Advice for graduates: be revolutionary
By Eric Coker
Binghamton University graduates were challenged to help the world by leading a "revolutionary life" during the Fall Commencement ceremony at the Events Center.
"In life, we don't have time for half-measures," University Medal recipient Ravi Gupta '05 told the graduates. "The personal, professional, political, environmental and moral content of your world must be changed through a revolutionary zeal. It's an amount of energy, time and passion that dwarfs anything you've done until now." See a video of his remarks.
More than 750 bachelor's, master's and doctoral degrees were awarded in the Dec. 11 ceremony, which also featured comments from doctoral candidate Jeremy Culler and bachelor's candidate Luisa Batiz.
President C. Peter Magrath, presiding over his final Commencement ceremony before retiring at the end of December, was the first to stress the importance of service and humanity to the graduating class.
"The degree you have earned is special and your years here will become increasingly memorable as time goes on," he said. "I truly and sincerely hope your lives will be personally and professionally successful. In addition to that personal success, I know that you will also continue to spend part of your time and effort serving our fellow human beings on the planet."
Gupta spoke to the graduates after receiving his University Medal from Magrath. The medal, the highest honor the University bestows, is awarded in recognition of distinguished service to the University, to higher education and to the larger community. Gupta has worked as special assistant to both David Axelrod, chief strategist for the Obama for America campaign, and U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice. He now serves as a fellow at Building Excellent Schools, leading a team that is founding Nashville Prep Charter School, a grade 5-12 college prep school in Nashville, Tenn.
"This is truly an honor to come back to Binghamton," Gupta said. "It gave me chills just to walk back on this campus."
Gupta began his speech with a story about a "life-changing experience" that took place while studying in the Science Library in February 2002. He became fixated on his mother's smoking and thought about everything she could miss if she continued the habit.
"I realized this was the most important challenge in my life," he said. "I had to change my reality. Sincere half-measures weren't going to get the job done."
Gupta drove home to Staten Island and confronted his mother: "Through time, argument and grit, she relented and quit," he said. Gupta said he learned an important lesson that day: There is no time for doing things halfheartedly.
"Many people will tell you there is a correct way of doing things. They will say 'Calm down. Be realistic. Relax,'" he said. "You must ignore those people. Your ability to ignore those people and their unwritten rules will make the difference between a life of half-measures and a life of revolution."
Gupta admitted that "revolutionary" is not an adjective that most people would use to describe his – and most of the graduates' – generation. He read an excerpt from Mark Bauerlein's book The Dumbest Generation that criticized the age group, and he then challenged the graduates.
"If there's any hope for humanity, we have to fix it. And with that 'it,' you can insert a host of challenges," Gupta said, emphasizing issues such as failing educational performances, climate change, immigration, income and equality, and crumbling infrastructure.
Gupta pointed to how the so-called "dumbest generation" is already making history in the Arab world with the help of social-media tools such as Facebook.
"Our generation knows where Iraq is on the map because we helped end that war," he said. "We know a lot about the president because we elected him. We know about Middle East politics because our generation changed Middle East regimes."
Gupta has taken his revolutionary zeal to Nashville Prep, where he strives to "disrupt the accepted ways of doing things." Students there are already on track to erase the gap between their academic performance and that of students in high-performance counties in Tennessee.
"Life is only worth living if it is revolutionary," he said. "As one Egyptian activist said in February: 'Revolution is like a love story. When you're in love, you become a better person. And when you are in a revolution, you become a much better person.'
"So I call on everyone to fall in love," Gupta said. "Be a little swashbuckling. Do not settle for a half-measure existence. Life is too short and the world needs you."
It's a call that has been heeded by Batiz, who received her bachelor's degree in sociology. She has taught English, Spanish, math, science and history to children in Honduras and worked for the After School Corporation to mentor students at summer camps in Brooklyn and the Bronx. Next year, she will work as a Teach for America Corps member in New York.
"I am grateful to Binghamton for helping me realize how I wanted to make my mark in the world," she said. "I will spark the minds of the students who will revolutionize the world." See a video of her remarks.
Batiz issued her own challenges to the graduates: Remain curious, never become complacent and set bold, brilliant and audacious goals.
"This is our time − and now is the time to rewrite the pages of history and change the society in which we live," she said. "It is up to us to solve many of the problems the world faces. Binghamton University has given us the tools to take the next step."
Culler pointed out that the graduating class already represented "a part of what is best about this university," as witnessed by students' assistance to the community during the September flooding.
"I am proud to be in the company of those who care about building strong communities and those who actively do something about the present state of affairs," he said. "And so, while this is a moment of economic uncertainty, I know that you all will treat it as an opportunity to rise to the occasion." See a video of Culler.
Magrath received a tribute at the ceremony when Interim Provost Jean-Pierre Mileur spoke of how the president came to the University at a "time of turmoil" and stabilized the campus.
"He has done his job as president with energy and goodwill, and he has situated the campus in a great place for our incoming president," Mileur said. "He didn't need to do any of this. It certainly was not something he needed to add to his résumé – his résumé is already as long as the phone book. But he has done something for us that we will always remember."
Mileur then informed the graduates and crowd that a trail in the Nature Preserve is now named for Magrath.
"This is a commencement also for me," Magrath said. "I leave in a few days after a second term as president of this incredible University. I am, too, commencing to a new life and new adventures, and I thank everybody here."
Raymond G. Russolillo '80, president of the Alumni Association, welcomed graduates to the association and encouraged them to take full advantage of Binghamton's vast alumni career network. See a video of his Commencement remarks.