“Pay attention to how your soul is responding in your interviews and your work. Learn your truth and celebrate your good fortune in your calling,” former portfolio manager at American Stock Exchange and retired faith leader Christine Janis ’76 told the graduating Classes of 2019. As the 2019 Baccalaureate speaker, Janis shared her story of finding the strength to make the enormous transition that changed her life.
Janis left the financial industry during the AIDS epidemic to serve homeless populations and at risk children in South Bronx, N.Y. In her remarks, Janis reflected on the call to service that inspired her to change careers and the mentors who gave her the courage to take the leap. In many instances, the guiding figures included fellow Hobart and William Smith alums and members of the faculty.
“Seek the good in those who had set the courses before us and honor their contributions… Their lives, the broadness of their souls, helped form the ethos of these Colleges. Offering words and works which to this day help us all claim our callings,” said Janis, recalling a moment of clarity for her at the General Theological Seminary, whose ties go back to Bishop John Henry Hobart and the founding of Hobart College. A full transcript of Janis’ remarks are available here.
During a period of immense growth, Janis was part of a congregation that included attorneys, physicians and social workers who provided meals to 5,000 homeless men weekly. There, she coincidentally bumped into her former economics professor, Interim President Patrick A. McGuire L.H.D. ’12 and Professor Emeritus of Sociology James Spates P’00, P’09 during their annual “Two Cities” course. Their chance encounter helped the Colleges establish a relationship with faith organizations in the South Bronx, N.Y. For more than a decade, HWS students would volunteer at their afterschool programs and shelters. It also reconnected Janis to the Colleges when she “was in need of counsel.”
“Think about a place, here on campus, or seek out in your mind’s eye the beauty of the lake, the preserved land as well as agricultural land which surrounds us. Go to that place in your mind, make it a part of you,” Janis said.
The cherished tradition of Baccalaureate also included remarks and prayers shared by members of the Hobart and William Smith community. The event was presided over by Chaplain of the Colleges Nita Byrd and Director of the Abbe Center for Jewish Life and Hillel Adviser Julianne Miller. Both Byrd and Miller invited graduates and their families to “pause” and “give thanks” as they came together to “reflect on the learning and values that will endure throughout their lifetimes.”
Four student speakers, who chose religious texts in three languages – in Arabic, English and Hebrew – spoke to their experiences as students at HWS.
Zahra Arabzada ’19 shared a passage from the Quran and stories about the empowered women in the Islamic faith who were businesswomen and scholars. Born in Afghanistan and raised in a refugee camp in Iran, Arabzada created opportunities at HWS to educate others about Islam. “Even though I encountered misunderstanding about Islam, there were motivated students, staff and faculty who stood with us on difficult days. Following the New Zealand mosque shootings, these people shared their grief with the Muslim community,” she recalled.
Matthew Fox ’19 spoke about finding the meaning of the “the Shema” while at HWS during two vulnerable moments: while speaking at a vigil for the victims of the Pittsburgh Synagogue shooting, and while reading the names of the victims of the Holocaust during Holocaust Remembrance Day. “Oftentimes, it is easy to be quiet. It is the times when you stand for something you believe in that defines us,” he said.
Meredith Kellogg ’19, who will serve as an English-teaching assistant in the Czech Republic as a recipient of the prestigious Fulbright Award, discussed the opportunities at HWS that encouraged her to step outside of her comfort zone. Through her faith, and the encouragement of the HWS community, she studied abroad in Denmark. The “beauty and diversity of the world” she encountered, inspired her to pursue a life of service. “I hope I can make a positive impact on the people around me and the world as a whole,” Kellogg said.
Sarah Walters ’19 reflected on how difficult moments and failure motivated her personal growth during her time at the Colleges. “Perhaps failure is a blessing,” Walters said. “In these difficult moments we grow even more as people than we do when everything feels immediately good and right.”
Additionally, Provost and Dean of Faculty DeWayne Lucas read a prayer for the Classes of 2019 that was written by the Rev. Lesley M. Adams D.D.’15, retired HWS Chaplain.
The “Sending Forth” was issued by William Smith Dean Lisa Kaenzig P’22 and Hobart Dean Khuram Hussain.
Musical performances by HWS Chorale were conducted by Professor of Music Robert Cowles. The MidLakes Brass Ensemble also performed.