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Commencement 2004Commencement 2004
Ithaca College, May 16, 2004

Thank you, Melissa [Ferraro, senior class president], for your words on behalf of the class of 2004. Thank you, also, to the senior class officers, your classmates, and many of you in the audience for organizing and making this wonderful gift [of more than $30,000] to Ithaca College. We appreciate your generous support and your philanthropic spirit. You have clearly left your mark on Ithaca College in many ways. Your giving, in this instance, surpassed your goal and set a new Ithaca College record. The renovations we have planned to the Campus Center food court -- a place that will display our history and tradition -- will be a meaningful legacy to all of you in the class of 2004. Thank you, again.

Graduates, this is your day. Enjoy every second of it. Members of the College community join me, your family, and friends in celebrating your wonderful accomplishments. I know you enjoyed your years here, and I hope you enjoyed this last week, which was yours in particular, and took it as an opportunity to celebrate your successes as students here. Senior week, including the wonderful concert last night and the spectacular fireworks, provided a culmination to your years at Ithaca College as well as the opportunity to appreciate and celebrate your Ithaca College friendships. As [champion ice skater, cancer survivor, and Commencement speaker] Scott Hamilton noted, the friendships you developed here will last a lifetime. I know you will stay in touch with one another. In years hence, you'll know the value of having done so.

You joined the Ithaca College community just a few short years ago. At that time, we welcomed you into the College community and shared with you your excitement for the possibilities and opportunities that lay ahead. At your fall Convocation, I shared my hopes and dreams for what your life would be like during the time you were at Ithaca. During the intervening years you were shaped by many people and many experiences and have become the individuals you are today. I am confident that you are different in many ways from the persons you were when you arrived on campus.

Regardless of what program or discipline you studied, I hope you have developed intellectual habits that will continue to serve you well throughout your lifetime. Ithaca College's strong liberal arts tradition has provided you with critical thinking and reasoning skills, intellectual breadth, and a capacity to deal with an infinite range of information and knowledge -- much yet to be discovered.

You also had the privilege, during your time here, to share and experience diverse and divergent perspectives and points of view. This is truly a unique and wonderful aspect of life here in the academy. As you join new communities beyond the boundaries of the academy, you have the opportunity to serve as an inspiration for critical, thoughtful, and civil dialogue. You also have the responsibility, as educated citizens, to continue to be informed, to continue to share your thoughts, to continue to invite and listen to the perspectives of others -- even when those differ radically from your own -- and to find your special role for making this world a better place for all. I encourage you to draw deeply on your IC experiences in "life after Ithaca."

As Chairman Haines noted, today you join the ranks of over 50,000 Ithaca College alumni. Through your aptitude and diligence, you have earned your place here. But your new role as alumni comes with some responsibilities.

  • First, carry the knowledge and skills learned here into the world beyond to improve the welfare of humanity by whatever means you are capable.
  • Second, let others know, by your example, of the commitment to excellence that is truly the hallmark of Ithaca College.
  • Third, support your fellow alumni and current students through the many opportunities available here on campus and those sponsored by our alumni throughout the country.
  • Fourth, and finally, support the next generation of scholars at Ithaca College by volunteering to offer guidance and opportunities to our young people. We look forward to all of your contributions in the future, just as the contributions of past students and alumni contributed to your experience here.

We are proud of our alumni. The contributions that they make in music, theater, science, business, sports, communications, and a host of other occupations and avocations are nothing short of remarkable. I am confident that you will follow in their footsteps, whatever paths you choose.

This morning, members of the Ithaca College Community Alumni association gave each of you a special medallion. The presentation of medallions by our alumni is an important tradition that we established during the College's centennial year.

On one side of your medallion is the official College seal, recognizing the history, tradition, and mission of Ithaca College. While this side of the medallion has remained constant for virtually every graduating class since we began the tradition, the other side of the medallion includes a quotation unique to the class of 2004.

This year's quotation is from Albert Einstein, and it reads: "Imagination encircles the world."

I find this particular Einstein quotation interesting because, after failing an entrance examination to a technical university, Einstein confessed his belief that he was lacking in imagination. Can you believe that?! The man who helped humanity to view the universe in a whole new light doubted his own imagination. Clearly the quotation on your medallion is from later in his life, well after Einstein had finished his studies and had succeeded in turning established theories of physics upside down.

We have been blessed throughout history with individuals -- some famous and some not so famous -- who have applied their imaginations to solve the greatest and smallest of the world's challenges, and who have explored questions and opportunities of every proportion. While some have imagined cures for disease, others have envisioned space travel and exploration or dreamed of technology that would connect us to one another around the world with the click of a button. Still others -- through their art, music, and writing -- have expanded our individual worlds by taking us to places beyond the known and the familiar.

In the late 1880s the founder of Ithaca College, W. Grant Egbert, imagined building a conservatory of music "second to none." Decades later in the 1960s, leaders of the College imagined replacing the dispersed facilities located in downtown Ithaca with a residential campus on farmland acreage here on South Hill. Today we benefit from those who dared to imagine. We now have the ability and responsibility to continue to imagine and plan for a future worthy of our dreams and aspirations and, equally as important, worthy of the legacy of our founders.

I hope that your time at Ithaca College has already shown you that you too are, in your own way, very imaginative, creative, and capable of great things. As the quotation suggests, Einstein came to understand that imagination is not limited to any culture, nation, or personality trait. He understood that a free imagination brings the world together and creates limitless possibilities for all of us.

We humans have the unique and special gift of imagination. As children, we are encouraged to imagine what we would like to be when we grow up. Some of us dreamed of being a doctor, an astronaut, a teacher, a musician, or even an Olympic gold medalist. Some of you are well on your way to making your dreams a reality, while others, as Melissa had mentioned, may have changed your course a few times and will continue to do so as you refine your sense of direction. Here at Ithaca you learned that life is about exploration, change, and fulfillment.

In the words of futurist John Schaar, a sociologist and professor emeritus at the University of California-Santa Cruz:

The future is not a result of choices among alternative paths offered by the present, but a place that is created. Created first in mind and will, created next in activity.
The future is not some place we are going to, but one we are creating. The paths to it are not found but made, and the activity of making them changes both the maker and the destination.

As you continue to create the futures you imagine, and you look out into the unknowns of a complicated and exciting world -- a place in need of powerful hope and enlightened leadership -- you hold opportunity in your hands. Cherish it. Use it wisely and humanely, and enjoy yourselves in the process. Let your knowledge and character be your foundation, and let your imagination be your guide and inspiration.

Today is a time to pause and to look back as well as to dream and to plan about your future. As you prepare to close one chapter of your life and begin another, I ask you to reflect on your journey thus far. Take wisdom and compassion from those individuals you have encountered, strength and fortitude from challenges faced, and experience and perspective from opportunities explored.

Graduates, thank you so much for choosing Ithaca College. You have truly enriched our College community through your contributions of ideas and perspectives, your energy, and your fun-loving personalities. We wish you well for what lies ahead. We will miss you, but we know that you will continue to come back and we will continue to celebrate your accomplishments as members of the Ithaca College family.

And in the words of Garrison Keillor, from that famous radio show, A Prairie Home Companion, "Be well, do good work, and keep in touch!"

Congratulations!