“Heroes are not born out of glory and success. Heroes are born out of failure,” said Emmy-award winning writer, producer and director Brad Falchuk ’93, L.H.D ’14, as he delivered the 2014 Commencement Address at Hobart and William Smith Colleges on Sunday.
“So I hope you fail miserably. I hope you crash and burn. I hope you get fired. I hope someone breaks your heart in the most awful way. I hope you find yourself one day on the floor – metaphorically bloody, hopeless, sobbing over a dream that didn’t come true,” he said. “This would be my graduation gift to you.”
Falchuk opened his address by jokingly telling graduates that when he was an HWS student, he wasn’t “the sturdy, worldly man about town that stands before you today.” As he walked through campus on the day before Commencement, Falchuk said he was reminded of who he was as a student, how he has changed and the journey of choices that led him back to campus to give the Commencement Address.
When Falchuk didn’t get into a fraternity on campus, he said he felt rejected. “And so, at this place of total despair, when I had nothing left to lose I decided to tell the world a secret I had been carrying,” he said. “I did something I always wanted to do but was afraid to admit – I took an acting class.” That class led to a second, which led to another, which led to a playwriting class. Today, Falchuk is the co-creator, writer, executive producer and director of the Fox series “Glee” and co-creator, executive producer and writer of FX network’s “American Horror Story.” He has received 10 Emmys and four Golden Globes, among many other awards and accolades.
Falchuk concluded his remarks to the graduates by telling them that through failure emerges success. “This is my message to you – go forth and fail. Dream yourself to be the heroes your teachers, friends and family know you already are. I think I speak for all of them when I say that I cannot wait to see your dreams come to life in the world.”
In his opening remarks, President Mark D. Gearan reminded graduates that just four years ago, they were joined by the 18th Director of the Peace Corps, Aaron S. Williams as he opened the 2010-2011 academic year at Convocation. Williams began his speech with a question. He said: “Ask yourself: What can you achieve? What can you achieve on campus? In Geneva? Overseas? Use this question to keep yourself motivated,” he advised. Gearan said that each one of the graduates of the Classes of 2014 has taken Aaron Williams’ advice to heart by, “manifesting your compassion in your actions,” he said.
“You’ve stretched yourself academically and taken part in important research. Seeking to make a difference, you served in leadership roles on campus and in the community.”
In his Valedictory Address, Gearan reflected on the meaning of the word empathy. “I believe it is something our world needs so much more of today,” he said. Gearan then pointed to the five Honorary Degree recipients as testimony to the power and importance of empathy.
The Colleges conferred honorary Doctor of Humane Letters on Falchuk; Dr. Reynold Levy ’66, former president of Lincoln Center; Dorothy Wickenden ’76, executive editor of the New Yorker; and local civic leaders and philanthropists Nozomi Williams and Carl W. Fribolin.
“In their lives by word and deed and talent, they have taken the perspective of others and as creators, leaders and patrons of the arts, they sought to bring the light, joy and transformative power of the arts to others,” said Gearan of the honorees.
Gearan concluded by reminding graduates that they are armed with a world class liberal arts education. “Use it well. Use it wisely. Use it with empathy-for other people and other perspectives.”
Student speakers Aaron O’Brien ’14 and Kilby Bronstein ’14 also addressed the crowd of students, family and friends on the Hobart Quad.
O’Brien shared with fellow graduates a mindset that has helped him though the ups and downs during his four years at Hobart-the game of rock, paper, scissors: paper as the external assessment of life, the coping skills of scissors and the self-knowledge of rock. “I know the potential of this graduating class, I have seen it and experienced it,” he said. “I would hope this class would take the tools, experiences and the spirit of community that we have learned at HWS and apply these skills to the world at large and to those communities in which we settle. I know this class can make a difference.”
In her address to her peers, Kilby quoted her late father’s sage counsel: never to let life pass you by and work intelligently to make the greatest impact. “We have a responsibility to our past, present and future communities,” she said. “No matter if we are going to be lawyers or scientists, work on Wall Street, do service work, or go into the field of medicine, we must not only focus on our own advancements but the advancements of the world around us.”
Also during the ceremony, Chair of the Board of Trustees Maureen Collins Zupan ’72, P’09 honored two educators who have dedicated their lives to the service of others by presenting them with the 2014 Touching the Future Awards. James King, a track coach at St. Joan of Arc Catholic School in Chagrin Falls, Ohio, was nominated by Thomas Mascia ’14. Maryterese Pasquale-Brown, a social studies teacher at Ithaca, N.Y., High School was nominated by Rebecca Waldrop ’14.
Commencement 2014 marked the 189th graduation for Hobart and the 103rd for William Smith. The Classes of 2014 included 289 William Smith and 217 Hobart undergraduates, as well as four MAT students and two Ontario ARC College Experience Certificates.