“Why are you here?” asked Chaplain Lesley Adams at Saturday’s Baccalaureate Ceremony. “Stop for a moment, and take the time to appreciate the change taking place.”
Hobart and William Smith faculty and staff members gathered with the members of the Classes of 2013 and their families to pause in the midst of the whirlwind of Commencement weekend for the traditional Baccalaureate Ceremony held in Trinity Church.
Adams welcomed all to the service, meditating upon the idea of ritual and its place in the lives of even the non-religious. “Rituals help us navigate life’s transitions. We need rituals to help deal with change,” said Adams. “I invite you to stop, slow down, breathe, and be fully present in this moment.”
President Mark D. Gearan introduced Baccalaureate speaker Mara O’Laughlin ’66, L.H.D. ’13, who served HWS as the director of admissions and most recently as assistant vice president for the performing arts initiative.
“I have invited Mara to speak with gratitude for her dedication and her unfailing loyalty to HWS,” remarked Gearan. “You graduating seniors have been here for four years – Mara has been here a little bit longer; she came here from the city 51 years ago to attend HWS and she stayed.”
O’Laughlin spoke about the numerous transitions in her life, including those made during her more than 30 years on campus. She painted a picture of the major transitions she witnessed at the Colleges – from the moment she and her classmates huddled around a radio, listening to the news of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination, to HWS at the center of anti-war efforts.
“Many of the transitions I’ve made have been with HWS; how lucky you are to begin your life here as I did,” said O’Laughlin.
The William Smith alumna also spoke of her time serving the Colleges in Admissions and Advancement, connecting with students and continuing the mission of the Colleges – the same mission that had so influenced her. “In my career at the Colleges, I have heard ‘thank you for believing in me,” said O’Laughlin. “Here, we get to know you even before you arrive. There are so many people here from day one to help you transition.”
She advised the students not to fear the “real world,” because their education and their time in the community has equipped them with all that is needed to survive and thrive. “Geneva is a microcosm of everything you will find in the ‘real world,'” said O’Laughlin. “You have endured many challenges and you are ready for many more – and we are supporting you.”
O’Laughlin was commended for her commitment to the Colleges with an honorary degree during the following day’s Commencement Ceremony.
The Baccalaureate service also included the words of student speakers who expressed their gratitude for their time at the Colleges and in the Geneva community. Emily Hamburger ’13 recalled how she worked to create an Alternative Spring Break Trip to Israel, while Aysmel Aguasvivas ’13 told the story of her time in the South Asian Culture Club and its power to transform her. “I have become more outspoken,” she explained. “I realized the importance of having a vision, of sharing the vision, and making that vision come true.”
Stephan Thompson ’13 and Raphael Durand ’13 each spoke of their altered perspectives and of their desires to truly change the world. “The experiences I have had here have helped me to transition to a life of giving back,” remarked Durand.
The William Smith Senior Singers, graduating members of the William Smith Class of 2013, sang an arrangement of traditional and folk hymns, and a cappella group the Hobartones performed a traditional American piece, “Someday,” as part of the service. The ceremony was also highlighted by preludes and postludes performed by Midlakes Brass.
Other participants in the service included Dean of Hobart College Eugen Baer HON’07, P’95, P’97; Dean of William Smith College Susanne McNally; Provost and Dean of Faculty Titi Ufomata; and Director of the Abbe Center for Jewish Life Lorinda Weinstock, who gave the closing prayer.