"You came from different worlds, engaged the Adelphi world to your advantage, and now embark into another."
By Robert A. Scott, President, Adelphi University
Good morning, Adelphi!
Trustee, Senator Schumer, honored guests, faculty, staff, families and friends of graduates, welcome. To the Class of 2013, congratulations.
Commencement, like Adelphi itself, is about the students. You came from 25 states and 31 countries and became one student body. You represent almost every shade of the Christian, Muslim, and Jewish faiths, among other believers and non-believers, and yet came together as a community.
We used that word, “community”, often, just as we often talk about students taking initiative. Well, while you were with us the past four to six years, dramatic events shook the lives of many – including some of you and those close to you. These events made us feel vulnerable, brought us closer together, and often inspired action.
Just think, during this time, the first African-American was elected, then re-elected, as President of the United States; Captain “Sully” Sullenberger landed his hobbled jet on the Hudson River; tsunamis, hurricanes, tornadoes, and rising sea levels prompted voluntarism and convinced many of the evidence for climate change; gay rights expanded; the first Hispanic was appointed to the Supreme Court; the highest number of Americans in 15 years were found to be living in poverty; and a record one billion people in the world were found not to have enough to eat, subsisting on less than $1 dollar a day. We witnessed the Arab Spring; the death of Osama Bin Laden; and the rise of Occupy Wall Street and concerns about the “1 percenters”, among other major events, all during this time.
There also was superstorm “Sandy”, which left many in the Adelphi family, and their nearby and regional neighbors, homeless. And then we experienced another “Sandy”, Sandy Hook, a shock to us while the families there had their lives seized by the worst horror of a parents, the death of a child.
These events inspired you and us in many ways, including volunteer activity, research papers, travel, even a switch in major courses of study or scholarship. You found community and you took initiative. Clubs, fraternities, sororities, and sports teams took on a cause and enriched your education beyond as well as in the classroom. You gave life to our goal to provide a complete collegiate experience, no matter where your pillow is. And you helped us succeed: we earned Fiske Guide “Best Value” recognition for the 7th year in a row and “Distinction” again in the U.S. President’s Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll.
Maddie Dressner, S.G.A. President; Bradley Fliller, who garnered the 1000 “likes” for SGA; “JB” on his way to hip-hop stardom; Nicole Wong, who is our champion for a smoke-free campus; Joe Vernace, award winner; Jonathan Singer; Michael Driscoll; Meaghan Potter; and Emily Dorko, a star no matter what the score – – best wishes in all that you do.
Some of you, like Diana Cristiano, now receiving her master’s degree, I helped move in to a residence hall at the start of your freshman year.
Others I have hosted to discuss your undergraduate and graduate experience, asking what has gone well, what special memories you will take with you, and what you wish we had changed “last week”. Still others I cheered, whether on a stage, a court, or a field, or applauded at a meeting or a gathering.
I think of Lamartine Pierre Jr., who had to take on family responsibilities and still succeeded as a student; Lauren Ciuffo, who organized the first “Adelphi Gives Back” month; Reaz Khan, who volunteered in Hempstead and New Orleans, and represented Adelphi at conferences in Turkey, South Korea, India and Pakistan; Edwin Maldonado, who won the Outstanding First Year Student Award and continued to excel; Deborah Riddy, an adult student living with the challenges many of us only read about; and Angelo Belfiore, whose parents’ and grandparents’ homes were destroyed by Sandy, and who worked not only to clear out those homes in Howard Beach, but also joined with students, faculty, and staff to help others in the Rockaways.
I think of Emily Ladau in STEP, who will change the learning environment for students with physical limitations; Guy Morinville, who works for FEMA; Hang Li from Beijing; Joe Warden in Social Work; Joe Bruno; Nicholas DeNitto; Bradley Simpson; Issa Tall; John Lim; and Christina Cobucci and Sheldon Sucre, the top majors in their field in New York State, with Sheldon taking top national honors as well. We are confident we will be hearing about you, too.
I have seen you grow in skills and abilities; advance in your knowledge, both expert and general, and refine your values – respect for others, a commitment to justice, teamwork, the talent to disagree without being disagreeable. Your areas of accomplishment are in the professions, the arts, humanities, and the sciences.
During your time here, Adelphi has grown and improved as well. You were among the first to enjoy the Performing Arts Center, the Center for Recreation and Sports, two new residence halls, “all you care to eat” at Post Hall, and new sports facilities. We also grew in the number of faculty; accreditation and rankings; and institutional partnerships.
Distinguished speakers, such as United Nations Ambassadors, Author Thomas Friedman, Columnist Nicholas Kristof, and Naturalist Jane Goodall, along with noted entertainers, such as Snoop Dogg, and Olympian Michael Phelps, have mounted our stages. The Paul Taylor Dance Company was in residence; we named the Robert B. Willumstad School of Business; and we completed the first-ever comprehensive campaign in Adelphi’s history, raising funds for student scholarships, faculty support, and facilities.
