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Commencement, from the horse's mouth
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Commencement, from the horse's mouth

The best seats in the house at Commencement just might be outside the Saratoga Performing Arts Center, where on-call campus-safety officers Richard Pelzer and Deborah D’Angelo sit tall in the saddle atop Kodiak (a draft-horse cross, jet-black and massive) and Killian (a tall chestnut-brown thoroughbred). The horses are spankingly outfitted in Skidmore-yellow leg wraps and green saddle pads; along with the parklike setting and the heart-thrilling bagpipe music, they’re part of the unique festive spin Skidmore puts on the traditional proceedings.

The two steeds arrive early, their trailers pulling into an empty SPAC parking lot around 8 a.m. From then on, they’re on duty, helping their mounted partners give directions and assist with crowd flow as people pour into the arena. After the faculty, students, and audience are seated for the ceremony, D’Angelo and Pelzer dismount and let the horses graze.

They half-cock an ear toward the stage as President Philip Glotzbach wryly tells the grads, “Commencement brings out a nearly uncontrollable urge in your elders to offer sage advice.” And three honorary-degree recipients prove him right. Ruth Colvin, founder of Literacy Volunteers of America, holds up a banner of capital letters—indecipherable until she supplies some clues—to emphasize the frustration of illiteracy and the need for community service. Rita Colwell, an environmental microbiologist and former head of the National Science Foundation, quotes Woody Allen: “Pray that we have the wisdom to choose correctly” between “utter hopelessness” and “total extinction.” In fact, “your choices are much better,” she tells the new grads. Bill T. Jones, co-founder of the Bill T. Jones/ Arnie Zane Dance Company, who has performed on stages the world over, charmingly admits, “When I’m nervous, I start singing” and breaks into a few bars of an old pop song (“Gonna use my imag-imag-imagination!”). Then he reads a poem ending with “Let us do something grand just this once.”

After the ceremony—officially conferring 636 bachelor’s degrees (including forty-two through the University Without Walls program) and twelve master of arts degrees in liberal studies—a stream of exuberant grads, parents, and friends visit with Kodiak and Killian. Longtime career police horses, they calmly stand for petting and photos as their riders field questions about their breed, size, weight, diet, and training. “Most people like horses. It’s in the American DNA,” says Pelzer. D’Angelo says they make for “great public relations,” and Dennis Conway, director of campus safety, adds, “Those horses are ambassadors for Skidmore—they’re people magnets!”

What “sage advice” might Skidmore grads take from Kodiak and Killian? “Be patient with everyone, have a snack when you can, never bite or kick, and always do your best work under saddle.” —BAM

Editor’s note: For more about Skidmore’s mounties in the “Scopedish” blog, click here.