“Take a leap of faith. That is how this great, flawed country came into being,” said Hobart and William Smith Colleges’ 2019 Commencement speaker Dorothy H. Wickenden ’76, L.H.D. ’14, executive editor of The New Yorker and former HWS Trustee.
In her address during the 194th Commencement of Hobart College and the 108th Commencement of William Smith College, Wickenden pointed out that “most people who eventually find what they’re looking for in life have found that a failure now and then fuels achievement.” From the story of Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell’s admission to Geneva College, as HWS was known in the 1840s, to Harriet Tubman and the abolition movement, to the challenges of climate change, to the March for Our Lives rallies in response to gun violence, Wickenden highlighted the ways that “times of fear, bigotry and injustice bring opportunity.”
“Every generation has terrors to stare down,” she said. “My great great grandparents had the Civil War; my grandmother — a single mother of four — the Great Depression; my parents, World War II; the Baby Boomers — my cohort — had Vietnam and Watergate.” Amidst such challenges, she advised graduates, “the best way to find yourself is by leaving yourself behind. Move out of your safe spaces, beyond self-care and selfies…Don’t shrug and say it can’t be done — shake off apathy and inertia. Seek the highest good…We need to open doors, not shut them, and recall what all Americans have in common.”
This year, the Colleges awarded degrees to 247 Hobart students, 248 William Smith students and 12 master’s candidates, as well as one College Experience Certificate through the HWS and ARC partnership program. The Colleges also awarded honorary degrees to Edward A. Froelich ’55, a retired senior supervisory analyst and vice president at Pershing LLC and a longtime HWS philanthropist; and in absentia Gloria Robinson Lowry ’52, who graduated from William Smith as president of her class and the College’s first African American alumna, before going on to a long and distinguished career as a fifth grade teacher in Pasadena, Calif.
In his valedictory address, Interim President Patrick A. McGuire L.H.D. ’12 emphasized the engagement of the Classes of 2019, the ways graduates “have demonstrated that vigorous debate must be matched by vigorous compassion, and that vigorous compassion must always be accompanied by vigorous action. Because that is how change happens.”
During their time on campus, McGuire said, this year’s graduates challenged their “peers, the faculty and staff, the Trustees and administration, the institution itself. You have challenged Hobart and William Smith to reflect on our historical values and to make necessary strides to more fully realize and implement those values in our contemporary moment. You have used your voices, and the experiences and ideas from your work these past years, to make the members of this community more aware, more willing to be vocal, more willing to listen.”
In her speech, William Smith senior Jemma Roche ’19 reflected on the relationship between failure and identity, recalling how a failing grade on an essay during her first year showed her how “I am not just a number, but an individual, an essential part of a community. In learning about myself I learned that I must not give up or be afraid to ask for help because I can’t always do things on my own. There are people…who will provide support and guidance because we all mean something. We all mean something to HWS.”
Hobart senior speaker Alex Kerai ’19 noted that “we all bring our own unique perspectives to this world and we will take them with us into our broader communities after graduation. By continuing to absorb different kinds of information — from classes and people, textbooks and newspapers — we can foster tools which help us to make a difference. A few dedicated people can change the world, but a community of informed, active citizens can shape it for the better.”
During the Commencement ceremony, Thomas S. Bozzuto ’68, chair of the Board of Trustees, presented the annual Touching the Future award, which celebrates and honors educators from elementary, middle and high school who have had an impact on current HWS graduates. This year, the Colleges recognized Tina Hartounian, culinary arts teacher at San Fernando Senior High School in San Fernando, Calif., who was nominated by her former student William Samayoa ’19.