"Raise your aspirations; to use your time, talents and treasures in meaningful ways; and to make a difference in whatever you do."

By Robert A. Scott, President, Adelphi University

Good morning, Adelphi!

My dream for all of you today, as it was for freshmen at Matriculation Day, is for you to raise your aspirations; to use your time, talents and treasures in meaningful ways; and to make a difference in whatever you do.

Our honorees today remind us of the essential lessons we encouraged and hope you have learned, whether as undergraduate or graduate students. They have used their time, talents and treasure to make a difference.

Dr. Fabiola Milord is a scientist who uses her knowledge to advance the healthcare of patients in difficult circumstances. She is the epitome of someone who has enhanced her knowledge, skills, abilities, and values.

During your time at Adelphi, you heard from other significant scientists whose engagement in the world of questions led to breakthroughs for improving the lives of others. Think of Temple Grandin.

Among you there are the McDonell Scholars; others, like Jami Degrote, interned in science labs at Estée Lauder; and hundreds of others participated in Research Day over the past four years.

Edward Villella exemplifies the arts, imaginative expression, and creative living. He changed careers from maritime engineering, to performance, to choreographer, to positions of leadership in the arts. You, too, will find several changes in careers as you apply your skills and abilities in the first job, then the second, and beyond.

During your time at Adelphi, we have enjoyed other artists whose careers demonstrate the ability to evolve, to reflect upon what is learned, and then to set new goals. Think of Paul Taylor and his dancers; Bobby McFerrin; Tommy Tune; Wale’; Big Sean; and Maureen McGovern, whose repertoire represents decades but whose style is contemporary.

Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson, a former Adelphi trustee before returning to a government appointment, has transitioned from professional practice to public service and back. He represents the call of the law for service to individuals, firms, institutions, and government. Jeh stands in stark contrast to another public servant, George F. Kennan, who said he felt like a stranger in his own country, “a guest of my time and not a member of its household.”[1] Jeh Johnson is the opposite. He has engaged in his time, overcome barriers unknown to Kennan, and become an exemplar for us all.

Think about your service to others: many of you participated in the Community Fellows Program and worked as interns for over 50,000 hours of service in neighboring communities; others chose Panthers with a Purpose and served some 6,300 hours; still others performed 64,484 service hours in the “American Reads” program; and many of you engaged in “Sandy” relief, collecting over 40,000 items for families affected. In fact, 56% of you volunteered in some way in this past year. So, even at this age, you have been on a path to use your time and talents to best effect, growing in your own terms and serving those in need.

You also have been active in other ways during your time at Adelphi: 15% of you studied in another country and 4% of you, like Aimee Goldstein, have been varsity athletes. In fact, several of you, including Devan Crimi, Jacqueline Williams, Juan Agular, and Gregory Puskuldjian achieved All-American honors this year alone. And our lacrosse teams achieved extraordinary success, with the men making it to the penultimate peak and the women earning a sixth ring.

Some 55% of you transferred to Adelphi, and 25% of those graduating with a master’s degree also earned a bachelor’s degree from Adelphi.

There are lessons to be learned from reflecting on these facts. For we are as concerned about character and citizenship as we are about careers and commerce. The latter two are important, of course, but not sufficient for the kinds of lives lived by those we honor today, including you.

We believe with author Marilynne Robinson that power and wealth should be secondary to the progress of freedom.[2] Loyalty to democracy, i.e., freedom, is not the same as loyalty to an economic system. Democracy is a philosophy of citizen engagement in decision-making, not a special pass to the Whitman Mall.

As Robinson also said, “our heritage, the country that has emerged out of generations, [is the result] of attention to public education, public health, public safety, access to suffrage, equality under law.”[3]

Hear it and heed it. This we believe.

Yes, you had a major; you will be starting a career or graduate study; you may continue to build on your community service. It is known that you will change careers. But each experience adds to the “toolbox” you will carry with you through life. Just as your success in and out of class benefited from your earlier studies, activities, and volunteer service, so will your progress in the future.

Life is a series of opportunities and obligations, including opportunities to find meaning, to find happiness, and to fulfill our potential to advance in knowledge, skills, abilities, and values.

It also is a series of obligations and opportunities to use our talents in service to a larger cause, whether it be to one’s family, neighborhood, community, nation, or the world – with enthusiasm. In the spirit of Jane Austen, let it not be said that your understanding lacks brilliance, your feelings lack ardor, or your voice lacks expression.[1]

Fabiola, Edward, and Jeh show through their life stories that you, too, can be the passionate author of your life, not just a character in someone else’s script.

As the Whitman of verse said,

Not I, nor anyone else can travel … (life’s) road for you.

You must travel it yourself.

It is not far. It is within reach.

Perhaps you have been on it since you were born, and did not know.

Perhaps it is everywhere on water and land.[2]

Everywhere, that is, where you are.

Your path to meaning and happiness is yours to make and to find. Adelphi will be here to support you. This is our pledge to you as it has been to those who graduated in years past.

Congratulations graduates, and thank you.


[1] Zakaria, Fareed, a review of The Kennan Diaries, in “The New York Times Book Review,” February 23, 2014, pp 10-11

[2] Robinson, Marilynne, “ When I Was a Child I Read Books: Essays, (2012).

[3] Robinson, ibid.

[4] Austen, Jane. Sense and Sensibility, 1811.

[5] Whitman, Walt. “Leaves of Grass.”

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