Surrounded by friends and family members May 25, members of SUNY Geneseo’s Class of 2002 received their degrees during the college’s 136th commencement. Mark D. Gearan, president of Hobart and William Smith Colleges, delivered this year’s commencement address. “I am honored to be a part of this event, because this is a place where a deep commitment to academic excellence is coupled with an enduring belief in the importance of community service and international understanding,” he said. “The spirit of service that prevails on this campus, and the global perspective that students gain during their years at Geneseo, would make any former director of the Peace Corps feel very much at home.” Gearan served as director of that organization from 1995 to 1999, at which time he assumed the presidency of Hobart and William Smith.
“My message today is a simple one: it is about service, and what we should all do to make it an everyday part of our lives. You graduate today, armed with a unique privilege that only about one percent of the entire world enjoys – a college degree. You graduate into what I believe is the most interesting, and the most exciting time ever, to be alive,” he said. “The advances in medicine, technology and education, and the fast pace of change, are truly dynamic. While we certainly have challenges in our country, we are living longer, healthier lives, with the benefits of the information age. So, with all this privilege that you have, and with responsibility as lead citizens in the world community, what are you going to do with it? First, while we all can acknowledge our good fortune as Americans, let us hope that we do not lose sight of our responsibility in the world beyond our borders.”
Gearan acknowledged that many Geneseo students and alumni have already answered this call. “Twelve Geneseo alumni are currently serving around the world in the Peace Corps – in Slovakia, Madagascar, Zambia, Bolivia, Nicaragua, the Philippines, and Morocco – and almost 200 Geneseo alums have served the Peace Corps since the organization’s inception,” he said. “In addition, I understand that six members of the Class of 2002 are under consideration for service in the Peace Corps. We should applaud them.”
He also thanked those students who volunteered locally and regionally for school districts throughout Livingston County for the America Reads and America Counts programs, for Habitat for Humanity, for the Alternative Spring Break program in Philadelphia, and thanked those who were involved with the local volunteer fire and ambulance squads.
“We need all of you to take civic engagement seriously. Take the issues of the day seriously. Read the newspapers. Inform yourselves. Decisions are being made today by lawmakers that are twice, three times as old as you, when more is at stake in your lifetime – the balance of your lives – than theirs,” he said. “And, while we’re on the subject of government, here’s a pitch. Give it a break. Check your cynicism as the door, and involve yourselves. Hold elected leaders accountable, and hold those who hold the public trust accountable, but keep the images of Sept. 11 alive, and recall the heroism of firefighters and police officers. All of them also serve the public.
“As you prepare to start this new and exciting stage of your lives, with your hard-earned degrees in hand, I urge you to continue the extraordinary tradition of service you began at SUNY Geneseo,” he added. “It is so much a part of our country’s past, and it is so important to our country’s future. You have been carrying on in this great tradition of service – a tradition that unites the dream of a better world, with the will to make it happen.”