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Summer 2002

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Commencement marks historic moments

     Capping a weekend full of celebrations—including honor-society inductions and a new baccalaureate event showcasing student performances—Commencement Sunday dawned gray and raw. But Skidmore families, faculty, and friends came to the Saratoga Performing Arts Center well prepared, armed with unquenchable high spirits and the occasional stadium blanket. One senior wore a purple knit cap under his mortarboard as he joined some 560 traditional graduates, 50 University Without Walls candidates, and seven master’s candidates lining up outside the amphitheater.
     Chilly winds, as well as a sense of history present, past, and future, played through the commencement speakers’ remarks. Skidmore President Jamienne S. Studley noted the impact of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, when she told the graduates, “Your year, your generation, were redefined in a moment.” And each of the four honorary-degree recipients touched on historical themes, beginning with award-winning filmmaker Ken Burns. Throughout the making of his acclaimed documentaries, including Empire of the Air: The Men Who Made Radio, Baseball, The Brooklyn Bridge, Jazz, and The Civil War, Burns said, “I have tried to listen to the many, varied voices.” He quoted quite a few, including Mark Twain, Frank Lloyd Wright, Susan B. Anthony, Abraham Lincoln, and even Hall of Fame pitcher Satchel Paige (“Avoid fried meats, which angry up the blood”).
     Metal artist Arline Fisch ’52, whose innovative, textile-like jewelry has earned her multiple honors including the status of a California State “living treasure,” cheerfully noted that she had graduated “fifty years ago to the day.” And a second Skidmore alumna, trustee Sara Lee Lubin Schupf ’62, UWW ’94, made a little history of her own as the first University Without Walls graduate to receive a Skidmore honorary degree. She was honored for her philanthropic support of science education for women and girls.
     Harold Hongju Koh, a Yale Law School professor of international law and a former assistant secretary of state, urged the graduates to take an active hand in the shaping of history. “Stand for something,” he said. “And use your freedom—it is never unpatriotic to question what our government chooses to do in our name.”
     Finally, Skidmore French professor John Anzalone, chosen by the senior class to deliver the keynote address, shared a little-noted nuance of commencement tradition. “My favorite moment in each commencement,” confided Anzalone, who has attended many, “is not the conferral of degrees but the recessional,” when Skidmore faculty take up positions in two long lines that echo but reverse the protocol of the processional. Standing on the sloping lawn, they warmly salute the new graduates who stride uphill between their smiling ranks, at once welcoming them as peers and urging them briskly into the future. “Off you go!” beamed Anzalone, quoting French poet René Char: “H‘te-toi! Tu as été créé pour des moments peu communs.—Hurry! For you have been made for an uncommon destiny.” —BAM

Lifelong dream

     It’s a good feeling to finish something you started,” Geneva Long explained to the Schenectady, N.Y., Daily Gazette, in one of her many interviews with the press, from Glamour magazine to National Public Radio’s All Things Considered. Consider this: Long was awarded a bachelor’s degree in education this May, at the age of ninety-five. For the oldest person ever to graduate from Skidmore College, it was indeed the realization of a lifelong dream.
Geneva Long, Class of 2002
     Like many students who complete degrees through Skidmore’s University Without Walls, Long had started college and quit a couple of times before—once because she couldn’t get the program she wanted, another time to raise her family. The Missouri native had always wanted to be a teacher. She earned an associate’s degree in 1927, later took courses at what was then Albany Teachers College, earned her permanent certification on her fifty-third birthday, and went on to teach in Albany-area elementary schools for seventeen years. After retiring, she still taught—in Sunday school.
     When she moved to Saratoga’s Woodlawn Commons assisted-living center in 2000, Long explored the possibility of finally earning her bachelor’s at neighboring Skidmore College. “I thought I would try again,” she said, because now she was ready. She enrolled in UWW last summer, armed with 120 credits already earned over the years and an abiding desire to complete her education.
     And what an education it has been—a twentieth-century journey from a one-room schoolhouse to the “distance learning” program that allowed her to complete a final project from her home, assisted by Beverly Becker, professor emerita of physical education, and Claire Olds, retired dean of students. Long finished her project—in the form of a memoir tracing changes in education during the twentieth century—in time to take part in Commencement. Her wheelchair sported a Skidmore bumper sticker for the occasion.
     “We put Geneva through her paces,” said Christopher Whann, her UWW academic advisor, and “she more than met my expectations.” In fact, the learning experience went all the way around. “Geneva taught us well,” Becker told the Gazette. “Once a teacher, always a teacher.” And Whann adds, “I have learned as much from her as she probably has from me. She is a living history of education.” —KG

 


© 2002 Skidmore College