|Ithaca College, May 20, 2007|
Thank you, Alex [Alexander Moore, senior class president], for speaking on behalf of your classmates. Thank you, also, senior class officers for all you did this year on behalf of your fellow students. And thanks to every one of you in the senior class for making this wonderful gift [of more than $57,000, including a $25,873 match from Atlantic Philanthropies] to the College. We very much appreciate your generous support. Your gift has set a new Ithaca College record that will serve as a meaningful legacy for the class of 2007 for years to come.
I want to follow up briefly on Alex’s comment at the beginning of his speech where he recognized all in the audience who have made it possible for you graduates to be here today. Let’s take that recognition one step further. Stand up, turn around, and thank your parents, your grandparents, your friends, and your family. They are so proud of you today. We know that their sacrifices and support were critical to you in getting from step one to today.
This morning, members of the Ithaca College Alumni Association gave each of you a special medallion. The presentation of medallions by our alumni is an important tradition that began in our centennial year, 1992. On one side of your medallion is the official College seal, recognizing the history, tradition, and mission of Ithaca College. The other side of the medallion is a quotation unique to your graduating class.
This year the quotation is a well-known Chinese proverb: “The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” Some scholars attribute this proverb to the philosopher Confucius. Others attribute it to another great Chinese philosopher, Lao-Tzu.
Whatever the attribution, the proverb is an elegant metaphor for life. It is a metaphor that conveys encouragement.
When the proverb was written some 2,000 years ago, the idea of taking a thousand-mile journey was an overwhelming prospect. However, by describing the lengthy journey as beginning with a single step, the proverb makes such a journey seem far more appealing; moreover, the proverb makes it seem such a journey indeed may be achievable. I would say the same holds true today.
Graduates, your journey begins today by your saying goodbye to your classmates and professors, by packing up, and by leaving this campus, which has been your home for many years.
Today, you have a great sense of optimism about what lies ahead for you. You know that you are ready to begin your adventurous journey well-prepared for the challenges and opportunities that you will encounter along the way.
Will you be a business leader, an economist? Will you be an actor, a politician, a journalist, a teacher, a physical therapist, a musician, a college professor, a research biologist, a novelist, or some other estimable profession?
Or will you pursue life as an advocate for the human rights of others, as our keynote speaker, William Schulz, has done throughout his career? If so, then you will bring to life a principle tenet of the Ithaca College mission, part of which reads, “Character is developed when competence is exercised for the benefit of others.” A tangible example of our graduates living out this part of the mission statement is the fact that 14 of you will participate in the Teach for America program next year.
Whatever you choose to do, I am confident that your life will unfold as it has for your fellow Ithaca College alumni. Your life and career will be successful and fulfilling. From time to time, your journey will surprise you, taking you down a wonderful path that you never could have foreseen nor anticipated.
At convocation four years ago, I quoted Robert J. Kibbee, Chancellor of the City University of New York, who said, “The quality of a university is measured more by the kind of student it turns out than the kind it takes in.”
What has been clear from the first day you arrived here is that you are responsible for ensuring that you get the very most out of your education. At the same time, it has been the job, the mission, and the obligation of every one of the Ithaca College faculty and staff to be sure that you have exceptional opportunities that would broaden, strengthen, and inspire you.
Most of you arrived on campus with a vague idea of what you wanted to do with your life. Your interests, dreams, and aspirations have likely changed quite significantly during these intervening years. It is safe to say that you are not the same person today that you were when you first arrived on campus. You are more self-assured, more independent, and more mature. You are more informed, and more confident about your ability to manage what lies ahead.
During your time here, you all have become scholars. You have developed a measure of expertise in your field of interest. You have learned how to learn, how to discern, how to debate. You have learned how to communicate your ideas effectively and persuasively.
Most important, you have developed a hunger for learning and knowledge that will never be satisfied. This hunger will serve you very well and will virtually ensure your success, wherever your journey takes you.
A great world awaits you. It is a world in need of people like you. It is a world that will welcome your talents, your knowledge, your work ethic, your enthusiasm, and your determination. It is a world in need of great leaders, professionals, and advocates. Furthermore, it is a world yearning for people who are comfortable with change, and who have the passion to be agents of change.
Commencement is, as the word suggests, a time for beginning: for setting off on a new life, for starting a career, and for using the skills and knowledge you have acquired here at Ithaca College to succeed in the world on your own and to make a difference.
Commencement indeed is a bittersweet event for all of us. As one proud parent of a graduating senior wrote me two years ago before commencement, “Having invested so much in these vibrant, young adults, we watch them fly away on wings of joy. We lose them at their best moment, don’t we? We send them out now with their own identities, hoping and trusting that the best part of us goes with them.”
We do lose you now -- at your best moment -- confident that for each of you there will be many more “best moments” to come.
Graduates, thank you for choosing Ithaca College. You have truly enriched this community and we look forward to continuing to celebrate your accomplishments as members of the Ithaca College family in many times over the course of the years to come.
Now, we must let you go -- with every confidence that each of your journeys will be exciting, successful, and rewarding.
Congratulations, and all the best!