My View from South Hill
Thursday, May 26, 2011
It might have been the perfect Commencement.
Not many businesses would celebrate the end of a four year relationship with a loyal customer. But of course higher education is not just another business. Colleges and universities around the country plan with care to create an exciting and memorable commencement for graduates and their families. We do this partly out of respect for what the graduates have accomplished during their time as students. But, as the word "commencement" implies, we do it even more as a celebration of what is to come. Our graduates are ready to lead successful and fulfilled lives. They are ready to make great contributions to the wider society. This truly is cause for celebration!
I have been to 42 commencements at five different colleges and universities over the last 37 years, including two in which I was part of the graduating class. Based on that considerable fund of experience, I think Ithaca College had the perfect commencement last Sunday.
Part of what made our commencement so great is the campus itself. Thanks to our grounds crews who already this spring have planted 6,000 annual flowers, spread 900 cubic yards of mulch and mowed 48 acres of lawn, the campus was perfectly tended. Our fountains and their views of Cayuga Lake were, as always, the perfect backdrop for thousands of family photos. I managed to wangle my way into several hundred of those photos, including the one posted here of Pam and Andy Russell (both IC class of 1980) and their daughter Lisa (IC class of 2011).
Part of what made our commencement memorable was the fact that it was featured on ABC’s World News Tonight, as our alumnus and commencement speaker David Muir ’95 returned to the studio and told a national audience about his experience on the IC campus.
What made this commencement truly great, though, was the people involved. At the center of attention: 1,440 graduates receiving bachelors, masters and doctoral degrees. They were joined by approximately 11,000 family and friends, and were cheered on as well by several hundred IC faculty and staff.
Our graduates and other guests were treated to several moments they will remember for the rest of their lives. One such moment was Katie Henly’s ‘11 beautiful rendition of The Star Spangled Banner delivered despite an unruly flag that kept flapping close to her face. Never has there been so much meaning in the line “Oh say does that star bangled banner yet wave?” It most certainly did wave while Katie sang!
Senior class president Danielle Giserman ’11 roused the audience with her listing of some of the experiences shared by all IC students. The biggest cheer of the day greeted her mention of Dom Barrett’s custom omelets prepared every morning in the Campus Center Dining Hall.
Dorothy Cotton, the civil rights educator who part of Dr. Martin Luther King’s leadership team, received an honorary doctor of laws degree. She channeled Dr. King in the inspiring cadences of her speech, in which she told our graduates that the work of creating a just world will not be finished until they lend their talents to the greater good.
David Muir ’95 was chosen by the senior class committee to be our commencement speaker. He began by recalling vivid experiences from his days as a student at IC, including the time he burned popcorn in a microwave in Rowland Hall and created so much smoke that the fire trucks came out. He then spoke to his experience as a successful professional in television journalism, mentioning the moment when he realized the importance of unwavering commitment to excellence. Mr. Muir recalled doing the overnight news at ABC and thinking that no one would ever notice his 2 a.m. efforts until he learned that Peter Jennings had seen his work and thought highly of him. Suddenly, our graduates could see the straight path that runs from their work as IC students to success at the pinnacle of their future professional paths.
In different ways and coming from different personal experiences, Ms. Cotton, Mr. Muir and I offered variations on the theme that every graduate has the capacity to make a difference, and that the key to doing so is by finding your own voice. All three of us believe there is no tension between pursuing personal success and fulfillment, and trying to make a positive difference in the world. Those two paths are in reality the same.
Our graduates, ranging from 21 years of age to 86 year old Beryl Anderson, told me after the ceremony that they noticed the convergence in message and that it was one they will always keep close to their hearts. I have a feeling we will be hearing much more from the class of 2011 in the future. In the meantime, we can now begin planning the perfect commencement for the class of 2012!
For David Muir's complete commencement address and his story on ABC News about it, go to:http://wildfire.gigya.com/facebook/preview.aspx?fb_sig_api_key=f7667e9ebccf2157d6f15f991a5e3ce9&wid=541909711&p=bHQ9MTMwNjE4OTQ5MzQ3MCZwdD*xMzA2MTg5NDk2NjMwJnA9MTI1ODQxMSZkPUFCQ*5ld3NfU*ZQX*xvY2tlX*VtYmVkXzEzNjYxNjYwX*dyYWR1YXRpb25EYXkmbj1mYWNlYm9vayZnPTImbz1mNWE3ZTM5NzZlZmQ*YzUxYTU4ODQzYWVkODgzMWU1NiZvZj*w&s=1
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