Students walk across the stage to become alumni
By Eric Coker
More than 2,650 students embarked on new journeys when they shook President Harvey Stenger's hand, crossed the Commencement stage at the Events Center, and officially became Binghamton University alumni.
"Seeing what the Class of 2013 has already accomplished gives me great optimism for the future," Stenger said. "Clearly, the world our graduates enter is one of enormous challenges, ranging from the eternal problems of war and poverty, to the contemporary crises of climate change, overpopulation and pollution. Yet I am confident that today's graduates will rise to the challenges, armed with the skills and knowledge gained during their time at Binghamton University. With our graduates at the helm, our world cannot help but be a better place."
Doctoral, master's and baccalaureate degree candidates were honored at eight Commencement ceremonies May 17-19. A ninth ceremony – for Graduate School of Education students – was held May 10 at Traditions at the Glen in Johnson City.
In a change from years past, the Graduate School of Education, the Decker School of Nursing, the School of Management, the College of Community and Public Affairs and the Thomas J. Watson School of Engineering and Applied Science each held a Commencement ceremony. Harpur College of Arts and Sciences presented three ceremonies – one for each academic division. A separate doctoral recognition ceremony was also held. As part of the ceremonies, all students had their names announced and had pictures taken onstage with Stenger and their respective deans.
Donald Nieman, provost and vice president of academic affairs, said that the Class of 2013 "embodies the balance that makes Binghamton University such a great place to work and study."
"Since you've arrived on our campus, you have not only shown that you are bright, you have demonstrated that you are hard-working, intellectually curious and eager to make the most of what this great University has to offer," Nieman said in his Commencement welcome. "You've also shown that you have a great sense of humor, like to have fun and care about serving others, as you did so nobly in the 2011 floods."
Harpur College of Arts and Sciences
Interim Dean Wayne Jones held up a book called "Life After Graduation: Your Guide to Success" and told the Class of 2013 that the manual is missing a chapter: How to be the best failure you can be.
"You will have failures in your life and in many ways it is the failures in our lives that often challenge us the most," Jones said. "It is through our failures that we often find our most exciting opportunities."
A degree in the liberal arts and sciences provides students with skills such as problem solving, communication and critical thinking that help them overcome and move beyond failure, Jones said.
"I would challenge you to embrace adversity, endure difficult times and find the path that will lead to your success," he said. "Be the best failure you can be by keeping your eyes and minds open to the opportunities that sit just beyond the horizon.
"You are a unique generation. In your relatively short lives, you have lived through three decades, two millennia and survived the end of the world twice! I know you can achieve anything."
Harpur Alumni Award recipient Ruben Santiago-Hudson '78 (pictured), a Tony-award winning actor/writer/director who has starred on television shows such as "Castle" and in movies such as "American Gangster" and "Devil's Advocate," echoed Jones' views on failure.
"The only failure that's permanent is failure to wake up in the morning ... that's called death," Santiago-Hudson said. "You only get that one once. Everything else are just bumps in the road. That should stimulate you to work harder and come back stronger. Just let the bruises heal and take each temporary setback as a lesson to carry with you for the next leg of your journey."
Santiago-Hudson was one of four to receive Harpur alumni honors, along with husband and wife doctors Lee Guterman '81 and Lisa Benson '81, MA '83; and Linda Riefberg '81, special counsel at Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson LLP.
Student speaker Danielle Leavy said she disagreed with the statement that college is "the best four years of your life." Instead, she challenged classmates to make every four years "the best four of your lives!"
"Come back for Parade Day," she said. "Come back for Spring Fling. Stay in touch with professors and friends. ... Start over if you want to. Take the class you've always wanted to. Life doesn't stop now; it begins."
A second student speaker, Jessie Rubin, praised her classmates as "the inspired generation" and said the most important thing she learned in college is "what home feels like when you make it for yourself."
"It's the people around you who make home what it is," Rubin said. "Home is my friends who have supported me in everything I do. ... The people who have populated my life here at Binghamton University with more love than I could ever imagine have made the Southern Tier my second home."
Commencement weekend's final Harpur College student speaker, Leonard Simmons, stressed the power of meeting conflict with compassion.
"It may seem that meeting conflict with compassion is not directly taught at Binghamton, but look around our campus," he said. "Look at the Peace Quad, named for the symbol formed at the intersection of its sidewalk and grasses. Look at the Mandela Room, named for the man who fought an unjust system with compassion at an international level, and inspired the world.
