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Commencement 1999Commencement 1999
Ithaca College, May 15, 1999

Thank you very much, Dominic [Cottone, senior class president], for your words on behalf of the class of 1999. Thanks also to you and to the senior class officers for organizing this class gift [of $8,285]. The annual fund is a critical component of our giving program, and we appreciate your generous support.

I enjoyed some of the Senior Week activities with "Seniors of the Century," including the spectacular fireworks. For those of you who participated in the week's events, they were a special culmination of your years at Ithaca and a celebration of the friendships that you developed. You may not know this now, but there is a strong chance that the friendships you developed during your years at Ithaca will last for a lifetime. This is a wonderful aspect of the college experience. I encourage you to stay in touch with one another in the years to come.

I would like to take a moment to recognize those members who will be leaving the board of trustees soon: Dr. Bob Baker and Dr. Bill Schwab. They have both done excellent work carrying out their trustee responsibilities. I thank each of you for your service and commitment to the College. I also would like to thank Chairman [Herman] Muller [Jr.] and the entire board for their support over the past year and for the work they do on behalf of our students.

In 1992, during the centennial celebration of the founding of Ithaca College, then-president [James J.] Whalen instituted the tradition of presenting graduates with Commencement medallions. Today, these medallions were given to you, graduates, by members of the alumni association as you processed into the stadium. That the medallions were presented by alumni is an important symbolic gesture, for today you are welcomed into the ranks of the alumni of Ithaca College. Through your aptitude and diligence, you have earned your place here. We celebrate that accomplishment today.

Your new role as alumni includes several specific responsibilities:

  • First, carry your knowledge and skills forth into the world to improve the welfare of humankind by whatever means you are able.
     
  • Second, by your example let others know of the commitment to excellence that is a hallmark of Ithaca College.
     
  • Third, look to support your fellow alumni and current students through alumni Network Nights and through alumni club activities.
     
  • Fourth and finally, support the next generation of scholars at Ithaca and elsewhere by volunteering to offer guidance to young people. We look forward to all of your future accomplishments and contributions.

Now I would like to share a few thoughts about the quotation from Dr. [Maya] Angelou inscribed on your medallions: "If one is lucky, a solitary fantasy can totally transform one million realities."

Many of the great social transformations have been born in the hearts of individual persons, have been nurtured by their intellect and conviction, and have been carried forward by their courage. The names of these individuals who have dared to have a dream are well known to you. Indeed, one of the goals of education is to tell the stories of the dreams and accomplishments of these visionaries.

I would like to share one example of a modern-day visionary. With us today is a group of students from the Frederick Douglass Academy in New York City -- a school with which Ithaca College has a unique partnership. The Frederick Douglass Academy is a very special school because of the fantasy that one individual, Dr. Lorraine Monroe, had. The Frederick Douglass Academy, formerly Intermediate School Number 10, had closed in 1991 due to poor test scores, student violence, and low faculty morale. Because of the hard work of Dr. Monroe and her philosophy -- "have high expectations for students, give them a curriculum that is rigorous and focused on traditional academic subjects needed for college, show them there is a world beyond the boundaries of Harlem, give them constant support, and do not let them use their lives outside of school as reason for failure" -- the school has been transformed, with over 90 percent of its graduates going on to college. In addition, order and a respect for learning have been instilled. Never doubt that one of you, too, may bring about such a great transformation.

Neither should you forget that even more important than the great social transformations are what we might call the "minor social transformations" -- those that take place constantly and go largely unnoticed, the small acts of personal commitment that, in the end, can have a tremendous impact. For example, if you plan to be a teacher and can impress upon a mere 100 students to excel in school and they do the same for 100 of their students and they for 100 of theirs, then your students' students will transform the lives of a million souls. If you plan to go into medicine, business, music, law, arts and entertainment, research, or any of the myriad of professions you may choose, this ripple effect can occur through the contacts you have with clients, family, friends, and neighbors -- these small miracles of social transformation.

As we are too well aware, there can also be a dark side to a solitary fantasy. A recent event [the shooting incident at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado, which resulted in the deaths of 15 people, including the two alleged teenaged shooters] shows us that one solitary fantasy, if carried out, can have a devastating effect on hundreds of individuals. It is our duty as educators, current and future parents, citizens, and professionals to help provide the support, guidance, and care to ensure that these types of fantasy are not realized. We need to nurture and kindle those fantasies that will lead to greater good for all and make a positive difference in the lives of others.

As you leave Ithaca, know that you each have the potential to transform one million realities through your actions and deeds. You have shown that you have the motivation and the commitment through your accomplishments. We -- the faculty, staff, and administration of Ithaca College -- have worked to provide you with a strong underpinning for your future professional and personal lives. Put it to good use. Never stop dreaming and fantasizing about how your knowledge, your continuing ability to grow and learn, and your sense of social responsibility can transform your community -- your family, neighborhood, city, state, and world -- into a better place for all.

Before I conclude today I want to thank you for studying with us. I also thank your parents and guardians for their support of your Ithaca College education. During your years as Ithaca College students you have enriched our community through your presence. I wish you well in your future personal and professional lives. We will miss you, so please come back to visit us often!

Best wishes and congratulations to each one of you. Do well.