Convocation 2018: Find Your Voice, Be Your Best Self - Hobart and William Smith Colleges
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Convocation 6

Convocation 2018: Find Your Voice, Be Your Best Self

On Monday, the Hobart and William Smith Colleges community gathered for the annual Convocation ceremony, which marked the official start of the academic year.

In her keynote address, Margarita Ramos ’85, Global Head of Human Resource Compliance for Bank of America Merrill Lynch and former HWS Trustee, advised students that even though she “was still searching for my voice when I arrived on campus,” she found the “freedom to explore who I was, to take appropriate risks, and to test my voice. Here, I was empowered to interact — to challenge and become my best self.”

Growing up “the youngest of five Latina daughters raised in New York City by a single mother,” Ramos learned “how to listen…how to challenge, and how to articulate what we, as a family, needed. I have come to know many Latinas who grew up with the same role, which was translator — a voice. But, not our own.” As she attended HWS, embarked on a career in law and found role models like lawyer and academic Anita Hill, Ramos saw the power of a voice to change the world.

After earning her J.D. from the State University of New York at Buffalo, Ramos began her career in law with the National Labor Relations Board before moving into the private sector, focusing on employment law. She later joined Merrill Lynch’s employment law group, where as part of a small team of employment lawyers, she traveled throughout the U.S. and sometimes internationally, mediating and investigating employee complaints. She has since held senior human resources roles at JP Morgan Chase and Smith Barney.

During her career “investigating hundreds of complaints of discrimination based on gender, race, ethnicity, religion, disability and gender identity,” Ramos found that “optimism fuels my desire to keep driving for change. It fuels my voice. The world continues to evolve—we have evolved as a society since the treatment of Anita Hill by the Senate Judiciary Committee, and recently the #MeToo movement. Voice drives evolution.”

In his remarks, Interim President Patrick A. McGuire L.H.D. ’12 reflected on his time as a student at St. Peter’s College in the 1960s. Noting a refrain of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who spoke at St. Peter’s in 1965, McGuire told students, “The time to take risks is always now. The time to find your voice is always now. The time to question what you’re hearing and seeing and thinking and doing is always now…The project of education is built on coming up short. When we fail, we try again….Your time is now as you begin your career at HWS.”

HWS Trustee Dr. Jeremy T. Cushman ’96 said that being “a member of the Hobart and William Smith family is all about choices. Choices that will reflect upon you, your community and this family. Choices that will engage talents and abilities you never thought within yourself. Choices that will forever alter your life in the way tens of thousands of other Hobart and William Smith students have borne witness to.”

Hobart and William Smith Student Trustees shared some advice born of their recent semesters abroad.

Gavin R. Gross ’19, who studied abroad in Nanjing, China last spring and completed an internship with Citibank this summer, reflected on the opportunities that fear and failure offer. Citing a piece of advice he received at HWS, Gross said, “There is no better place to fail than here….People will often tell you failure is important but neglect to tell you that the most important time in your life to fail is right [now]….Being able to fail here — with this support network and with these people — has made all the difference to me.”

With the support of the HWS community, failure builds confidence to try new things, as William Smith Student Trustee Caitlin E. Lasher ’19 noted. Lasher, who studied abroad in New Zealand and in the Netherlands and has served as president of the HWS College Democrats and secretary for William Smith Congress, said, “You will all have your respective successes, losses and moments in between. You will have challenges that you will face, and ultimately, only you can conquer these problems with the skills you have learned here.”

Bookended by selfies and yogic breathing, the faculty address from Associate Professor of Media and Society Leah Shafer, winner of the 2018 Excellence in Teaching, was a stirring call to seize the moments and opportunities available at HWS, from the curriculum and faculty office hours to Seneca Lake to the technology and resources in the library.

“Your primary responsibility here is to utilize these magnificent resources so that you can improve your ability to live a life of consequence and expand your ability to be a just and intelligent person in the world,” Shafer said. She advised students to “make every day that you spend here a convocation, an opportunity for exploration, a transformative threshold for possibility. Build community, enlarge the small, mark occasions for yourself and strive to enjoy your privileged place as a person alive right here, right now.”

For more coverage on the Classes of 2022’s first weekend on campus, visit the Orientation 2018 page. 

Preparing Students to Lead Lives of Consequence.