Arielle Rubinstein's Valedictorian Speech May 18, 2014
Good morning President Christian, Distinguished guests, members of the administration, faculty, and staff, families, friends, and fellow graduates. I stand here honored to present the valedictory for the State University of New York at New Paltz class of 2014.
I’d like to start today by telling you about a trip that I almost didn’t take. At the end of my senior year of high school, my family and I embarked on a college tour ranging from Ithaca to Boston to determine which university I should attend for undergrad. At the midpoint of that tour, we stopped at a hotel in Kingston, thirty minutes from New Paltz. The plan had been to visit SUNY New Paltz the next day, but we were exhausted. SUNY New Paltz was just a name. We had to talk ourselves into making that particular college visit. This seemingly insignificant decision permanently altered the course of my life.
College is the evolution from all that is familiar to the unknown. It is through the experiences we have at college that we find direction. It is through these experiences that we learn independence while simultaneously connecting with new friends and teachers. During my time here, I have not just encountered a place to earn an education, I have discovered a home. Four years ago, as a nervous freshman, I feared the difficulty of finding my niche in a school of 8,000 students. But at SUNY New Paltz, you are not just a face in a crowd. The professors are not merely instructors; they are mentors and sources of personal inspiration. Under our professors’ guidance, we learned the importance of hard work, global thinking, and problem-solving. We were taught that the most original ideas are generated through collaboration. We realized that an education is only as good as a person’s commitment to his or her craft. To our professors, on behalf of all graduates, thank you for giving us so many opportunities for learning and the tools necessary to succeed.
My feeling of finding a home at SUNY New Paltz strengthened as I fostered friendships with my peers. I feel honored to have been surrounded by some of the most accepting, diverse, and creative thinking individuals that I have ever met. My peers have taught me more about life and about myself than a textbook ever could. For the past four years, we challenged, supported, and confided in one another. We learned from each other to appreciate different perspectives, to transform failures into successes, and to approach people with confidence and kindness. I would never exchange the learning that comes through interaction with peers for learning in a virtual environment. Class of 2014, whether you are pursuing graduate education or a professional career, never forget the value of what your peers taught you in college.
Finally, I want to celebrate the beauty of the surrounding area of New Paltz, which greatly contributed to my sense of comfort at this school. Integral to the SUNY New Paltz experience is apple picking in the fall, riding the Rail Trail, and hiking in the Mohonk Mountain Preserve. We’ve had a charming town containing everything we would ever need right at our fingertips, and let’s face it, that town became a little more exciting once we turned 21. We have been privileged to discover our passions in such a natural, scenic environment. It helped bring together professors and the student body to create a sense of community at this institution which is irreplaceable. For these reasons, SUNY New Paltz has become my home. Within that home, we have all transformed from inexperienced students into competent and capable leaders because of the academic and extracurricular opportunities provided.
To conclude this speech, I refer back to the trip I almost didn’t take. I thought I was too tired to visit this school on my college tour. Had I skipped this visit, I would not be standing before you today. The most seemingly insignificant events can change the trajectory of your personal paths. Before you choose where to be a college student, you cannot know how your experiences there will shape you. You cannot know where you will belong or how embedded within a college community you may become.
As we begin this next chapter of our lives, I remind you to strive to pass on the gifts that your professors have given you. I remind you to appreciate the diversity and the talent of your peers. I ask you to think carefully about the decisions you make. I ask that you embrace the smallest of opportunities because you never know where they may lead. I ask you to reflect on your evolution in college and apply what you have learned about your field and yourselves to your future endeavors. Congratulations and good luck to the State University of New York at New Paltz class of 2014!