Adelphi also has grown in its commitment to sustainability, and has been recognized by the “Princeton Review’s Guide to 311 Green Colleges” and by the “Cool Schools” list of the Sierra Club, among others.
We also grew in the number of students studying abroad, engaging in internships, and participating in Research Day. Over the past five years, 800 students have studied or volunteered in 33 countries, three states, and one territory. During the same period, 41 Adelphi student-athletes earned All-America honors while our teams won 23 conference and 3 NCAA Championships, one of them hosted on our own Motamed Field.
This year, our teams won the Northeast 10 Conference President’s Cup for the most points, making Adelphi the #1 school in the #1 Division II Conference in the country. What a gift from and for Bob Hartwell as he retires as Director of Athletics.
Today’s recipients of honorary degrees represent the same fields as many of you, and also the need and opportunity to continue learning and extending one’s reach over the course of time: “Chuck D” of Public Enemy; Bert Mitchell, CPA; Burt Young, actor, writer, painter, mentor; Doreen Miller, friend, advisor, source of inspiration.
Chuck D., a member of the Class of 1984 and son of an Adelphi alumna, is an innovator in music and the internet, best-selling author and media commentator, and spokesperson for community service, democratic institutions, and active citizenship, all of which sounds so straight. But his has not been a direct path from Roosevelt, New York, through Adelphi, where he studied design, wrote music, and held forth on the radio station, to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. There were start-ups, flare-ups, and set-backs, and in his own words, “tightrope music in confrontation with itself.”
Bert Mitchell studied to be an accountant, built a practice, and became a leader in his profession and in his communities. He demonstrates that even as one stays in a field and masters it, one’s horizon can expand –and one’s reach can extend to find first one horizon, and then another, through perseverance, skill, and inquisitiveness to explore new worlds – – literally. Bert, for this you are an exemplar for so many, entering a new country, focusing on education, taking initiative, and serving the broader community.
Burt Young, your biography is a lesson plan. It shows that a successful life is one of continual re-invention, and you have demonstrated this in your Renaissance achievements in film, script writing, stage plays, a novel, as a painter, and as mentor to our students. Known to most of us through your “tough guy” roles, and as Paulie in the “Rocky” series, you also have demonstrated humor in comedy and grace in drama in films such as “Betsy’s Wedding” and “Mickey Blue Eyes.”
Doreen Downs Miller, you, too, have demonstrated that life is not a straight line. After an M.B.A. and a career in banking, you decided to use your analytical abilities, philosophical perspectives, and humanistic instincts to study in a new field and focus on issues of parenting, parent education, and the family. You studied what few others do: that parenting is one of life’s greatest responsibilities, and on-the-job learning is often not adequate. Parents need help, and you inspired us to assist them.
Chuck, Bert, Burt, and Doreen, you demonstrate the possibilities for facing challenge, finding a community, crafting a dream, creating a life, and fashioning a future.
There are so many of you we could single out for what you have achieved and contributed here, like Arli Middendorf, Maitry Ghandi, and Aretha Brand, and for the graduate schools you will attend, like Jinku Im and Mariam Faiq, but I dare not in the interests of fairness and time.
Graduates, your initiatives and achievements are notable. You came from different worlds, engaged the Adelphi world to your advantage, and now embark into another. You are the author of your life, revising and improving your script even as you live it, and now step onto a new stage. Even if you stay in the job you have held, you are different, and your expectations of yourself, of time itself, and of others will be different.
We have been your teachers, coaches, mentors, colleagues, and sometimes even friends, and have tried to provide the “paper”, “pen”, and editing tools you have needed. You have succeeded in class, in the lab and library, and beyond the campus. This is why we are hopeful about the future. We never promised we could teach you everything, but we did pledge to help you develop the skills and abilities necessary to learn anything.
Now it is your turn, but on a bigger platform. We have tried to help you understand that history, what came before; imagination, what if?; and ethics, a commitment to justice, are the foundations for learning and progress. We have also tried to show you that compassion and empathy are the basic ingredients for living a full life. Among your tools is an appreciation of language, because words matter. As Elie Wiesel, who spoke on campus in 2010, has said, words can be instruments of compassion or contempt, better to be used to console than to curse, heal rather than to wound, but capable of any of these.1
We have attempted also to prepare you as citizens, but remember, “If your only involvement in democracy is in a voting booth 10 minutes a year, then that’s all the democracy you’re going to get.” 2 Continue to be engaged in the community, even when there is no storm. Finally, I will close with a quote which is relevant no matter what the economy or prospects for jobs locally:
Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed
by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do.
So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor.
Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore, dream,
Good sailing, Class of 2013, as you take initiative and find your way. We thank you for all you have added to Adelphi and will be here for you, a continuing community to which you can return to relive memories and to share new ones.
Congratulations, Class of 2013.
1Wiesel, Elie. “Open Heart.” 2012
2Ventura A. E. Simmons.
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