Following the traditional procession of bagpipes and international flags, the Hobart and William Smith community gathered on Stern Lawn for Convocation, the first in the tenure of President Gregory J. Vincent ’83. The event allowed attendees to envision the promising year ahead and hear from keynote speaker, NPR’s Laura Sydell ’83 who received the prestigious William Smith Alumna Achievement Award during the ceremony. [A video and transcripts from the event are available.]
Vincent was introduced by Board Chair Thomas S. Bozzuto ’68 who reflected on Vincent’s expertise in higher education and his entrepreneurial leadership style. “He has something special – a deep knowledge of our history and a passion to push the Colleges to new levels of achievement. We are thrilled to have him.”
In opening the academic year, Vincent said: “…we begin the new academic year as a community grounded in the principles of justice and respect, and one that values and defends diversity. We are a campus that stands united in the pursuit of knowledge; that believes in the capacity of art, literature, music, theatre and dance to uplift; and that recognizes the power of science and ideas to change the world.”
Before her address, the Colleges honored Sydell with the William Smith Alumna Achievement Award for her commitment to truth and knowledge throughout her groundbreaking journalism career. It was presented by Chair of the Alumnae Association Honors Committee Kirra Henick-Cling Guard ’08, MAT ’09 and Assistant Vice President for Advancement and Alumnae Relations Kathy Killius Regan ’82, P’13.
The award-winning digital culture correspondent for NPR shared reflections of her time on campus and advice for current students.
“Follow your curiosity and your heart. They are both muscles. If you don’t use them they atrophy. These Colleges were where I learned how to keep them in shape,” said Sydell, who majored in history and was involved in theatre at HWS. After graduating with Honors and as a member of Phi Beta Kappa, Sydell earned her juris doctorate from Yeshiva University’s Cardozo School of Law. She began her career in radio at WNYC, where her reports on race relations, city politics and activism earned her accolades from numerous organizations.
Sydell joined NPR in 2003 where she appears on All Things Considered, Morning Edition, Weekend Edition and NPR.org. She has since won the Gerald Loeb Award, accolades from Investigative Reporters and Editors and the National Headliner Award.
“This is a time in your life when there are people around you who are invested in your success. That is really special,” Sydell told the students present. “As I’ve made choices about what to do with my life I’ve always checked back in with that part of me that was formed here. I’ve always followed my heart and my head…Figure out what keeps your head and your heart going while you’re here. You are so lucky to be here.”
Professor of Philosophy Scott Brophy ’78, P’12, who holds the 2017 Faculty Prize for Teaching, encouraged students to seize opportunities. “There are lots of ways that a liberal arts education can change your life,” Brophy said. “Try your best to make the inside of your head a more interesting place to live.”
Student Trustees Tyler Fuller ’18 and Brianna Moore ’18 urged students to get involved. “I’ve learned that everything that I wanted was on the other side of fear, that it’s okay to not know what direction your life will go in and that I was most comfortable when outside of my comfort zone,” Moore said.
Fuller addressed part of his remarks directly to the Classes of 2021: “You’re going to make mistakes. You’re going to have bad days. Learn from them; use your growing support system that you have to ensure those mistakes don’t become regrets.”
After quoting Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on critical thinking and character in education, Vincent said: “I believe that Hobart and William Smith is teaching students to think intensively and critically, and that we are building the kind of community that gives students intelligence plus character.