If you, as I, here sit in mute unknowing,
your future in the mirror at you winking
(cruel tease!) unease inside still growing
as you hear champagne flutes clinking—
If you’ve suffered slings and arrows without crumbling,
and gone about your work withal, not heeding
mental whispers of self-doubt, their mumbling
paled by the glow of your succeeding—
If you spent your valuable time in class not sleeping,
learning, perhaps, a thing or two worth keeping,
feeling somewhat small in comprehending
human thought, sublime in scope, unending—
Then cast aside your doubts and prep for sailing.
Don’t worry about your pocket compass failing
nor which way the fickle wind is blowing.
Just pick your destination and get going!
I know, I know: the hard part is the choosing.
What a nuisance is a mind that’s always changing,
costing time, requiring calm rearranging,
then repaying all your efforts with more musing!
And so what. Change makes life worth living.
The point, I think, is to near the brink unblinking
and dive for all you’re worth into tomorrow without shrinking
from the wind or rain or water, without sinking.
“Congratulations,” said the siren
as she combed her stringy hair.
“I guess you heard my singing
from that tall cliff way up there.”
The woman stood and waded
to the siren’s rock and spoke:
“I didn’t jump for you, fair one
nor any other folk.
I went a-diving just for fun,
to have a soak and feel the sun,
the spiteful depths to shun,”
and from the nightmare she awoke.
Masters of our minds, our fates deciding,
recall the laws of nature here presiding:
Never will another hold the helm in our stead.
Good thing we spent four years learning how to use our heads!
Good morning everybody, and welcome to the SUNY New Paltz commencement ceremony for the class of 2010! At this time every year we celebrate the academic success of our graduates, but I think we can all agree that class like ours doesn’t come around every year…so congratulations to all of us! While we may be the most impressive group of graduates to ever grace the old main quad, we couldn’t have done it without the support of our families, friends, professors, and all of the faculty, staff and administrators here at SUNY New Paltz.
I have spent the last few weeks wondering what advice I could possibly give to a class of graduates from whom I have learned so much. Instead, I realized that all you really need to know is what a momentous achievement this truly is. I think that people have a tendency at graduation, to get so caught up in thinking about the future that they forget to acknowledge all that they have already accomplished. If there is even one of you that doesn’t think this is a tremendous achievement, think again.
Instead of trying to give you advice, I’d like to remind you of how far you’ve come. Recently, I had a discussion with a future college graduate. For the past semester, I have been tutoring a second grade student named Emily, who has been having trouble adding and subtracting. One day Emily, all of 8 years old, became very interested in going to college and started to ask me a lot of questions: Is the cafeteria food any good? Do you still get to color? Can you bring your Nintendo DS to class? Most of these questions were very cute, but her last question was a rather serious one: “What grade do you have to be in to graduate from college?” Now, while I know there is no proper time frame in which to finish your degree, I tried to give her the most straightforward answer possible. I said you needed to be in about 16th grade. Poor Emily looked overwhelmed, and she said something that has stuck with me ever since: “If I’m having so much trouble adding and subtracting in the second grade, how am I ever going to get through *pauses to count on fingers* fourteen more years of school?!”
This made me realize that there was a time for each and every one of us when we couldn’t picture ourselves as college students, let alone college graduates. There was a time when we, too, were overwhelmed by the very idea of college, and there were times here at New Paltz when we felt unsure of our ability to make it through. So if you’re not convinced how important this day truly is, take a moment to look back on all of the obstacles you faced and overcame in order to be here. Like the time you discovered that the class uniquely designed to make it impossible for you to graduate…was one you couldn’t avoid. And lets not forget the 8 am classes, 4 am fire drills, falling down the hill on the way to vandenburg hall, getting attacked by geese on the way to hasbrouk, and the horror of finals.
In our time here at New Paltz we have stood before seemingly insurmountable challenges, and we have tackled those challenges head on… and I’m not just talking about the academic ones. So for the rest of our lives, if we ever forget our worth or doubt our abilities, we need only to look at our diplomas to remind ourselves that we can accomplish even what seems impossible, and exceed even our own expectations for ourselves.
At a commencement speech last year, President Barack Obama had these words for the graduates: “I know starting your careers in troubled times is a challenge. But it is also a privilege. Because it is moments like these that force us to try harder, to dig deeper, to discover gifts we never knew we had - to find the greatness that lies within each of us.” Although we are starting our futures in uncertain times, if there is anything we’ve learned in college, it’s that it is the challenges in life that make us stronger. So let’s leave this school with confidence that there is nothing out there that we cannot handle, because we have proven to ourselves time and time again that nothing can stop us from achieving our goals, and nothing ever will.