In keeping with the theme of this year’s Convocation, “Ask What You Can Do,” President Mark D. Gearan and a series of esteemed speakers from the HWS community — including faculty, deans, student trustees and alums — called on the student body to take action this academic year. The celebration, which featured Convocation Speaker Christopher McDonald ’77, L.H.D.’13 and Faculty Speaker Associate Professor of History Laura Free, was held on Tuesday afternoon on Stern Lawn. During the ceremony, Wendy P. Ettinger ’78 was presented with the Alumna Achievement Award.
Gearan called the students to ask what they can do to immerse themselves in being positive, engaged members of the HWS community and beyond.
“Do not sit idly by and wait for direction. Instead, ask what you can do. Do not wait for others to point the way to your values. Instead, ask what you can do. Do not merely read the great theorists and admire the works of famous artists. Instead, ask what you can do,” Gearan said. “When you see injustice or joy, when you encounter prejudice or acceptance, whether you are encouraged or pushed to your limits, ask what you can do…. Ask what you can do, in acts large and small, locally and through service.”
Introduced by Provost and Dean of Faculty Titi Ufomata, Free reflected that this year marks the 150th commemoration of the Battle of Gettysburg and the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington. Free shared her insights on allowing the past to inform today’s choice, but not letting it control one’s future.
“At HWS you have the chance to stretch yourself into new spaces, to become something more than you have been,” Free said. “By taking chances to do that, you will establish a life-long pattern of exploration, of growth, and of change that will serve you well in your future. And your future is, of course, what college is all about.”
In addition the faculty address, Student Trustees Abby Evans ’14 and Greg Mathieu ’14 also shared remarks as part of the ceremony, particularly speaking to the Classes of 2017.
Evans, who was introduced by William Smith Dean Susanne McNally, called HWS home, encouraging students to find their sense of place. “I hope you strive not to take this place for granted but instead embrace each thing it has to offer and take full advantage of it,” Evans said. “You can do and be extraordinary here.”
Introduced by Hobart Dean Eugen Baer P’95, P’97, HON’07, Mathieu said his time at HWS was transformational. He said he discovered more about himself and his passions by seeking new experiences along the way. Mathieu said HWS offers the resources to make it happen.
“Whether your passion is for cultural anthropology, or biology, or community service, here at the Colleges, that wonderful hunger for education is nurtured,” he said. “If you are able to take advantage of all that is offered through places like the Center for Community Engagement and Service Learning or the Centennial Center for Leadership, you will be pointed to the intersection of inspiration and passion.”
During the ceremony, McDonald was conferred an honorary degree for his noted career in film, television and on stage. Due to previous obligations on Broadway, McDonald was unable to attend HWS Commencement, the ceremony at which honorary degrees are traditionally conferred.
As one of the Colleges’ honorary degree recipients for 2013, McDonald joined James Carville P’17, LL.D.’13, political commentator; Maureen F. Curley LL.D.’13, president of Campus Compact; John Grotzinger ’79, Sc.D.’13, the mission leader and project scientist for the Mars Science Laboratory, and Mara O’Laughlin ’66, L.H.D.’13, who has dedicated more than 40 years of service to the Colleges in a number of leadership roles. As part of the conferral of the degree, O’Laughlin, who also is one of McDonald’s former high school teachers, hooded him during the ceremony.
In his Convocation Address, McDonald told the audience of his time at HWS. He said at first wanted to be a pre-med student, but decided to step out of his “comfort zone” and give acting a shot by auditioning for an on-campus theatre production. Landing the role, McDonald quickly discovered he had a knack for acting. He said it was a pivotal moment in which he realized he’d like to pursue an entertainment career.
McDonald shared his story of personal discovery-and his praise of Hobart and William Smith for helping him cultivate his life’s passion. At the campus-wide gathering, he encouraged students to explore their options, try new experiences, and to take advantage of their ability to choose during their undergraduate years.
“Your life – that big, nameless, nebulous future – will be strongly influenced by the choices you make now,” McDonald said. “You’ve already made an excellent choice in deciding to attend Hobart and William Smith. This is a place where you can take advantage of every opportunity – where you can make smart choices – where you can expand the boundaries of what you dreamed possible – where you can change the course of your life.”
McDonald credited HWS for continuing to afford opportunities and resources that have helped students go on to become leaders in every possible field and industry; from science and medicine to finance and education. “With this foundation comes the confidence to make a change in the world,” McDonald said. “How lucky I was, and how lucky you are to be a part of this special liberal arts center of learning that encourages and fosters our growth and achievements.”
In addition to the conferral of McDonald’s honorary degree, Ettinger was recognized with William Smith College’s top honor. She was lauded for her decades of work that has enabled social justice through arts, education and philanthropy. With 20 years of experience in casting, theatre and film, including producing the Academy Award nominated classic, “The War Room,” Ettinger has worked with numerous directors in both film and theatre.
“The Alumnae Achievement Award is the William Smith College Alumnae Association’s highest honor,” said Assistant Vice President of Alumnae Relations Kathy Killius Regan ’82, P’13, who announced the recognition. “It is given to an alumna who, by reason of outstanding accomplishments in her particular business, profession or community service, has brought great honor and distinction to her alma mater.”
Regan said that in 2005 Ettinger co-founded Chicken & Egg Pictures with a belief that powerful women storytellers can help build and sustain local and global movements for justice, equity and health. In doing so, Regan said Ettinger has given women filmmakers the resources to tell their own stories about social change. Chicken & Egg has supported the Academy Award winning film Saving Face as well as Academy Award nominated “The Barber of Birmingham,” “Kings Point,” and “Sun Come Up.”