The figure skater and cancer survivor has accepted an invitation to address the College's graduates and guests at the May 16 ceremony.
"Scott Hamilton's remarkable courage, determination, and dignity have made him a champion in the truest sense of the word, and I am pleased and excited that he will be serving as our Commencement speaker," says Ithaca College president Peggy R. Williams. "He has used his celebrity status to help promote worthy causes, especially on behalf of children, and his message is one that I am certain will be well received by our graduating seniors and their guests."
As a boy, Hamilton was plagued by an illness that stunted his growth and baffled doctors. He appeared destined to remain a spectator rather than a competitor. At the age of 9 he gave skating a try and, after a difficult start, he began showing a talent for the sport. At the same time, the signs of his illness disappeared: "I skated myself out of it," is how Hamilton puts it simply.
He began training in earnest. In 1980 he placed third at the U.S. Nationals, guaranteeing him a trip to the Winter Olympics. Although he was not expected to medal, the U.S. Olympic team had such respect and affection for Hamilton that they voted to give him the privilege of carrying the American flag in the opening ceremonies, which he calls the proudest moment in his life. He placed fifth that year, but in each of the next four years he won both national and world figure skating titles, culminating in a gold medal performance at the 1984 Sarajevo Olympics.
Hamilton entered the professional skating ranks later that year. For more than a decade he continued wowing crowds in both competitions and in tours with the Ice Capades and Stars on Ice. In 1997 he faced his most difficult challenge when he was diagnosed with testicular cancer. Following 12 weeks of chemotherapy, abdominal surgery, and 6 weeks of recuperation, he made a triumphant return to the Stars on Ice tour.
Now retired from active skating, Hamilton has turned his experience with cancer into an opportunity to help others. He is a lifetime spokesperson for the Cleveland Clinic Taussig Cancer Center and the founder of the Scott Hamilton CARES (Cancer Alliance for Research, Education, and Survivorship) Initiative. It is his vision to eradicate cancer within his lifetime and to help find strategies to improve the quality of life for individuals with cancer.
"A commencement speaker should not serve the purpose of attempting to educate a class of graduating seniors about some topic that only he or she is familiar with," notes senior class president Melissa Ferraro '04. "A commencement speaker is someone who is supposed to serve as a voice of inspiration at a time when seniors are faced with a great deal of confusion and uncertainty. The Ithaca College graduating class of 2004 should consider itself fortunate to have Scott Hamilton as its commencement speaker. Not only is he an outstanding athlete, but he embodies many of the characteristics that a graduating senior needs. Having experienced triumph, dedication, motivation, and even defeat at certain points in his life will allow for Scott Hamilton to serve as an emotional incentive and visual proof that if all facets of attempt are explored, success in some form or another is attainable."
Hamilton is actively involved in a wide variety of charitable events, including those for the Make-A-Wish Foundation, Special Olympics, Athletes Against Drugs, Target House, and the Pediatric Aids Foundation. He published his autobiography, "Landing It," in 1999. He serves as a commentator for television broadcasts of figure skating, including the 2002 Winter Olympic Games in Salt Lake City.
Contributed by Dave Maley