Most of you arrived here four years ago with a vague idea of what you wanted to do with your life. Your interests, your dreams, and your aspirations have likely changed significantly during the intervening years.
It is safe to say that you are not the same people today that you were when you first set foot on campus. You are more self-assured, independent, and confident. You’ve discovered, you’ve listened, you’ve learned, you’ve been challenged, you’ve changed your mind, and you’ve stood your ground.
In the process each of you has become a scholar. The word may sound a little pretentious, but it is accurate. You are scholars. This is proven by the fact that each one of you has developed a measure of expertise in your field of interest. You have learned how to learn, how to discern, how to explore, and how to communicate your ideas.
Most important of all, you have developed a hunger for learning and for knowledge that will never be satisfied. This hunger will serve you well and will virtually ensure your success -- wherever life leads 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 ideas, your work ethic, and your determination. It is a world in need of great leaders, professionals, and advocates, and it is a world that needs people who are comfortable with change and who have the desire to be agents of change.
This morning, members of the Ithaca College Community Alumni Association gave each of you a special medallion as you were leaving the academic quad. This 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’s quotation is from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who was a Baptist minister, a political activist, the leader of our nation’s civil rights movement in the ’50s and ’60s, and, at the age of 35, the youngest person to receive the Nobel Peace Prize.
At the tender age of 18, while a student at Morehouse College, he wrote an article for the campus newspaper in which he stated what he believed to be the purpose of education. The quotation on your medallion is taken from that article. It reads: “Intelligence plus character -- that is the goal of true education.”
Intelligence plus character. How simple, how powerful, and how incisive these three words are. In Dr. King’s view, the purpose of an education is to produce young people who are both learned and compassionate. What good is it to increase your knowledge if it will not benefit society? What good is it to produce knowledgeable graduates who do not care about others? To Martin Luther King’s way of thinking, doing so would be a tremendous waste of time.
Let me read you something else. “To provide a foundation for a lifetime of learning, Ithaca College is dedicated to fostering intellectual growth, aesthetic appreciation, and character development in our students. The Ithaca College community thrives on the principles that knowledge is acquired through discipline, competence is established when knowledge is tempered by experience, and character is developed when competence is exercised for the benefit of others.”
That, of course, is the opening paragraph of the Ithaca College mission statement. I think you will agree that our mission aligns well with Dr. King’s words on your medallion.
I am sure that he would be glad to know that our goal as educators is to graduate people who are well-prepared to succeed in life, and who are also committed to using their knowledge and intelligence to help others. Do I believe that you have the character, the will, and the determination to contribute, in your own special way, to making this a better world? Indeed I do! And everyone with us today agrees with me.
Just four short years ago, I welcomed you at Convocation. Some of you may recall that I gave you some advice at that time for getting the most of your college experience. I suggested that you take courses outside your field of interest or major; that you volunteer for community service; take advantage of opportunities to study overseas; get involved in athletics at whatever level you like; play a role in student government or some other student organization; attend music, arts, and theater events on campus and in the community; enjoy the beautiful natural surroundings; and also to make sure, along the way, that you took time to have fun.
In re-reading my list of suggestions from four years ago, I have to admit that I would make the same suggestions to you today. As you leave to establish your life and your career, remember to take time to be a full-rounded person. I hope you will always enjoy the arts, and nature, and pursue other personal interests that are near and dear to you as well as being open to others that may come along the way. I urge you to take time to become involved in community service at many levels. To be honest, it is your obligation to use your talents, resources, and influence to help others in many ways -- to give back in the ways that are most suited to you.
Commencement, for me, just like for you, is a very bittersweet event. As one proud parent of a graduating senior wrote me before last year’s 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? And 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 at your best moment -- your best moment to date, that is -- because we are confident that there will be many more “best moments” for each of you to come.
Graduates, I thank you for choosing Ithaca College.