About Thomas R. Rochon

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Commencement 2010Commencement 2010
May 23, 2010

And so we have reached this moment.  Those of you who started your undergraduate studies at Ithaca College sat in the Hill Center on the sunny and hazy afternoon of August 28, 2006.  It was just 1363 days ago -- or, as Zach Ford '07 recently stated in a congratulatory letter published in the Ithacan, it was nearly two million minutes ago.  George W. Bush was president of the United States; Peggy R. Williams was president of Ithaca College.  You were about to discuss with faculty, staff and your fellow freshmen Yann Martel's Life of Pi, the first-year reading for your class.

Some things don't change a lot over the span of four years.  The news on your first day as an IC student was dominated by suicide bombers in Baghdad and in Afghanistan.  Amnesty International warned about a pending human catastrophe in Darfur.  The Emmys were awarded the night before your undergraduate careers began.  The Office won the award for best comedy, and 24 won for best drama. 

A few other things have changed, though.  Had you picked up a newspaper that morning you would have read about the movement of stock prices to new all-time highs, part of the seemingly limitless expansion of the global economy.  If you read past the front page of the newspaper, you would have seen that an obscure senator named Barack Obama was that very day meeting with political leaders in Kenya during a five-nation tour of Africa.  

You have changed a lot as well.  Think back to that afternoon in August 2006.  You were nervous about this new college adventure.  You had lots of questions.  Will I succeed at this level?  Will I fit in with other students and find my niche?  Will I like it here?

Others of you may not have been present for that convocation.  You may have begun your studies at IC earlier or later, whether as an undergraduate or a graduate student.  You may have simply skipped the convocation ceremony, the first formal meeting of your career in higher education.  If so, tssk tssk.

But no matter where you were when classes began in August 2006, today we are all here.  And being here signifies something very important about you and what you have been doing over the last years.  It means that your questions from four years ago have been answered in the affirmative: you have succeeded at this level; you did fit in with other students; you have found your niche.

In fact, in retrospect, you realize today that the questions you asked at the beginning of your first year were far too timid.  You wanted to know if you would make it, perhaps thinking of college as a kind of test that you hoped you would pass.  But you have done more than just make it; you have prospered.  You have been transformed.  You have capabilities that you may not even have been seeking when you started at Ithaca College.  You are better able to analyze a topic or a problem on your own and understand how to attack it.  You are a more confident and effective communicator.  You have a surer sense of your own abilities and interests, and of where they might take you. 

You have the habits of thought characteristic of a life-long learner: someone whose inquisitiveness and whose ability to be an independent thinker has prepared you for a future that is in some respects unimaginable to us at this moment.  It is a future in which many of you will work in jobs and undertake other endeavors that today do not even exist in our imaginations.  It is a future that you will help create.

If you were present on that convocation day in August 2006, you heard President Peggy Williams put in front of you two questions whose relevance to your college experience you may not have fully understood at the time:

How do I want to live my life?  Who do I want to become?

I am sure that you now appreciate the full significance of those questions.  The true transformation within you, the mark of your education, comes not from the diploma that we will soon put in the mail but instead from your increased understanding of how you want to live your lives and who you want to become.  Those questions have been at the heart of your college experience.  They will be at the heart of your entire journey in life.  That is why I asked that those two questions be engraved on the medallion that you are now wearing.  I hope you will carry that medallion -- and those questions -- with you no matter where you go, no matter what you do.

I wonder what you would say if I asked you which experiences at IC have been most important to your transformation.  Some of you might point to a particular class or perhaps to the accumulation of classes in your major.  Some of you might mention the mentorship you received from a faculty member outside of class, either over a long period of time or perhaps in a single, revelatory conversation.  Some of you will point to the influence of your extra-curricular activities in student clubs or in sports.  Others may mention the inspiring example of your fellow students, whose hard work and outstanding performance pushed you to get the most out of yourself.  Some of you will say you did it on your own: that you discovered a commitment to learning and a joy in excellence that enabled you to tap a previously-unsuspected power within yourselves. 

And finally, for some of you it won't yet be clear exactly what it was about these last years that was so special.  But I know, based on my conversations with thousands of Ithaca College alumni, that you will come to an increasingly clear understanding of what it was about your years at Ithaca College that was so rich for you.  When you come back to Ithaca as alumni, or perhaps if we have an opportunity to meet at a reunion in whatever city you will call home, I hope you will share your thoughts with me. 

In the meantime, I want to thank you for the legacy you have left here at IC.  I want to thank you for the generosity of spirit that led you to create a scholarship in the name of your classmate, Andrea Morton.  I want to give a special thanks to the seven seniors who created a "bucket list" of things to do before they graduated, and who included on your list "Do a high five with President Rochon."  True, meeting with me was only number 20 on the list, one place behind "Swim drunk in the Hill Center pool."  I have a feeling that your bucket list was never completed.  But I am glad we got to do our high five. 

To all of you, my warmest congratulations on the journey you have taken as students at Ithaca College.  I look forward to learning about your continued journey.  And I am proud to welcome you as alumni.