The Power of the Positive Henry Winkler challenges the class of 2000 to keep negativity at bay —  and to go out and grab the future.

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Henry Winkler has come a long way from his Fonz days. In some ways, that is. The Fonz — Arthur Fonzarelli, the superhip, leather-jacketed, motorcycle-riding, self-described "babe magnet" of the hit TV show Happy Days — was actually something of a philosopher who ended up teaching at the high school from which he had once dropped out. Winkler — the now 55-year-old actor who brought the Fonz to life — has also gone through his share of changes.

After some false starts — and a childhood as an undiagnosed dyslexic and "king of negative thinking" — Winkler earned a bachelor’s degree from Emerson College and a master’s degree from the Yale School of Drama. Then he moved to California, where he landed a part as a tube of toothpaste in a commercial, then guest roles on The Mary Tyler Moore Show and The Bob Newhart Show. In 1973 Winkler received the biggest break of his career when he was cast as Arthur Fonzarelli on what would become one of the most successful shows in television history. He has since acted in several movies, gained a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and become a director, producer, and activist whose work has been honored with numerous awards, including the United Nations Peace Prize and the B’Nai B’rith Champion of Youth Award.

Winkler shared some of his wisdom with the class of 2000 during the College’s 105th Commencement on May 13. "I stand before you being mostly who I want to be, and I say mostly because it is astounding to me how ongoing the process is," Winkler told the 1,325 graduates and their guests at the somewhat shortened (rain threatened, but didn’t materialize) ceremony at Butterfield Stadium. "Unless [you] align [yourself] mentally, physically, and spiritually, then becoming who you want to be is almost unobtainable."

Winkler reminded the graduates that the process of self-discovery evolves slowly and lasts a lifetime. "Every one of you has a greatness inside of you," he said. "It is your job to dig down deep, find out what it is, and then give it to the world as a gift."

The ceremony began with chairman of the board of trustees Herman E. Muller Jr. ’51 welcoming the new graduates to the fold of Ithaca alumni. Senior class president John Walsh (below right) gave a rousing talk filled with memories of his and his classmates’ four years at Ithaca as well as some cautions. "Striving for knowledge and perfection is admirable," he said, "but have the courage to maintain your personal identity. Put your emphasis on the qualities that define our individual personalities and contribute to our harmonious diversity." Walsh and class treasurer Alex Walton then presented President Peggy Ryan Williams with the class gift of $8,580.

President Williams spoke of the inscription on the traditional graduates’ medallions. This year’s medallions bore a quote by American novelist Edith Wharton: "There are two ways of spreading light: to be the candle or the mirror that reflects it."

"Each of you has lived this quotation here at Ithaca College," Williams said. "Through your character and your actions, you have shaped the nature of this College in your various roles as leaders in some dimensions of your life here and as mirrors or informed followers in other dimensions of your College experience. In all of these, each of you has discovered and shared your voice, your gifts, and your passions.

"Ithaca College has been the place to practice being the candle and the mirror — a place to learn the difference between these important roles as well as a place to learn which role suits you better in any given situation. Whether it be the candle or the mirror, each role has an effect on the whole community."

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Photos by Jon Crispin

 
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