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Commencement 2013Commencement 2013
May 19, 2013

Listen to Your Voice, Defend What You Love

Greetings Class of 2013! According to the senior class slogan, you are the biggest thing ever to hit IC. I fully agree with that viewpoint.

Our graduates assembled here today came to Ithaca College at various times in the last half dozen years. Some of you arrived as recently as one or two years ago as transfer students or as graduate students. Some of you arrived more than four years ago, having taken a variety of paths to today's commencement. But the majority of you arrived on Sunday, August 23, 2009 -- move in day for the largest freshman class in IC history. It seems like only yesterday, doesn't it?

You arrived in numbers we had never seen before and may never see again. 2,027 freshmen! You were the Ithaca College Baby Boom generation. When the fall 2009 semester started, you represented one third of all undergraduate students at IC. You bought your first year reading, President Obama’s book Dreams from My Father, in such numbers that it blipped up in the best seller charts! You caused us here at the college to build the Terrace 13 residence hall in the record-setting time of seven weeks. And you strode onto this campus with an unmistakable swagger.

Those first months had their rocky moments. Remember the long lines for lunch between 12:00 and 12:30 in the Campus Center and Terrace Dining Halls? In September the Ithacan wrote a front page story about you titled “What Went Wrong?” They stated that Ithaca College had reduced its admission standards and was compromising its prestige by bringing such a large freshman class to campus. Today, four years later, you have left your mark at IC. You proved you belong by having a higher persistence rate to the second year than the three classes ahead of you, and for that matter a higher rate than the two classes behind you. You led student clubs and organizations and sports teams to success. You organized to accomplish charitable works that have made a difference in the lives of thousands. You won academic awards and honors. You set records in your senior gift campaign, including number of donors, percentage of donors and dollars contributed. And now you are gathered in Butterfield Stadium for your commencement in record numbers, proving one more time that when you arrived on campus four years ago that headline should have read “What Went Right?”

Tomorrow you will tackle the next set of challenges in your lives with the same panache that you brought to the IC campus. For some of you the next destination is more education, either in graduate school or in a professional school. For others your next destination will be a job – perhaps one that is the beginning of your future career, or perhaps a job that you already know won’t be your career but that will serve as a bridge to help you define and achieve your goals.

Whatever you do next, I know you will tackle it with confidence. I know you will pour all your talent and all your energy into that next challenge, just as you have done in meeting the demands of being successful students at Ithaca College.

There is an inherent irony in the long-standing custom of the college president offering parting words of wisdom to the graduating class. I look at you across a generational divide and I am under no illusions -- you can teach me as much or more about the world of the present and future as I can teach you. Consider as a case in point the announcement that David Boreanaz would be our commencement speaker today. Within an hour of accepting the Class of 2013's invitation, David tweeted that fact to his 400,000 followers. His announcement was retweeted 92 times in the next hour, spreading around the IC campus like wildfire, or maybe I should say like Twitter. One hour later I got around to reading an email sharing the news that David had accepted your invitation. By the time I got this information, you already knew about it – along with approximately a half million other people.

Using email to learn about something that is already in the Twitter-sphere is pretty old fashioned, but then I did something even more irrelevant. I picked up the telephone to ask our public relations office to prepare a press release. A press release to share information that had already made the rounds via Twitter! I might as well have sent out pony express riders in all directions, with instructions to call out the news as they passed through each town.

So believe me when I say that I feel properly humble as I stand before you to offer concluding thoughts on your IC experience. In fact for those of you who started your studies here in 2009, you might remember that when I welcomed you to campus at our August Convocation, I spoke to you as my 18 year old self. I had recently re-read a novel that greatly influenced me in the summer before I started college [Damien, by Herman Hesse], one whose central theme was the importance of achieving clarity about your own values and finding the strength to live up to those values. Re-reading the book, complete with my underlinings from almost 40 years ago, was a powerful experience that took me back to being 18. I had strong memories of what it felt like to be at the beginning of one’s college years. Based on that bit of time travel, I challenged you at your Convocation to think of your college experience in the following terms:

You already know that the most important voice you will ever hear will be the voice inside you. Over the next four years, that voice will grow stronger and more sure of its direction. It will say some surprising things. It will be a challenging voice, because it will at times tell you to embrace the uncertain and to follow a path different from what other people may expect of you, different even from the path you thought you were going to follow. Look deep. Pay attention to that shimmering longing for an authentic existence that you find within. Then try to live it.

Let me come back to the present, and ask you that you try to find a quiet moment this afternoon in the midst of your celebrations with family and friends. Use that moment to think about who you were when you first arrived at Ithaca College, and then do an inventory of yourself today. You will find an amazing contrast! You know more; you have experienced more; you are capable of more; your voice is more powerful and you have much greater insight into the essence of who you are.

There is one thing you have no way of knowing yet, but that I promise you will find to be true: if you live your life richly, if you shout "YES!" to the opportunities that come your way, if you continue to be deeply reflective on who you are and what you care about and what you are capable of, then the transformation you experienced while at Ithaca College will happen again, and then yet again after that. If you listen to your voice, you will continue to grow throughout your life time. You will embrace new ideas and ways of doing things that cause you to look back and laugh gently at yourself, just as I laugh at myself for using the old media of email and telephone and press release to spread news of Mr. Boreanaz being with us today.

Change and growth are wonderful things. They are the raw material of social progress and the essence of personal happiness. You will only enjoy the rewards of change and growth if you also hold on to what you have learned about yourself during your time at IC. My fondest wish as you leave your campus today – and yes, it will always be YOUR campus – is that you will continue in the habit of trusting your voice. I leave this parting wish for you on the reverse of the medallion you have been given today in honor of your graduation. It contains a quotation from the African environmental advocate Baba Dioum. I hope the quotation is meaningful to you today and that it becomes even more meaningful as the years pass.

You now stride into the world as you once strode onto this campus – perhaps full of questions and doubts but also full of the talent, energy and ambition that will enable you to tackle every challenge. Embrace that world and revel in its challenges. But do so from the powerful base created by the knowledge and values you developed during your time here at Ithaca College. Don't just conserve what you love, defend what you love with everything you have.

And have fun.