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Commencement Speech Margaret Hack – Valedictorian
I would like to recognize and thank faculty and staff, as well as our parents and moral supporters who have helped us reach the very end of our undergraduate studies at SUNY New Paltz.
Every day we make choices that are influenced by our surroundings and the values most important to ourselves. Some decisions carry more weight in our futures than others, but regardless of its triviality, every decision is ours. Each of us chose to attend SUNY New Paltz. Maybe it took a moment of reflection to arrive at that decision – it did for me. I ultimately followed in my brother and cousin’s footsteps by choosing New Paltz. This decision was most definitely aided by their advice, testimonies, and roles in my life. As the semesters unfolded, professors and friends added to the pool of people who helped shape me. The classes I anticipated to be the toughest, like Shakespeare, Contemporary Literary Theory, or dare I say my Senior Seminar that focused on an author I had never before heard of, turned into the classes I looked forward to and from which I learned the most. Professors didn’t just teach the themes of Milan Kundera’s translated novels, but taught us how to understand an unfamiliar world, and how to thrive in one. They have prepared us for what the next decades will bring.
We chose to be here today, to spend one last day on the campus we have called our home away from home. One last day sitting amongst our friends on the Quad and walking once more to campus from our residence halls, apartments, or favorite parking space. Perhaps this decision too was delayed. Maybe it wasn’t in our plans to walk across the stage and shake hands with President Christian today. In September, I submitted my graduation application without checking the box to participate in today’s ceremony. I hadn’t anticipated this energy of celebration and pride that accompanies the 2016 graduating class. But just as my brother and cousin had offered me advice in choosing New Paltz four years ago, they strongly suggested that I walk for graduation. This time around I also had some influence from those who have shared in and undoubtedly bettered my experience at New Paltz. I am proud to join my fellow graduates in celebrating our achievements – those in- and out- of classrooms, lecture halls, laboratories, studios, and stages. Once again, my ultimate decision was influenced by what I valued – my school, my family, and those close to me.
On the surface, being here today is a way for each of us to look back on our past semesters with the friends we’ve made, our professors, and the faculty and staff. It’s a time to remember the little moments of laughter as we walked down the concourse surrounded by the people we met in classrooms, clubs, or on Main Street. It’s a time to celebrate our growth both in the classroom and in our daily lives. And perhaps that is the reason many of us are here. But as we can surmise from the name Commencement, we are also here to celebrate the lives we will build and the differences we will make in this world.
For some of us, it may not be our last day as a student on these grounds. Some may go on to study at the graduate level here or at another institution; some may take our knowledge and begin our careers; some may have plans, and some may not.
But what we accomplish from today forward will be a product of our choices, our unique characteristics, our struggles, and our perseverance. Our accomplishments will be a result of us and the people we have looked to for guidance and support, and those who we will continue to turn to and grow with in the years ahead. The best things in life are those we must strive to achieve. Instead of quoting one wise person, I offer a quote we’ve heard many times by the great men and women we call our parents: “The best peanut butter and jelly sandwich you’ll ever eat will be the one you buy with your own paycheck.” Our success, happiness, and pride belong to us and us alone. They cannot be taken away, they are ours. So we leave New Paltz with success in completing our Bachelor degrees, happiness from new friends and role models, and pride in who we are and what we have done. We leave here ready to build our lives.
Congratulations to the State University of New York at New Paltz’s Graduating class of 2016!