Mark Shields inspires graduates to work for future generations as those in the past have helped prepare the way for them.
May 12, 2002 GENEVA, N.Y.— Though it was the first time in nearly three decades that Hobart and William Smith Colleges Commencement exercises were held indoors because of inclement weather, graduates today enjoyed all the pomp and circumstance traditional to Commencement Day at the Colleges. Led by the Mohawk Valley Frasers Pipe Band, graduates processed to their seats in the Colleges’ Robert A. Bristol Field House and listened to words of wisdom from nationally known columnist and commentator Mark Shields, one of Washington's most respected journalists who is seen every Saturday night as the moderator of CNN's “The Capital Gang,” and from President Mark D. Gearan and from fellow graduates. The 177th Commencement for Hobart College and the 91st Commencement for William Smith Colleges began at 10:30 a.m., with 167 men receiving degrees from Hobart, and 256 women receiving degrees from William Smith.
Honorary degrees were conferred upon Shields, as well as presented to L. Thomas Melly and Henry A. Rosenberg Jr., both long-standing members of the Colleges Board of Trustees, and upon Judy Collins, legendary singer and activist, who delivered the Baccalaureate address on Saturday, May 11.
Shields offered the graduates 10 rules to live by, including “call your mother,” “pay off your student loans,” and “when eating breakfast out it is mathematically impossible to overtip the waitress.” He also defended politics—noting that politics are an instrument through which people can help themselves. He urged the graduates always to work toward making the world a better place for those who will follow as others had done in the past for them. He noted that to ask the question “Am I better off?” is to ask the wrong question. The question graduates should ask is whether “The weakest among us is better off.”
President Gearan told the assemblage of the loss of three Hobart alumni in the disaster on September 11th and asked Judy Collins to offer reflection in their honor. She spoke of the sadness of that day and led the audience in a verse of “Amazing Grace” in commemoration of the three alumni and the others who were lost in that tragedy.
Hobart graduate Shay Fitzpatrick, of Victor, began his address by blessing the “union of student and diploma” and spoke of the growth he experienced at the Colleges. “I’ve come to terms now with who I am and where I am going,” he said. He noted that for him, the important part of a liberal arts education was realizing that part of himself included an interest in the arts, in the sciences, and in the social sciences. In closing, he wished his fellow graduates good luck and said, “I love you all very much and I know I’ll miss you all terribly.”
William Smith graduate Darya Welker, of Clifton Springs, encouraged the Classes of 2002 to strive for happiness while achieving their ideals. “You must remember that your only responsibility in life is to be happy,” Welker said. “It may sound simple, but it may be the greatest challenge you will face in your lifetime. If you can be happy without hurting others, that’s wonderful. If you can be happy while making others happy, you have reached the highest state a human can achieve.”
In his valedictory, President Gearan also spoke of happiness, noting that the writers of the Declaration of Independence included “the pursuit of happiness” as one of Americans’ inalienable rights. He urged the graduates, as they were preparing for their independence from the Colleges, to pursue that right through giving back and through making a difference. He expressed confidence that they would do just that.
Hobart and William Smith Colleges are coordinate, private, liberal arts institutions, located in Geneva, N.Y. The Colleges, which have a combined enrollment of 1,800, offer a remarkably broad array of majors and minors, with a cross-disciplinary flavor intended to better inform both professional and intellectual pursuits. The Colleges are noted also for an ambitious emphasis on international study, and for their programs in community service. Hobart College for men and William Smith College for women share faculty, facilities, and curriculum, but maintain separate dean's offices, athletics programs, student governments, and traditions.
Read the May 13 Finger Lakes Times story.