Bachelor's Commencement 2010
Remarks by President John F. Schwaller
May 23, 2010
[Introductory remarks, greet special guests, etc.]
First of all I would like to say good luck to all of our graduating seniors here today. I am very pleased to be here with you. This is a wonderful college and I am honored to be your president and to work with such an outstanding group of faculty, students, and staff as we move into a new era in the history of SUNY Potsdam.
This is an especially important moment in the life of this institution. This year we celebrate 194 years of service to northern New York and the region. Although some of you may feel as if you have been here for over a century, today I want to congratulate all of you: the graduates who took only three years, the normal plan graduates who leave us after four years, the extended plan graduates who took five years, and even those of you who graduated according to your own schedule. Congratulations!
Today, as you prepare to leave this place, I would like to discuss adversity with you, looking at the history of the College to provide us all with guidance. Our College was founded in the aftermath of the War of 1812. Folks had been pressing for the creation of St. Lawrence Academy before the war, and their efforts were hindered by the war. But Benjamin Raymond and others pressed on in spite of the war and the College became a reality in 1816.
The Civil War brought changes to our College. The old style of teacher preparation as practiced in the academy was waning in the face of a new curriculum called the “Normal” curriculum. In the devastation of the Civil War, the leaders of the Academy pressed the Legislature to create a Normal School here in Potsdam based on St. Lawrence Academy, which occurred in 1867.
The Great Depression was another turning point in the life of the College. In the midst of that economic crisis, the Crane School of Music was integrated into the College. The State authorized the purchase of the Crane Institute in 1926 and Helen Hosmer took over as director in 1929. The reputation of the Crane School was established during the worst economic crisis in the history of the country.
Our College was forged in the War of 1812, survived the Civil War, the world-wide Depression of 1896, the Great Depression of 1930, both World Wars, and many other periods of adversity and tribulation. And yet here we are. In an odd sort of way, difficult times have created incredible opportunities for the College.
In the midst of adversity our College has seized upon the opportunity to change in new and dramatic ways. We were created in the midst of a war. We are the home of Music Education in the United States because Julia Crane rejected the curriculum of the past and had a vision for what a properly educated music teacher should study. In the midst of the depression and the Second World War we diversified the curriculum to embrace the Arts and Sciences. In summary, our campus has confronted adversity and through creativity and ingenuity used it to transform the way we do things to achieve greatness. I challenge each of you to confront whatever adversity that you may have in your life and use it to move positively and powerfully forward.
It was the vision of the faculty, staff, students, and administrators in the face of adversity which created the institution we know today. They took up the challenge and acted upon it to be creative in the face of adversity. Leaders such as Asa Brainerd, Julia Crane, Helen Hosmer, and Tom Barrington understood that in order to improve we must change. The situation in which we find ourselves today is the result of all the things which have occurred in the past. To improve matters, we must change how we do things and move consciously to create the world of tomorrow.
At the same time that you challenge whatever adversity you face, do not be afraid to reinvent yourself. As you graduates go out into the world you have a unique opportunity to reinvent yourselves. Armed now with your degrees and experience you truly can become the person you wish to be. You can be just about anything that you wish to be. You can pursue additional education; you can serve your country and yourself in so many ways. But most importantly, you can reinvent yourself. Make yourself the person you have always wanted to be, starting here, starting now.
And, please remember (there was not first), you are going to be OK. Our lives are a mixture of highs and lows, tragedies and triumphs. We celebrate together and we grieve together. SUNY Potsdam is a supportive place that both challenges students to exceed their own expectations, yet provides a safe place for them, in good times and bad. The bonds that you have made here will last your lifetime. Armed with your experiences from SUNY Potsdam, with the knowledge you have gained here, the friends you’ve made among your peers and the faculty, and with your own families to support you, everything will be OK. So I charge you to take a long look at yourself. This graduation provides you with a unique opportunity to make a new beginning. Promise yourself that tomorrow and thereafter you will be the person you want to be. Be yourself. Live up to your own expectations for yourself. You can do this secure in the knowledge that you are going to be OK. These lessons will help you confront any adversity which might come your way.
Lastly, as you leave this place, remember that you will always be part of our SUNY Potsdam family. Become active in our Alumni Association. Let the world know how much the education and experiences you had here mean to you. As they say at my alma mater “do well, and do good,” but most of all as Garrison Keillor says, “please, keep in touch.” Congratulations to you all.