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Commencement
 

What They Said

The full text of remarks delivered by President Glotzbach; Elizabeth Gronquist, president of the Senior Class; the three honorary degree recipients, and Erica Bastress-Dukeheart, who spoke on behalf of the faculty, are available by clicking on each name. Following are excerpts.

Philip A. Glotzbach
President
   
Philip A. GlotzbachIt is no secret that the United States and, indeed, most of the countries of the world now confront a roster of profoundly challenging issues too long and daunting to list here – and after all, this is supposed to be a day of celebration.  But I will say that to address those issues will require all of us – and most especially our political leaders – to become more courageous.

We need to find the courage, collectively, to name our problems and face them head-on, as opposed to pretending that they do not exist and hoping they will go away.  Specifically, we need to find the courage to engage in actual, serious conversations regarding those issues – as opposed to separating into ideologically defined camps and shouting at one another from the safety of our individual perspectives. Unfortunately, it is far too easy for leaders to enjoy short-term success by dividing communities and nations.  By contrast, to be a leader who brings people together in genuine dialog requires far more skill and, again, much greater courage.  As citizens of this democratic republic, all of us have a role in demanding – of both ourselves and our political leaders – the courage to replace acrimonious debate with fierce but genuine conversation.  Doing so, I believe, is the only way for us to make smarter political decisions in the future than we have in the past.


Anne Bogart
American theater director; co-founder and artistic director of the SITI Company

Anne BogartWhen in doubt, listen to the body.  The body as barometer is a simple notion.  The body constantly receives myriad impressions from multifarious sources: from temperature, visual stimulus, sound, ideas, suggestions, people, odors, colors, and so on.  But the instantaneous journey of the body's responses to these stimuli is not so simple, because the physical sensations are immediately met by and intertwined with your memory, associations, ingrained prejudice, long-term goals, and learned responses. And in this way, your own body—which is so wrapped up in, and ultimately not separate from, the world around it—can instantaneously let you know, simply by the level of excitement and energy generated, what needs attention.

Similarly a sensation of numbness can indicate what to avoid.  For me, one of the strongest and most useful signals that the body can generate for important decisions are goosebumps, or what the French perhaps more poetically call "frisson du corps."  I have found that the goosebumps factor is most useful when making an important decision or deciding which path to take.  When I receive a frisson du corps, I act.  When I do not feel the goosebumps factor, I do not.  That simple.

Colin E. Greene, UWW '01
Principal of the largest secondary school in the Caribbean island of Antigua, member of the board of Education International, and leader for equitable access to quality education in developing countries.

Colin E. Greene, UWW '01   
Stories sometimes have the strangest ways of developing a most unusual plot.  A relationship with Skidmore College is such an unusual plot.  How does a boy from a sunny Caribbean island came to be associated with the noted snow of Skidmore College and Saratoga Springs?  It was my thirst for knowledge and my search for an education that would be tailored to the individual needs that brought me to Skidmore and to the University Without Walls.  I want to thank Skidmore for that experience and for the vision that it has created.  Even more so, I wish to celebrate today the opportunities that this relationship has made into realities.  I want to celebrate the notion that simple ideas can blossom into something wonderful.  I remember speaking to Corky Reinhart about Skidmore College forming a relationship with teachers in my own country.  And about how I would count it a success if 10 individuals would be able to access quality higher education at a reasonable cost and easily accessible.  I am proud to tell you that we have not only 10, but that partnership has seen over 60 graduates of Skidmore College (UWW) in a small island that had no idea where Saratoga Springs was.

James M. McPherson
The George Henry Davis '86 Professor of American History Emeritus at Princeton University, and greatest living scholar of the American Civil War, whose many books include the Pulitzer Prize-winning Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (1989).

Downward pressures on wages, salaries, and benefits are still strong.  Some of you will graduate with large debts hanging over your heads.  Many of you will graduate with prospects less attractive than those of your predecessors several years ago.  If I were in the position that a good many of you find yourselves, I might be tempted to wallow in self-pity.

James M. McPherson But as someone with more than a half-century of experience since I graduated from college, I can assure you that things will get better for most of you.  And as an historian, I have learned to take the long view.  My parents were married in 1935, in the middle of the worst depression this country has ever known, one that went on, with rises and dips, for an entire decade.  Many people lost faith in the American system of democracy and capitalism during that dismal decade.  Extremist movements flourished, from Fascism on the right to Communism on the left.  Hitler came to power in Germany; Stalin carried out purges that killed millions in the Soviet Union; Japan attacked China in the first step toward the conquest of East Asia.  Prospects for peace and prosperity—in America and abroad—appeared nil.  Most Americans could not remember a worse time, or imagine that things would ever improve.

Yet my parents, just out of college, decided to get married.  And more to the point, they decided to have a child, who turned out to be me.  I was born in 1936, a brother was born in 1939, and another brother in 1944, in the middle of a war that for a time seemed like it might destroy Western civilization. I think they had faith that we would grow up in a better world than were born into.  And so it proved to be.  My parents worked hard.  They scrimped and saved to make sure that all of their children—I turned out to be the oldest of seven—got a college education.  They imbued us with the values that helped us overcome various obstacles and to get ahead in life.  They took the long view during difficult times in the 1930s and 1940s—more difficult than today in most respects—and their faith in the future paid off.  I am confident that a similar faith can pay off for you.

Elizabeth E. Gronquist
President of the Senior Class
 
Elizabeth E. GronquistI will treasure the memories of walking past Howe-Rounds to hear a guitar being played out into the night air and debating in class the ethics of sneaking into the D-hall. I will miss my extended family in the History department and long to once again put on the green and gold and compete as a Thoroughbred. In a lot of ways we are like trains on a track. We came to Skidmore from different paths and places. We stayed at Skidmore as long as we needed to and now are leaving on different tracks.  But we will always, always carry with us on our journey the fact that we have passed through – and lingered – at this station. Skidmore is infectious: you can't help but be changed by the people and the place.

Erica Bastress-Dukehart
Associate Professor, History
 
Erica Bastress-DukehartHaving an appreciation for history, developing an historical consciousness, profoundly influences how we understand the human experience as it has changed across time and space. It is this knowledge that keeps me coming back to the classroom, sweaty palms, flawed questions, and self-doubt not withstanding. I take heart every semester in knowing that while on the first day of class we are a room full of strangers searching for meaning, and often at odds over how to get there, by the end of the semester, precisely because we come together to learn about the world through the accounts of others, we will have formed a better idea of who we are in a broader historical context.

Knowing that it is possible, even necessary, to be transformed by the study of the past, I have just one recommendation for you: Make your historical consciousness the heart line of your future. Whether it is the consciousness you developed in your courses here at Skidmore, or a more intimate collective memory of family, friends, and life experiences, find ways to incorporate it into who you are becoming as you leave here today. And, I warn you it won't be easy. Claire Solomon, who graduated last year, wrote to me recently to ask me to tell you that the transition away from this place was more jarring than she ever anticipated. She notes, it is "in part because the self that we cultivated in college now has to exist outside of Skidmore." "I think," she continues, "if we don't acknowledge the change, then we are missing something big."

 

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