MAY 20, 2001

President Hitchcock Delivering Her Undergraduate Commencement Speech
President Hitchcock Delivering Her Undergraduate Commencement Address

"Thank you, Professor Bosco…and, good morning everyone.

Mr. Liebschutz, Chairman Philip and members of the University Council, honored guests, faculty and staff, alumni, family and friends…and most especially…members of the Class of 2001.

On behalf of the trustees, faculty and staff of our great university welcome to the 157th commencement at the University at Albany! Class of 2001 please accept our warmest congratulations on what I hope will be one of the most memorable days of your life.

As I look out over this wonderful gathering, a question comes to mind. Why is it that on Commencement Day, the day that we traditionally honor you for your individual accomplishments and inspire you to be individuals that we ask you to all dress alike in caps and gowns? I'll come back to that in a moment.

Indeed, we have shared many memorable times together — from the very first days of orientation to the Big Purple Growl, Fountain Day, and Park Fest. We've enjoyed visits by Congressman John Lewis, Maya Angelou, Dr. Ruth, Kurt Vonnegut, Paula Poundstone, and so many others.

Together you've explored a vast array of things — from the wonders of science to the sonnets of Shakespeare to the Starbucks at Stuyvesant Plaza and even the one-day sales at Crossgates Mall.

Along the way you've made many discoveries. You discovered the culture of both campus life and this historic city of Albany. You discovered — the economy and flavors of Ramen Noodles.

With the guidance of your excellent faculty, you have discovered that your various courses of study have prepared you to advance science and technology for the public good, to enrich the arts, to invigorate the economy and to address a myriad of society’s needs. All of us here at the University at Albany hope that you have been enriched by the lessons you have learned, the habits of inquiry you have acquired, the joy of discovery you have experienced.

Perhaps most important of all, we hope you have grown in your ability to embrace change. You now have the intellectual foundation essential if you are to continue learning throughout your life…ever open to new possibilities…able to engage change not with anxiety but with confidence in your abilities!

Yes, you have shared and learned many things during your years at UAlbany. But you probably know very little about yourself as a Class. Let me tell you a bit about the Class of 2001.

You are members of a class of 2,527 individuals. Half are female; half are male. Almost two-thirds enrolled at UAlbany as freshmen; the other third transferred from another college or University.

Among you are veterans and volunteers. Twenty-seven class members have served in the U.S. military while hundreds of you have served thousands of hours in the community. This year alone, nearly 500 students contributed more than 45,000 hours of community and public service. You've delivered food to the needy, aided the disabled and helped raise thousands of dollars for worthwhile causes such as Cystic Fibrosis and Cerebral Palsy. Others have dedicated countless volunteer hours to student government and student organizations.

Three out of five of you are age 22 or younger. One hundred are 30 or older. Some of you are parents, uncles and aunts.

You have traveled from all corners of New York, the nation, and the world to study at UAlbany. From Rhode Island, Connecticut and Pennsylvania, to Florida, Texas and Hawaii. You've come from places as close as Troy and as far away as Taiwan. You're from Baldwin, Brooklyn, Buffalo and Bangladesh — from Commack, Chapaqua, Cortland and Cyprus. And though, upon your graduation, you may return to your hometown or city or country, now you will always be of Albany.

Your caps and gowns, your graduation regalia, which characterizes you as one — symbolizes the journey you have shared together, this journey of the mind — this special place in time experienced by no other. These caps and gowns are a symbol of your own legacy and the contributions you have made to this university. As you go, you take with you not only the knowledge and habits of mind you have learned here, but also the friends you've made and the values you have developed. And that is the answer to the question I posed about why you all dress alike on this very special day. Together, you have grown…together you have given much to the University at Albany. You have helped to shape its future. I hope that you, the Class of 2001, will visit your Alma Mater often. Because as you continue on in life and develop and grow, so will this University — and I look forward to exchanging success stories.

Today we are awarding 1,700 undergraduate degrees. Nearly 600 of you will graduate with honors: more than 280 Cum Laude, more than 180 Magna Cum Laude and 126 Summa Cum Laude. Eighteen of you have achieved a perfect grade point average of 4.0! Again, we are so proud of each and every one of you.

You are embarking on careers in business, medicine and health care, the arts, teaching, public relations, social work, criminal justice, law, research, public service, and on and on. And, while many of you will move on directly to careers, more than a third of you will pursue graduate study. And, if you are like the classes before you, 70% of you will have earned graduate degrees within the next 10 years!

Your time here at UAlbany has taught you a lot about yourself, about your fellow students and the world around you. Some of you experienced the frustration and malaise of student apathy, others experienced the deep joy of volunteerism and the dedication and passion of advocacy — and I hope that all of you discovered the true wealth that comes with deep friendships and the pride of personal accomplishment and intellectual growth.

On this day, when you will now part and go your separate ways, you've learned that growing up means growing apart — in distance but not in spirit.

And as you move on to uncharted waters – it’s natural to be fearful — but be confident in who you are and what you've already accomplished, because you have accomplished a great deal. You've learned to ask the right questions, to think creatively…you are survivors prepared to take on new challenges.

And, I hope that throughout your life you will always place your academic knowledge at the service of your community…that you will act with the wisdom that when one helps another human being, both are strong.

Indeed, in this diverse nation of more than 268 million people, no matter what career path you choose, you will be at the center of ever more complex issues. In solving these issues you must resist superficial answers and easy gains. Problem-solving is not a spectator sport. And this is my message to you this morning…be involved, be engaged…and above all care. Life is not a spectator sport.

In the words of Theodore Roosevelt, "It’s not the critic who counts…It’s not the man who points out how the strong man stumbled…Credit belongs to the man who really was in the arena, his face marred by dust, sweat and blood…It is the person who actually strives to do the deeds, who knows the great enthusiasm and knows the great devotion, who spends himself on a worthy cause, who, at best, knows in the end the triumph of great achievement. And who, at worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and cruel souls who know neither victory nor defeat."

And, if ever the impulse to do nothing sets in, remember the children of Columbine, the families of Kosovo, and that half the people on Earth today live on less than $2 a day. Avoid talking big and acting small. Put a grain of boldness into everything you do — and no matter what, always be willing to listen, learn and above all change. While I am sure you have all had moments of frustration and self-doubt, you have also experienced the exhilaration of realizing you are capable of more than you ever dreamed…yes, that you can make a difference!

Senator Robert F. Kennedy beautifully captured the potential you all have for making a difference when he said, "Few will have the greatness to bend history itself; but each of us can work to change a small portion of events, and in the total of all those acts will be written the history of this generation."

I hope that you can all say that you are a better person for having studied here; and a better person for the friends and faculty you have associated with during this time. And, Class of 2001, thank you for all you have given to the University at Albany, and I commend you to use well all that you have learned. And, most of all, my very best wishes to you as you embark upon your future…as you continue the journey you began here in Albany.

Again, my most sincere congratulations to you all.

Thank you.

Karen R. Hitchcock
President, University at Albany