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Anxiety and exhilaration
Commencement, for all its traditional trappings, is always about change. This year it was also about resilience, about high spirits maintained in the face of challenge.
Among the nuggets of “mandatory geezer wit and wisdom” shared by honorary-degree recipient David Halberstam was his admission that he was fired from his first newspaper job. But the Pulitzer-winning journalist soldiered on to publish numerous best-selling books, from to the post-9/11 . Speaking with humor and frankness, he advised the graduates to choose work to make them happy, rather than well-paid or important, because “it is hard enough to keep going every day even when you’re doing something you love.” Even the very successful are “defeated, or nearly defeated, every day in lots of little ways,” he added. “In life, resilience may be more important than brilliance.”
The other two honorees rang subtle changes on the theme. Recording-industry executive Bruce Lundvall, whose Blue Note label has sponsored scholarships for Skidmore’s Summer Jazz Institute since its founding in 1987, told the graduates to “pursue your own vision with tenacity.” Ceramic artist Toshiko Takaezu honored mentors who had nurtured her creative resilience, beginning with her mother, who taught honesty and integrity to her eleven children. “She was what they call the star in our life,” said Takaezu. Internationally recognized for her beautifully glazed and often monumental ceramic forms, Takaezu has taught in Skidmore’s Summer SIX art program since its inception in 1970.
Presiding over his first Skidmore commencement, President Philip Glotzbach urged graduates to embrace emotional flexibility in the face of postcollege uncertainty, a time he likened to an acrobat’s free-flight moment between trapezes. “My wish for you,” he said, “is that you choose to define this not as a time of anxiety but as a time of exhilaration.”
Exhilaration had been amply demonstrated the day before, when four students were honored for their senior projects by Skidmore’s Periclean honor society. Hollis Erikson showed her unsparing but luminous oil portraits of old people, Jamison Kantor performed monologues from the Tennyson and Browning poems he critiqued in “The Ironic Crumble of the Victorian Epic,” classicist Andrea Piercy read a poignant chapter from her novella , and pianist Tim Peck brought the house down with a dazzling performance by his jazz-classical trio.
The last word at Commencement came from government professor Beau Breslin, chosen by the 549 seniors to give the faculty address. Resilience, Breslin suggested, is a quality built into a liberal arts education. Its students emerge trained, as the nation’s founding fathers were, as “generalists with special talents.” “Embody your education as they did,” Breslin urged the students. “Go out and get it done. That’s your homework for the rest of your lives.”