Commencement honors new grads, accomplished alumni
By Eric Coker
A Hollywood director/screenwriter, a U.S. senator and the grandson of Binghamton University’s first president took the Class of 2016 on trips to the past before delivering advice for the future.
“In Hollywood, we do a lot of stories about kids who are underappreciated by their parents or not loved enough by their parents,” said Marc Lawrence ’81, who has created movies such as Miss Congeniality, Two Weeks Notice and Music and Lyrics. “Those are unbelievable stories. … What we don’t do as much is talk about how desperately most parents love their kids.
“I’m assuming there are some people in the audience who helped you go here and get a degree from one of America’s best universities. If you can, say 'hi' to them and don’t completely ignore them. Give them a hug. Slip them 20 bucks. Whatever feels right to you. They must have been instrumental on your path to success.”
The University conferred more than 3,400 degrees for bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral candidates at eight Commencement ceremonies, held May 20-22. President Harvey Stenger shook the hand of each graduate who walked across the Events Center stage.
“This is the culmination of a long and challenging journey – a journey filled with the excitement of exploration and discovery, the guidance of faculty mentors and the friendship of colleagues and peers,” he said.
Stenger also saluted the parents, families and friends of the graduates who came to the ceremonies to “share in the joy of watching a loved one reach a rare milestone.”
“Your support and involvement has provided crucial sustenance for our students – ensuring that the occasional challenges of writer’s block or a disappointing test result were never too much to overcome,” he said.
U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., took part in the Thomas J. Watson School of Engineering and Applied Science ceremony on May 21 and the final Harpur College School of Arts and Sciences ceremony on May 22. Schumer told the graduates that there would be times when they make the wrong choice in life.
“You’ll pick yourself up, dust yourself off and move forward,” he advised the Class of 2016.
Schumer recalled that on his graduation day from Harvard College, he learned that he had received “the opportunity of a lifetime” – a scholarship that would allow him to travel around the world. Instead, he chose to stay home with his “first true love.”
“That summer, she went on a brief vacation and I went to the airport to meet her on her return,” he said. “As soon as she got off the plane, I saw by the look on her face that something was the matter. She dumped me by Labor Day. There I was: No scholarship. No trip around the world. No girl.”
Honorary-degree recipient John R. Bartle, grandson of former Binghamton University President Glenn G. Bartle and now dean at the University of Nebraska-Omaha, took the Class of 2016 back to the Arlington Hotel in downtown Binghamton on June 6, 1946.
On that date, it was announced that the Binghamton region would get its own college: Triple Cities College, which would later become Harpur College, SUNY Binghamton and Binghamton University.
“The promise of the evening was that the new institution would provide educational opportunities to a region in which less than 6 percent of the area’s high school graduates attended colleges,” Bartle told graduates at the College of Community and Public Affairs ceremony on May 21.
Bartle, who visited the Vestal campus as a child and later taught at Binghamton University, then moved ahead to a convocation address in 1959 in which his grandfather stressed leadership, professional competence and cooperation as the keys to progress in society.
“This University is a beautiful tapestry that has been made, re-made and re-made again,” said Bartle, who wore his grandfather’s commencement robes. “But the fabric that weaves it together is cooperation. When that fabric rips, it must be mended before the next part of the tapestry can be added.
“The hopes of the community in a long-gone hotel on Chenango Street 70 years ago would have been nothing without leadership, professional competence and cooperation. With it, the dream has literally become a reality – this world-class University.”
Bartle told the Class of 2016 that CCPA is critical to not only improve the community, but the nation and world, as well.
“When you wonder why somebody hasn’t done something that needs to be done, use your professional competency, take a leadership role and use the tools of cooperation to effectively transform your community for the better,” he said. “Our progress depends on you.”
Lawrence, whose 2014 film “The Rewrite” featured Binghamton University – and the Binghamton area – in its storyline, also received an honorary degree. His improvised address sparked laughter from the students and guests in attendance.
“I am thrilled and honored and amazed to get this honorary degree,” he said. “I was a little disappointed that it came with no self-prescription privileges. I thought a pad would be cool, but I’m still happy.”
Binghamton was “a very different place,” Lawrence said, when he arrived as a freshman in 1977. He recalled visiting a health-food co-op during his orientation tour.
“It was packed,” he said. “Somebody had put a piece of whole-grain bread out, a piece of organic cheese on top of it, and another piece of whole-grain bread on top of that. They were standing at a window holding a solar panel aiming a beam of light at this potential sandwich. You just felt the excitement building in the room. It made us feel like there was nothing we couldn’t do and that we could change the world. By the way, whoever ordered that (sandwich) – it’ll be ready right after this ceremony!”
Lawrence also joked about living in Newing College, comparing it to being on Apollo 13.
“If you were living in a triple in Delaware, it was exactly like that – with gravity and about an equal chance of survival!” he said.
But Lawrence admitted that his four years at Binghamton University were the best years of his life, as he met his wife, Linda Nesenoff ’83, on campus. He also praised the friends he gained, the education he received, and the city of Binghamton itself.
“Once you get over the obvious similarities to Paris, I always felt that there was something magical about (the city of Binghamton),” he said. “It feels like a Norman Rockwell painting with the color drained out. I mean that as a complement! When you look more closely, the color is there.”
Lawrence said that he learned a great deal from instructors such as Distinguished Professor William Spanos, such as not to accept “the conventional wisdom just because it is the conventional wisdom.” It is advice that Lawrence passed along to the Class of 2016.
“It was only 60-something years ago in this country that segregation was the conventional wisdom,” Lawrence said. “Six or seven years ago, it was the conventional wisdom that gay marriage was unconstitutional. As recently as two years ago, ‘American Idol’ was still the No. 1 show!
“I think it’s important to subject the conventional wisdom to strong inquiry and not just follow the herd – unless you are going to work in Hollywood, in which case it is the only choice and you should definitely not express any of your own opinions,” he said to laughter.
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