College community. The Council communicates with the Board of Trustees and the Administration on behalf of all alumni. The Council also disseminates information to active and engaged alumni and tries to facilitate an exchange of ideas.

The College is blessed to have 25,000 or so living alumni who can serve as personal ambassadors for the College. In this age of e-mail blasts and impersonal communication, all of our alumni can put a human face on Union College. The Council can educate alumni about the College community and get more voices to deliver a message of support for Union.

What does the Alumni Council mean to you?

When I come back to the College for Alumni Council meetings, I feel invigorated. It gets me excited about the College. It reminds me of the incredible impact Union has had on my life.

When I stand up in front of Council meetings, I think about the College’s rich history. It’s not just a gathering of alumni. We are carrying on a tradition that goes back hundreds of years. For much of the College’s history, there has been an organized group of interested and active alumni. And to this day, it continues. It’s vibrant. I am honored to lead that group today.

More than two hundred years since the College’s founding and nearly 400 years since the founding of Albany, both are still undergoing transformations, breaking new ground and leading the pack. For me, the College is a critical piece of local history. I’m proud to be not only an observer, but an active participant, in the College and New York’s Capital Region.

Tell us about one Alumni Council project.

Just about two years ago, the Board of Trustees asked the Alumni Council to examine aspects of the Strategic Plan dealing with fraternities and sororities. We formed a subcommittee and researched what other colleges were doing. Our top recommendation was to create the position of director of Fraternity and Sorority Life.

At our last Council meeting we met the new director, Tim Dunn. He is doing a fantastic job. He is doing exactly what we envisioned. Tim’s presentation was tangible proof that the Council does have a positive impact on the College.

President Ainlay has many goals within the Strategic Plan. There is going to be ample opportunity for the Council—and all alumni—to be involved.

What does Union mean to you?

The College is, for me and for Sarah, the foundation upon which our professional careers are built. Usually you hear of alumni giving back to the College. But for me, the reverse is true. Union keeps giving back to me.

During my four years on campus, I took advantage of everything the College had to offer. I learned so much and made so many lifelong friends.

After graduation, I remained involved with the College as a member of the Alumni Council. In that role, I continued to learn about the College and I made new alumni friends. I got to experience the College in a whole new way.

Over ten years later, I am president of the Alumni Council and a Trustee and I’m still learning about how the College works and I’m still making new friends. I’m still experiencing Union in so many different ways and enjoying it.

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Posted on Jun 12, 2008

Radical Gratitude and Other Life Lessons Learned in Siberia. By ANDREW BIENKOWSKI ’60. Union College amgazine spring 2008.


Radical Gratitude and Other Life Lessons Learned in Siberia

Allen & Unwin

A melding of narrative and inspiring practical guidance, this book is both the extraordinary true story of a Polish family’s survival in Stalinist Siberia and a guide to becoming a person who can give to others. Andrew Bienkowski was just 5 years old when he watched his grandfather starve to death so his family could survive in exile. This extraordinary book moves back and forth from the family’s terrible journey of survival in Siberia, to how to become a person who can give to others.

ROBERT SKLOOT ’63. The Theatre of Genocide. Union College magazine.


The Theatre of Genocide

University of Wisconsin Press

Robert Skloot brings together four plays—three of which are published here for the first time—that fearlessly explore the face of modern genocide. The scripts deal with the destruction of targeted populations in Rwanda, Bosnia, Cambodia and Armenia. Skloot is professor in the Department of Theater and Drama and in the Center for Jewish Studies at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. He is the author of two plays.

Enigmatic Charms: Medieval Arabic Block Printed Amulets in American and European Libraries and Museums. KARL R. SCHAEFER ’71. Union College magazine spring 2008.



Enigmatic Charms: Medieval Arabic Block Printed Amulets in American and European Libraries and Museums


This is the first comprehensive examination of block printing in the medieval Islamic world. Examples of Arabic block prints have been preserved in collections across the globe, but they have long been treated as curiosities and oddities. Here, for the first time, a large representative corpus of block prints is examined and illustrated. The volume should prove useful to Islamic art historians and collectors, and those interested in popular social and religious practices in the Islamic realms between 900 and 1430 CE. Karl R. Schaefer earned a doctorate in near eastern languages and literatures from New York University and is an associate professor of librarianship at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa.



Microbrewing Science

University Readers, San Diego

Microbrewing Science was developed for a college-level brewing course that Christopher L. Brown taught in Florida for seven years while working as the director of an undergraduate marine biology program. Brown presents home brewing in a detailed, process-oriented way. By emphasizing a focused range of beer types, Brown teaches readers how to maximize beer quality and achieve reproducible results. Readers may become wildly popular at barbecues and Super Bowl parties, Brown says. Brown earned a doctorate in physiology and has been brewing beer for more than 30 years. He is the division chief at the Northeast Fisheries Science Center in Milford, Conn.

CEVIN SOLING ’88. Rumpleville Chronicles: Fairly Twisted Fairy Tales Monk Media. Union College magazine spring 2008.



Rumpleville Chronicles: Fairly Twisted Fairy Tales Monk Media

The Chronicles are an ingeniously illustrated children’s book series for adults envisioned by writer-director- musician Cevin Soling. The book expands on his award-winning work in cutting-edge film (A Hole in the Head and The War on the War on Drugs) and independent music (The Love Kills Theory and The Neanderthal Spongecake). Soling penned these one-of-a-kind tales of jolly elves, conflicted communists, pet bombs, stoner dragons, and assorted sacred sagas in need of ironic tweaking. Soling is joined in this new endeavor by musician and artist Steve Kille, best known for playing bass in, and designing art for, the cult band Dead Meadow. Books in series include: The Jolly Elf, The Disciples of Trotsky and The Bomb that Followed Me Home.

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