"Look at the Events Center, named for ... well, the point is that you can find examples all around campus," he said to laughter. "This lesson is truly taught between the buildings and outside the classrooms – and I believe you know this to be true."
College of Community and Public Affairs
In her final Commencement ceremony as CCPA dean before retiring in June, Patricia Ingraham said that "saying goodbye to this group of students is very, very hard."
The Class of 2013, which held up small posters during the ceremony that read "Be CCPA proud and "Proud to be a CCPA alum," has "walked the walk," Ingraham said, moving from the University Downtown Center to the main campus after the floods of 2011 and then back to the University Downtown Center.
"They have seen the college grow and prosper," Ingraham said. "Their records and their examples have forged the path for the future. They have supported the growth of both our undergraduate and graduate programs. These students have volunteered countless hours, won national awards for academic achievement and have made us all extremely proud."
But Ingraham added that the day was also necessary to celebrate the future of the college.
"We will welcome our first PhD class in the fall," she said. "We are expanding the scope of our international program. And as I head into the sunlit years of my retirement, we will welcome an interim dean – Laura Bronstein – and begin a national search for a new dean. These are good times for CCPA."
Honorary degree recipient Nancy Wackstein '73 spoke at the ceremony and recalled how her time at Binghamton laid the foundation for where she is today: executive director of United Neighborhood Houses of New York, a federation of nonprofit settlement houses and community centers that helps half a million New Yorkers each year.
"I remember my Binghamton years mostly as a time when I was exposed to activism and to the notion that getting involved with a cause or group can actively change things," she said. "I clearly can trace my roots as an activist to this campus."
Wackstein urged CCPA students to follow their passions and pursue what they care about.
"As graduates of this particular college, you've already made the decision that you want to contribute to solving society's problems and helping individuals who may be left out, vulnerable or disadvantaged," she said. "You now have the skills that will allow you to do just that. I urge you to use your skills and heart to help individuals, families and communities, but I also urge you to give voice to the needs of the larger world, as well, in pursuit of fairness and justice. It is hard to imagine a more important or satisfying journey."
Thomas J. Watson School of Engineering and Applied Science
Dean Krishnaswami "Hari" Srihari told the graduates that they are leaving a Watson School that has grown significantly over the past several years: From 2,000 students in 2006 to 2,600 students last fall.
"Since 2009, we have been recognized as one of the fastest-growing engineering schools in the country," he said. "We are growing our graduate programs. We have more undergraduates working in research experiences. ... And we have (grown) while continuously improving our quality. The focus on teaching has never been lost."
Srihari's advice to the Class of 2013: Don't forget about the concept of lifelong learning.
"You have to be innovative and entrepreneurial in your career," he said. "Lifelong learning will definitely stand you in good stead in the profession that you choose."
Watson students have survived and thrived by "knowing the benefits of working together and how to combine our technical skills with our personal skills to reach our goals," undergraduate student speaker Victoria Tagarelli said.
"If one person didn't understand, everyone was eager to explain it," she said. "We wanted our classmates to do well. If we struggled, we struggled together and if we succeeded, we succeeded together. ... We are a community, and we are a family that works together, lives together and studies together."
Graduate student speaker Lauren Huie, who now works as a researcher at the Air Force Research Laboratory in Rome, N.Y., praised the Watson faculty.
"They are passionate, energetic and personally driven to help and challenge each and every student," she said. "They were our leaders on our academic journey. They shared in our successes and failures and inspired us to be better than our best."
School of Management
Despite being the opening ceremony on the morning of May 19 (an 8:30 a.m. start), SOM students were energetic. Dean Upinder Dhillon took notice.
"Seeing all of this enthusiasm, I propose that we do this at 7:30 a.m. next year!" he said to great laughter from the audience.
Dhillon saluted the Class of 2013 for helping to make the School of Management among the top 25 undergraduate programs in the country and among the top 50 MBA programs, as well.
"Your time at Binghamton has prepared you to be successful leaders in business and society," he said. "Remember that you will be judged not only for what you can do for yourself and your family, but also for the contributions you make to others. When you turn your good fortune into something for others, you will be true leaders in society."
Dhillon also presented the School of Management Alumni Award to John Lyons '94 (pictured), senior analyst with Caxton Associates, a New York City-based multi-strategy hedge fund.
