Class of 2014 marches into the future
'I think we all can agree that Admissions got it right with the Class of '14,' Senior Class president Xavier Hatten tells his fellow graduates.
No dispute there.
Despite a week of gloomy weather forecasts, the sun broke through to shine on the Class of 2014, the largest in Skidmore history, during the College’s 103rd commencement. The 712 bachelors degree recipients in the Class of 2014—a group that had a profound impact on Skidmore over the past four years—exuberantly walked across the stage to applause, cheers, and a few tears of happiness from the thousands of family and friends in attendance May 17 at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center.
Four students received the degree of master of arts in liberal studies this spring. They and their fellow graduates cheered as two distinguished individuals—evolutionary biologist and author Neil Shubin, host of this spring’s PBS miniseries "Your Inner Fish", and Skidmore alumna Janet Lucas Whitman, a trustee emerita of the college—received honorary degrees and delivered brief remarks.
Shubin is the best-selling author of Your Inner Fish: A Journey Through the 3.5-Billion-Year History of the Human Body (Pantheon), which was the summer reading for Skidmore’s Class of 2014 and the foundation for the PBS series. The book tells of the discovery of the fossil Tiktaalik roseae, the 375-million-year-old “fish with hands,” a transitional species that offers profound insights into the development of the human body.
His Commencement appearance marked something of a reunion for Shubin, who addressed the class early in their first year on campus. On Saturday he told them, “ I hope that our time at Skidmore has opened up new ways of seeing for you. I hope it has cultivated your ability to see what is important to you, given you the tools to understand the hidden meaning of what you see, and, before you get too comfortable, to reveal to you how much you must continually jostle and challenge your established ways of seeing.”
Whitman, a member of Skidmore’s Class of 1959, is also the parent of a Skidmore alum—her daughter Sally Whitman Coleman is a 1987 graduate.
During her student days Whitman served as president of her freshman class and since then has volunteered in a number of capacities, including as 25th-reunion volunteer and chair of the Friends of the Tang Museum. Her family established the Whitman Family Prize in Art History, which is awarded annually to an outstanding art history student. She was elected to the college’s board of trustees in 1994 and was board chair from 2008 until she retired in 2012.
Whitman served two four-year terms as mayor of her hometown of Summit, N.J., where she was instrumental in raising funds for a new city hall and for renovations to the public library.
Her extensive volunteer experience informed her advice to the graduates. She urged them, “Say yes when asked to serve...It is the most satisfying privilege you can imagine, and volunteer service is what makes this country great.” Whitman added, “Continue to explore, engage in lifelong learning. Attack each challenge with a sense of purpose and a sense of humor.”
Following Skidmore tradition, a faculty member selected by the graduates delivered the commencement address. This year for the first time, that faculty speaker was also a Skidmore graduate. Peter McCarthy, a member of Skidmore’s Class of 1983, is field coordinator of the College’s Social Work Program and a member of the social work faculty. He reminded the Class of 2014, “Always remember that with opportunities comes responsibility.” McCarthy told the graduates, “I encourage you to seek out difference and embrace it. Engaging in difference is simply a willingness to listen, learn, and explore someone else’s thoughts and ideas.”
He continued, “It is harder to hate something that you understand. As we deepen our collective level of understanding and raise our awareness, we decrease our fears. You cannot be socially responsible until you are socially aware.”
Class of 2014 President Xavier Hatten used his remarks to express gratitude—to the
liberal arts, “for transforming us into responsible citizens”; to the faculty, “for
your willingness to teach us and to push us”; and to his fellow class members, “for
playing a large part in shaping each other’s learning experiences.”
"Bigger doesn’t always mean better but I think we can all agree that Admissions got it right with the class of 2014," he noted, drawing cheers. "You, my dear friends, are teachers as well as students and together we are the liberal arts experience."
And Skidmore President Philip A. Glotzbach offered a hope for the class. “Before we send you out into the world wrapped in the hopes and dreams of your parents, other family members, and good friends, let me offer just one hope of my own for your future: I hope that, in your time at Skidmore, the comments of your professors, along with your own work in traversing our curriculum, have impressed upon you the power of language. If you were to take just one primary lesson from your liberal education this realization would be a very good one: Words have meaning, and it is simply not possible to overstate their importance in human affairs.”
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