“As long as we believe our common humanity is most important, as long as we understand that diverse groups make better decisions than homogenous ones or lone geniuses, as long as we realize the great thing about life is not final victories and the great tragedy is not final defeats—there aren’t any final victories or final defeats…but a life of permanent possibility,” he said.
After exploring the merits of inclusion and of embracing difference as a point of unity rather than division, Clinton concluded with a charge to the audience to “every single day…work to expand the definition of ‘us’ and shrink the definition of ‘them.’”
During the Commencement ceremony, which drew a record audience of more than 6,500 people, 526 Hobart and William Smith undergraduates and eight master’s candidates were awarded degrees. The Colleges also awarded honorary degrees to Clinton; founder and president of the Posse Foundation Deborah Bial L.H.D. ’17; Mary Herlihy Gearan L.H.D. ’17; and HWS President Mark D. Gearan L.H.D. ’17.
“Under your remarkable tenure as president of Hobart and William Smith, our beloved Colleges have seen notable growth and success on all fronts. The Board of Trustees is grateful for your distinguished service and for enriching the lives of those you served,” said Board Chair Thomas S. Bozzuto ’68, noting Gearan’s “wide-ranging and inclusive vision of civic life…steady and compassionate leadership…friendship, humor, intelligence and decency, and most especially in recognition of the profound difference you have made in shaping the future of Hobart and William Smith.”
In his valedictory address, the final of his tenure as HWS president, Gearan called upon the Classes of 2017 “to fulfill the mission of Hobart and William Smith Colleges: lead a life of consequence. How and where you do that, of course, is a highly individualized conclusion. But all of you have had the experiences here – and exposure to the values of Hobart and William Smith that we hope will carry with you: a commitment to service, citizenship and global understanding; an appreciation of the importance of difference and inclusion; a responsibility for the stewardship of the environment and a lifelong passion for learning. All of those values will assist you on your journey.”
Reflecting on the symbolic nature of doorways as passages of change and opportunity, William Smith senior speaker Sydney Gomez ’17 recalled the first time she entered the “door at 690 South Main—the front door of the President’s House,” a moment that “created the sense of belonging and community I found here at the Colleges….As I look out at all of you—the purple and the green still distinguishable yet together in solidarity, we have opened a door for the classes to come after us…I want you all to recognize the wonderful accomplishments you have had here and the doors that they have opened for you.”
Hobart senior speaker Matthew Skinner ’17 discussed the purpose and practice of education as “an act which requires us to subject ourselves to the knowledge and expertise of others more accomplished than us. It is an act which requires us to be vulnerable to critiques and criticism. At the foundation of education is the simple act of listening.” That act, he said, “may be uncomfortable and difficult, but it is the fundamental aspect of connecting with one another. This process of listening is what I am charging us all to do as we leave HWS.”
As part of the opening ceremony, Patrisha A. Blue ’77 sang a powerful rendition of the national anthem and in annual fashion, Bozzuto presented the Touching the Future awards, which celebrate and honor educators from elementary, middle and high school who have had an impact on our current graduates. This year, the Colleges recognized Carlos Mendez, a music teacher and coordinator of music for the Fayetteville-Manlius School District, and Anggela Sanchez, a bilingual studies teacher at the School of Leadership Development in the Bronx. Mendez was nominated by Christopher Demas ’17, and Sanchez was nominated by Jerlin Garo ’17.