Despite being part of a generation that has come of age in an era fraught with conflict and unprecedented challenges, members of the Ithaca College Class of 2018 were urged to live their values and find ways to help those in need through gestures large and small.
Daniel Weiss, president and chief executive officer of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, delivered the main address at Ithaca College’s 123rd Commencement ceremony on Sunday, May 20.
Weiss told the more than 1,200 graduates that each of them must think about their own personal commitment.
“Devoting your life to the service of those most in need is one approach, a very laudable one,” said Weiss. “But there are other approaches, too. Gestures large and small matter — indeed, just noticing someone who is suffering or in distress can make a difference. Small gestures can add up, and over time they lead to habits. A lifetime of those habits will accumulate in powerful and highly consequential ways. My advice to you today is that you focus on the small gestures, the habits of living that reflect your values. These add up to define your character and, ultimately, your destiny.”
A distinguished scholar of art history and former president of both Haverford College and Lafayette College, Weiss said that lifelong learning comes not from finding all the answers, but from taking an interest in the questions.
Weiss concluded with what he called a modest list of suggestions for how the graduates can nourish their educational journey and shape their character.
- Try listening more than talking.
- Think of kindness as a very powerful choice.
- Treat fairness as a moral obligation.
- Find your passion.
- Focus on the journey, not the race.
Weiss was awarded an honorary Doctor of Letters degree at the ceremony, along with educator and civil rights advocate Gloria Hobbs and Mara Keisling, founder and executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality.
Also making remarks at Commencement were Ithaca College President Shirley M. Collado, Senior Class President Fatoumata Jallow and Board of Trustees Chair Tom Grape ’80.
Jallow told her classmates that she hopes they experience failure — as she herself did in her first semester at IC — because that will bring them one step closer to success.
“I hope when you fail you learn from it, because once you do, your next plan is better,” said Jallow. “Don’t fret about the job rejections and the graduate school rejections. Better will come. Learn from it… Because if you don’t fail, you don’t learn. And if you don’t learn, then what are you doing? Because you’re certainly not trying. And if you’re not trying, then what did you do?”
This was the first IC Commencement for Collado, who joined the college last July as its ninth president. She noted that this past year marked Ithaca’s 125th anniversary, with much celebration around the special milestone and many opportunities to reflect on the college’s history and evolution.
“Today we do the same for our graduates,” said Collado. “We pause to look back on the past and we revel in all that you’ve done and all that you’ve become. In this moment, though, I hope you also feel a sense of urgency. I hope this moment reminds you that you do not — and you must not — stand still. You are in the midst of an extraordinary life. Now is not the time to rest.”
Following a tradition begun in 1992, each graduate received a medallion inscribed with a quotation chosen by the president. Collado selected a passage from “My Beloved World,” a memoir by Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor.
“She reminds us that there are no bystanders in life, that our humanity makes us a part of something greater than ourselves,” said Collado. “This is the essence of what it means to fully, fearlessly and actively participate in the construction of our collective experience as human beings. This is the essence of our deep responsibility to one another, and to our messy, fragile and resilient world.
“And it’s why we look to you, our graduating students, to help move us forward. To drive the evolution of our society. To push boundaries. To challenge what we think we know — and what we think we have to accept. As an Ithaca College graduate, you can, and you will.”