Graduate student speaker Kaitlyn Orr asked classmates what their role should be in a world in which power is shifting from institutions to individuals. Orr, who will begin work this summer for PricewaterhouseCoopers, answered that it is the responsibility of the new graduates to be ready to grow, seize opportunities, make an impact — and stay connected.
"It is our world to change and everyone in this room has the opportunity to do so," she said. "Before my freshman year, at orientation in the Anderson Center, I was asked to look to my left and my right and was told: 'You might be related one day.' However, if we look to our right and look to our left today, we could say: 'We might work together one day.' And some of us just might."
Undergraduate student speaker Jeffrey Marks advised classmates to branch out of their comfort zones.
"We must open up and push boundaries further than we can possibly imagine to truly reach our full potential," he said. "Upon entering the business world, we must uphold our ethics and integrity to become the successful people we aspire to be while retaining the core values that we hold now."
Decker School of Nursing
In a Commencement celebration that saw many graduates take part in an offstage pinning ceremony with faculty, graduate student Timothy Leonard stressed the "common, unifying bond" that the Class of 2013 found in nursing.
"As a voice for change, we have collectively helped shape and improve our learning experience during our time here, with the hope that improvements and curricular enhancements will benefit future classes," said Leonard, who graduated with a master's in nursing with a family nurse practitioner concentration. "These changes would not have been possible without clear direction, provision of solutions and continued support of the student body and our faculty."
Leonard also praised the skills that Decker has provided the class members, such as those gained during clinical experiences.
"The value of hands-on experience simply cannot be underestimated," he said. "Becoming ever more competent with our newly learned skills will be a continuous journey in which you need to be patient with yourselves, maintain professionalism and strive to do your very best!"
Undergraduate speaker Taryn Lindquist had her fellow graduates laughing with stories about Decker experiences and faculty members.
"The day we declared ourselves as nursing majors we had absolutely no idea what we were getting ourselves into," she said. "We showed up the first day of lab and learned how to wash our hands! We thought we had it in the bag right then and there. Little did we know just how daunting sterile technique would be during the catheterization video check-offs!"
Lindquist advised her classmates to "live in the moment, learn all that you can, laugh every single day and love what you do.
"If we have discovered anything from our patients, it is that life can change at any moment and we need to count the positives and live for them," she said. "As the president of an improvisational comedy group on campus, I firmly believe that laughter is the best medicine. Finding a way to smile or laugh sometimes is the best and only treatment you can give."
Dean Joyce Ferrario also handed out Decker awards at the ceremony. Jean Van Kingsley '97 received the Geraldine M. Dowling Memorial Award in Gerontological Nursing for her work at the New York State Veterans Home in Oxford, while the Gertrude E. Skelley Charitable Foundation received the Margaret Tyson Dean's Award for Excellence for its assistance to Decker students.
Graduate School of Education
At an intimate ceremony under a packed tent at Traditions at the Glen, the Graduate School of Education saw 32 students receive advanced degrees.
Once "full-service" Dean S.G. Grant had rearranged chairs to ensure there was proper seating for all of the graduates, Stenger spoke about the power each of the graduates has to influence thousands of young people today and for years to come.
"It is a challenging time to be an educator," Stenger told the graduates. "Fortunately, the Graduate School of Education has prepared you as outstanding teachers and administrators who have a broad understanding of the communities in which you work.
"You have an awesome responsibility, but I'm confident that you will use these super powers with wisdom, grace and a commitment to service," he added. "You have earned a reputation for commitment to students and to the communities in which they live and you are helping to ensure that the educational pipeline of New York is strong and effective."
Rachel Bachman, who received her doctoral degree in educational theory and practice, spoke on behalf of her fellow graduates. She asked her colleagues to consider the educational climate they are entering today, but reminded them that there are always challenges and exceptional teachers can rise above them.
Telling the true stories of two exceptional teachers that have been portrayed in "feel-good" movies, she said these teachers overcame incredible obstacles to help their students succeed, and they have three things in common: they were tremendously reflective, they held high expectations for students and themselves, and they shared a unique connection to their students.
"I implore you to always protect your dream of being an extraordinary educator," Bachman said. "May we learn from those who are already exceptional. Let us be reflective, maintain high expectations and meaningfully connect with our students."