“Your generation is the first to live in a country that has finally put to rest the notion that there is only so far you can go if you are Black, or Hispanic, or a woman, or gay, or a person with disabilities,” said Patrick Corvington, chief executive officer of the Corporation for National and Community Service, as he delivered the 2011 Commencement Address at Hobart and William Smith Colleges. “Your generation is one that lives on the brink of possibilities, on the brink of open horizons. Anything you choose to do, you can do.” He advised graduates to start by finding “the things about which you are most passionate.”
Discussing the value of service for others and defining the true measure of success as being in heart and service, Corvington asked the graduates “will those who gather here 100 years from now remember your courage and your commitment? Will they recall what you did to bring about a society in which there really is enlightened self-interest, compassion and liberty and justice for all?”
A recognized expert on nonprofit sector leadership, philanthropy and volunteerism, Corvington has led the Corporation during a time of extraordinary development mandated by the passage of the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act. The Corporation engages more than five million Americans of all ages and backgrounds in service each year through its Senior Corps, AmeriCorps, and Learn and Serve America programs, and leads President Obama’s United We Serve initiative.
Corvington quoted Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on the notion of change. “It doesn’t roll in on the wheels of inevitability,” he said. “Change happens because we choose to make it happen. Along with seeking improvement in our own lives, we must join hands to help those who are suffering…those who are still left out or excluded.”
He also affirmed graduates’ power to predict their future by creating it. “Use your power of choices wisely. You control your future. You control your destiny. The future of this great nation rests in your hands. Choose to create the future you want. Choose to live lives that matter. Choose to follow that about which you are passionate.”
Corvington left graduates with the question, “So, as you leave here today, I’m asking you…President Obama is asking you, your country is asking you, ‘How will you serve?'” Corvington told the graduates to “be bold; be passionate; be courageous.”
In his Valedictory Address, Colleges President Mark D. Gearan continued the theme of service, of giving one’s self to others and working together to make change. He recalled what an extraordinary privilege he was given as director of the Peace Corps to get to know the organization’s first director, the late Sarge Shriver, whom he described as “the embodiment of what it means to be an engaged citizen,” and shared advice with HWS graduates that Shriver had shared with graduates of previous generations.
“You must take on the mantle of being global citizens. Our interdependent world needs you,” Gearan said.
Jessica Greger ’11 and Caleb Campbell ’11 also addressed the crowd of students, family and friends on the Hobart Quad, both reflecting on the changes these classes have seen in the Colleges and the changes their time at HWS created within them.
“What we’ve really gained from Hobart and William Smith Colleges cannot be shown on a piece of paper. The classes we’ve taken, the connections we’ve made, the experiences we’ve had…these things cannot be written down or expressed physically. Instead, they are inside us, a part of who we are,” said Greger. “Take all that you have gained and all that you have learned in classrooms, on the Quad, in clubs and on the field and rely on these experiences. Really tough days will come along and test what’s truly inside of you. You must rise up and face these days, take on these challenges with all that you have- including your education and your experiences here at HWS.”
Echoing Corvington’s Commencement Address, Campbell expressed, “I do not believe that change is inevitable, I believe, as Patrick Corvington does, that change is a choice. I believe if we want to view the world differently then we must choose to do so. If we want to change the way we live our lives then we must choose to do so.”
On behalf of the Colleges’ Board of Trustees, Gearan presented honorary degrees to Makiko Tanaka, president of the Tanaka Memorial Foundation, for her visionary leadership and commitment to improving the lives of others, including through generosity toward the Colleges and their students; Thomas J. Burr, the current director of the New York State Agricultural Experiment Station and James Hunter, the past director of the New York State Agricultural Experiment Station, for their leadership of the many professors and technicians who have mentored HWS students over the years, and for their perseverance in creating a sustainable model of agriculture; and Teresa Amott, Provost and Dean of Faculty at Hobart and William Smith Colleges, for her great passion and skilled leadership that has shaped the current and future nature of the Colleges’ academic program.
Chair of the Board of Trustees David H. Deming ’75 honored two educators who have dedicated their lives to the service of others by presenting them with the 2011 Touching the Future Awards. Rita Fields, a retired assistant principal from Bronx, N.Y., was nominated by her former second-grade student, Walter Cruz ’11. Tony Williams, coordinator of student support services for high school students at Medaille College, was nominated by Amanda Ward ’11, who met him when he led an anti-bullying workshop at Ward’s high school in Buffalo, N.Y.
This ceremony was the 186th Commencement of Hobart College and the 100th Commencement of William Smith College. During the ceremonies, Dean of William Smith College Cerri Banks, along with members of the Platform party and faculty members, wore a special badge with the number “100” printed on it to commemorate the historic event for William Smith. Earlier in the week, a tree was planted on “the Hill” at William Smith to commemorate the 100th graduating class’ time on campus.
The Classes of 2011 included 296 William Smith undergraduates, 209 Hobart undergraduates, seven MAT students, and one Ontario ARC College Experience Certificate.
Gearan concluded the Commencement ceremony, saying “Become global citizens; break those mirrors; mutually pledge to work together; believe in something so fervently you’ll defend it until the end of your days; get in the way; explore and dream.”