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Animal, vegetable, mineral Metals in biology
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What the faculty are up to
Speaking words of wisdom Commencement '06
Feature presentation Prehistoric facial
Friends mourn Lertora Professor remembered
Resistance and revival Art in the face of Holocaust
“I’ll get it for you, babe” Veteran d-hall chef retires
Information invasion? Technology and privacy
Sizzling, sexy spectacle Ujima's fashion show
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Sportswrap Spring sports highlights

 

Speaking words of wisdom

Pity the honored commencement speakers! We expect them to distill the best of their knowledge, clothe it in eloquence, and impart it—in five minutes or less—to an audience wound up to a fizzy pitch of precelebration.

Tough gig.

But the speakers at Skidmore’s ninety-fifth commencement on May 20 rose to the challenge as easily as they rose to address the huge crowd at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center (numbering 577 undergraduates, nine master’s recipients, about forty University Without Walls grads, and a few thousand friends and family).

The first man up set the bar high. Historian Douglas Greenberg, father of Molly ’06, is the executive director of the University of Southern California’s Shoah Foundation Institute for Visual History and Education, which documents the testimony of Holocaust survivors. “Because of what I do for a living,” he said, “I am frequently asked what the lessons of the Holocaust are.…
First, don’t be a perpetrator. Second, don’t be a victim. Third—and most important—don’t be a bystander.”

After Greenberg came legendary dancer and choreographer Arthur Mitchell, who capped his career as ballet’s first black premier dancer by founding and directing the acclaimed Dance Theatre of Harlem. Mitchell told the graduates that “the arts ignite the mind and give you the possibility to dream and to hope.”

Hope may be what it takes to “consider dedicating part of your life to public service,” as suggested by Thomas Kean, former New Jersey governor, former Drew University president, and recently chair of the 9/11 Commission. He ended with words from educator Horace Mann: “Be ashamed to die until you have achieved something for humanity.” And 2006 class president Manny DeJesus expanded that theme, applauding activists who worked for civil rights, women’s rights, and gay rights. Like them, said DeJesus, “we hold the ability to change the world for the better.”

Among the most eloquent of the speakers was poet Carolyn Forché-Mattison, the Skidmore professor invited by the graduates to deliver the keynote address. Speaking in a warm, strong voice that rang and lilted, she told the graduates and the suddenly pin-drop-silent audience: “You are coming of age in a time of war, and of great environmental and political peril. Do not accept less than exemplary leadership. Remember that you are not consumers but citizens of a republic.” And she won a standing ovation when she concluded, “As citizens and as members of the party of humanity, you have the potential to be noble of spirit.”

Pity the commencement speakers? Raise them a cheer instead. —BAM