After the Classes of 2009 enjoyed food and conversation during the traditional Senior Dinner on the Houghton House Lawn, Associate Professor of Art Nick Ruth took to the podium. Nominated by the Classes of 2009 as their faculty speaker, he recounted his life experiences to offer seniors post-graduate advice, using art as a metaphor for life. Delightfully frank, Ruth, a member of the HWS faculty since 1995, elicited uproarious laughter as he shared five “life lessons” with the seniors.
“Your professors and I are secretly proud of you and think of you as real people with complex ideas to offer…but I still have some serious doubts about you,” he chuckled. “It’s a nightmare out there, and you invite an artist to speak at your dinner? A painter? And not even someone practical, like a house painter,” he chided over the audience’s laughter. “Why didn’t you pick an economist?”
With this, he laid out five suggestions for a successful life after college: “Number one,” he announced: “always wear a helmet, or at least a seatbelt.” The helmet, in the metaphorical sense, represents personal responsibility, whether by using one’s voice to protest injustice…or, in the more literal sense, to simply keep one’s brains safely inside the skull where they belong.
“Number two: look critically at your own education, because there are always other ways of viewing an issue. Only use bias for the forces of good,” he advised.
“Number three: you control who has access to your studio, so protect your right to grow. Get the criticism you need to better your work, without inviting the critic into your soul for tea,” he emphasized.
“Number four: don’t be sanctimonious demagogues,” he stated simply, and promptly proceeded to life lesson number five: “Life imitates art, so take art very seriously. Don’t confine yourself to imitation; practice imagining tirelessly, and pay more attention to your senses.”
Ruth concluded with a promise not to kill the seniors’ buzz: “Be a kind steward of your own soul,” he recommended, “and please, for your mother’s sake, wear your helmet.”
The Senior Week festivity began earlier in the evening with a colorful parade of formally-attired students who marched from Coxe Hall to Houghton House Lawn in the company of President Mark D. Gearan and Deans Cerri Banks and Eugen Baer to dine with their peers, faculty and staff.
Dean of William Smith College Cerri Banks inaugurated the dinner, saying, “Take your passion and share it with the world; it needs you now.” Dean of Hobart College Eugen Baer used the image of the Roman god Janus to illustrate graduation as a turning point in seniors’ lives. “One face looks back, another to the future,” he explained. “One says, ‘we did it,’ the other, ‘yes, we can.’
Senior Class President of William Smith Simone Ver Eecke also honored her fellow organizers Cathleen Zupan, Jonathan Kemp, Meg Gaskell, Allison Dean, and Hobart Class President Brendan Csaposs for their dedication to the Classes of 2009 and their integral contributions to Senior Week.
Click here to see photos from the event.