Some call it Commencement. Some call it graduation. But on May 17, 2009, those gathered on the Hobart and William Smith Quad to honor the Classes of 2009 may have considered calling it a Celebration of Service to Others.
Carol M. Browner, Assistant to the President for Energy and Climate Change in the Obama Administration, gave this year’s Commencement Address during which she encouraged HWS graduates to dare to dream of a future with a clean economy, water and air. “We have the opportunity to change the future,” she said.
The nation’s first Energy Coordinator, Browner is responsible for overseeing and integrating all of the various U.S. government energy and climate committees and organizations. A member of the Transition Board for President-elect Obama, she was previously the longest serving administrator in the history of the Environmental Protection Agency. “I always look for those jobs where I can be passionate about my work,” she told the graduates. “My wish for your today is that you, too, will find a career motivated by passion.”
Browner urged graduates to consider pursuing career in public service. “That doesn’t mean you have to be a teacher or work in government,” she explained. “But it means that you have to find a way to roll up your sleeves to reach out and touch someone else to make a difference in your community and your world.”
In his Valedictory Address, Colleges President Mark D. Gearan continued the theme of service, asking the Classes of 2009 to consider the nature of happiness. “When you’re back on this Quad for your 25th or your 50th Reunion, will you be happy? How will you know it?”
Citing the concept of ‘Gross National Happiness,’ which seeks to tie a nation’s success to quantitative measures of well-being and happiness, Gearan advised the graduates that a life marked by service to others is, statistically and anecdotally, a happy one. “I hope your happiness index takes from Henry David Thoreau’s guidance: ‘Go confidently in the direction of your dreams! Live the life you’ve imagined.'”
Shavonne Ward ’09 and Brendan Csaposs ’09 also addressed the crowd of graduates, family and friends on the Hobart Quad, both lauding the positive impact Hobart and William Smith had on the Classes of 2009.
“A seed was planted in each of us here at Hobart and William Smith Colleges,” said Ward. “As we depart, remember to water your seed with knowledge, expose it to different climates, and relish in the sun as we grow with beauty and grace.”
“Your identity is shaped by what you learn, by the people you meet, and by the things you do along the way,” Csaposs said. “This is why HWS has been so instrumental in shaping our identity; at every turn, we have found the best of all three.”
Gearan presented the honorary degrees to Jane Rea Gerling for her service as an advocate for Geneva’s children and teens; to Rev. W. James Gerling for his unerring civic leadership and commitment to Geneva; and to Carol M. Browner for her leadership in environmental sustainability.
He also posthumously awarded Trustee C. Dixon Kunzelmann ’64, P’93 with an honorary degree for his loyal service to and leadership of Hobart and William Smith Colleges. Kunzelmann died last week, surrounded by his family in Florida, after a lengthy battle with cancer. His friend and classmate Frank Schroeder ’65 accepted the degree on Kunzelmann’s behalf.
“We hold them out to be exemplary of lives led with meaning and productivity and, dare I say, happiness,” said Gearan of the honorees.
Vice Chair of the Board of Trustees Maureen Collins Zupan ’72, P’09 also honored two educators who have dedicated their lives to the service of others. Mr. Nicholas Collicelli, a former social studies teacher from Hamden High School, was nominated by Colleen Carpinella for instilling in her a passion for social justice. Pamela Parish, a Spanish teacher at Schenectady High School, was nominated by Brendan Csaposs for encouraging him to strive for greatness.
During the ceremony, Hobart Dean Eugen Baer and William Smith Dean Cerri Banks also presented 185 Hobart seniors and 249 William Smith seniors with bachelor’s degrees. Provost Teresa Amott awarded nine Master of Arts in Teaching degrees and one Ontario ARC College Experience Certificate.
Colleges Chaplain Lesley Adams concluded the Commencement ceremony, echoing the importance of doing good works. “Go now with all blessings,” she said. “Pursue happiness by making a difference.”
Photos from the ceremony are available here.