The Colleges’ Commencement and keynote speaker Carol M. Browner were featured in an article in the Finger Lakes Times this week. The article recounted Browner’s speech to the graduates as well as the addresses of President Mark D. Gearan and students Shavonne Ward ’09 and Brendan Csaposs ’09 to the Classes of 2009.
The full article follows.
Finger Lakes Times
Opportunity for change
HWS speaker: Good can come from difficult times
Paulette Likoudis • May 19, 2009
GENEVA – Difficult times can be times of opportunity. That’s what keynote speaker Carol M. Browner, President Barack Obama’s Assistant for Energy and Climate Change, told 410 undergraduates and nine master of arts in teaching degree recipients Sunday during commencement ceremonies at Hobart and William Smith Colleges.
Browner – who also received an honorary degree from the Colleges – said she can clearly remember the 1969 Cuyahoga River Fire in Cleveland, Ohio. Fueled by an oil slick and industrial debris, that fire on water brought national attention to the country’s environmental issues.
Since that time, Browner said, a number of positive environmental developments have occurred: the ban of lead in gasoline; the reduction of hydrofluorocarbons that threaten the planet’s ozone; the capping of harmful sulfur dioxide entering the atmosphere; and standards for fine particle emissions.
“In each instance, there were naysayers,” Browner said, adding that they thought changes couldn’t be made because of expense and logistics, she said. Noting that some Asian countries are leading in the research of more energy- efficient vehicles, Browner called on U.S. companies to turn their focus back to matters of energy sources. She noted that Thomas Edison’s era marked a point when this country “pioneered in energy.”
“The sunlight that hits the United States each day could power our country for a year,” said Browner, calling for incentives that would reward sustainable businesses and make those causing environmental damage accountable for their negligence.
“We need a new energy future.” Browner encouraged the graduates – a number of whom graduated from the Colleges’ environmental science, biology and chemistry programs – to “roll up their sleeves” and engage themselves in public service, noting that throughout her career she had always looked for jobs that she could feel “passionate” about.
Stay focused but keep in touch day to day, Browner said, offering words of wisdom from American author poet, author, physician and teacher Oliver Wendell Holmes.
“Life is a great bundle of little things,” Browner said, quoting Holmes.
Referred to as the country’s energy “czarina” by Time magazine, Browner is the first White House energy and climate change coordinator and is responsible for overseeing and integrating various U.S. energy and climate entities.
A member of the Clinton Cabinet, she was the longest serving administrator in the history of the Environmental Protection Agency. Her interest in environmental issues was highlighted when she settled a lawsuit brought by the government for damage done to Everglades National Park in Florida.
Recognizing the commencement exercise as the 184th for Hobart College and the 98th for
William Smith College, President Mark D. Gearan drew cheers when he lightened the moment in his opening remarks.
“We’re outside. You’re about to graduate. The Red Sox won last night. The Yankees won last night. I’ve got you covered,” quipped Gearan, referring to the school’s numerous students from Massachusetts and downstate New York.
The surnames and faces of the graduates reflected the school’s reputation for embracing diversity, a recurring theme throughout Sunday’s program.
Eighty-six flags surrounded the quad, representing the students’ home nations and territories and where they traveled to through off-campus programs. After students were ushered in by the Mohawk Valley Frasers Pipe Band, Applied Music Instructor Jeff Stempien led a commencement brass ensemble, and graduating members of the Colleges’ Chorale were directed in song by Professor of Music Robert L. Cowles.
Gearan called the contributions of the faculty seated behind him “immeasurable” and thanked families for “entrusting” their children to those teachers.
Senior speeches offered by Shavonne Ward of William Smith College and Brendan Csaposs of Hobart College detailed the ways HWS had taken them from self-centered naiveté to a more sophisticated understanding of personal identity and the world.
“How can we not be stirred to action?” asked Ward. “We are of something bigger than ourselves,” said Ward.
Csaposs said his HWS experience had “not just given the desire to be involved, but how to do so effectively.”
“In my heart, I carry the knowledge that none of us will ever truly leave this place,” Csaposs told his classmates.
David H. Deming, chair of the board of trustees and a 1975 Hobart graduate, stressed that the graduates will have great impact since they will “live and work across the globe.”
In his closing remarks, President Gearan called attention to the “gross national happiness index” monitored in the Himalayan Kingdom of Bhutan. Although financial worth makes life easier in some ways and may be easier to record on paper, said Gearan, individual happiness ultimately reaps greater rewards.
“Happy people treat people better than unhappy people do,” said Gearan, adding that “happy citizens are better citizens.” Gearan asked the 2009 graduates to think ahead. “When you’re back on the Quad for a reunion, will you be happy?” he asked.
Opening and closing prayers were offered by Colleges Chaplain the Rev. Lesley Adams.