Hundreds walk across stage in final Fall Commencement
By Rachel Coker
Hearts come programmed to beat a fixed number of times, senior Joshua Wallenstein told members of the Class of 2015 during graduation on Dec. 20.
“Whether you believe that it’s science, or that it’s fate, there’s no knowing what that number is,” he said “But we can ensure that the beats we have left aren’t going to waste.”
More than 450 students received degrees during Binghamton University’s final Fall Commencement ceremony at the Events Center. Wallenstein, a Binghamton native and human development major, represented the graduates as student speaker. In an address that was by turns funny and devastating, he shared his feelings of loss after his mother died nearly two years ago.
“I gave up the idea of today,” he said. “I gave up wondering what a cap and gown would feel like, knowing that with a perpetually empty seat in my cheering section, it could be nothing more than bittersweet. I gave up my booth at the CIW dining hall. My parking spot next to the Nature Preserve. I gave up opening textbooks, and writing papers and sitting through lectures. I walked into the dean’s office, and I gave up.”
Soon, however, he saw that giving up didn’t have to be a permanent arrangement. Indeed, he said, he eventually understood that he was wasting some of that finite number of heartbeats by not returning to school, not brushing his teeth, not showing his father more kindness.
“Today is bittersweet,” Wallenstein said. “For me, it’s because these weren’t the best four years of my life. I wouldn’t give anything to relive them, and they weren’t over in the blink of an eye. They weren’t the ‘glory days.’ But they made for one hell of a story.”
President Harvey G. Stenger also addressed the graduates. He said he feels a bit like a part of the Class of 2015 himself, having arrived on campus four years ago. He also extended special congratulations to the first PhD graduate of the College of Community and Public Affairs. Jessica Francis Surdey was one of 34 students who were hooded as recipients of doctoral degrees during the ceremony.
Stenger said that although students come to Binghamton to get an education, they often teach important lessons as well. He recently attended a ceremony where Binghamton athletes Keishorea Armstrong and Jesse Garn were recognized for their successes at the 2015 NCAA Outdoor Track Championships. Garn came in fourth in the men’s 800, earning All American Honors, while Armstrong received honorable mention for her finish in the long jump.
Stenger said he was struck by something Armstrong told him that day. “She says she learned more by losing than had she won,” he recalled. “’Everyone has bad days,’ she says, ‘but it’s what you do with them that makes the difference.’ For her, this meant using her setbacks as a reason to work harder, to be more motivated, or, as she puts it, ‘to embrace my faults and use them as a catalyst for improvement.’”
He said she reminded him that “part of learning comes from when things aren’t working out.”
The graduates also heard from Heidi B. Goldstein, president of the Alumni Association. “Binghamton University always will be a part of you,” she told them. “The academic opportunities you got here helped prepare you for your profession and the experiences you had helped you become who you are.”
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