Former New York Yankee & Award-Winning Musician Bernie Williams Addresses Graduates at The State University of New York at Potsdam
The State University of New York at Potsdam honored the Class of 2022 with a Commencement to remember—a picture-perfect, sunshine-filled ceremony with nearly 5,000 guests, in the College’s Academic Quad.
“Today, we celebrate you—all that you have accomplished here, and all that we know you will accomplish from this day forward,” said Officer-in-Charge Dr. Philip T. Neisser ’79. “We are all so thrilled to be together again with all of our guests in the shade of the clocktower, enjoying this momentous day as one SUNY Potsdam family.”
Keynote speaker Dr. Bernie Williams (Hon. ’19) addressed graduates and their families, two years after he was originally set to speak. And for the crowd, it was certainly worth the wait to hear from the former New York Yankee and award-winning recording artist—fresh off his concert on campus the evening before.
“To be honest, I have had three years to think about this day, and I’m still overwhelmed with humility that I would be asked to be your Commencement speaker,” Williams said. “I feel a very special connection with this university and this community. Being here today is the culmination of one of the most significant moments in my life—and it wasn’t the World Series, it wasn’t any of that—it was being honored with a Doctor of Humane Letters degree by [former] President Esterberg in a ceremony in New York City in 2019. And I’ve got to tell you, I’ve been called many things throughout my life, but Dr. Williams is probably the coolest! Since then, I have been waiting and waiting to finally be able to travel up, visit this beautiful campus, kick off this weekend with a concert last night at Hosmer Hall, and address all of you.”
In his remarks, Williams shared stories from his time on the road with the Yankees, and his career as a musician after retiring from the Major Leagues.
“Because of my connection to music, during my baseball career, it was commonly written and said by many around the game that I marched to the beat of my own drum. And you know what, darn right I did,” Williams said. “I am living proof that if you go with your heart, never stop learning, and always be yourself, you will never regret where your journey leads—because it will be authentic, and it will be truly yours.”
This year, SUNY Potsdam honored more than 1,000 candidates for graduation, as well as welcoming back alumni from the Classes of 2020 and 2021, who had been unable to take part in the traditional in-person ceremony due to the pandemic.
“I believe that you have a special bond that goes beyond the years that you’ve spent here at Potsdam, because you lived through a global pandemic and you still did it. Not too many years from now, you’ll be telling your grandchildren about what happened on the way to graduation,” said College Council Chair June O’Neill (Hon. ’99).
Student Government Association President Kylie Wilkins ’24 urged graduates to be persistent in their pursuit of their goals, no matter the circumstances.
“You will have days when you are just called to something bigger than yourself… it only takes a second for your whole life to change. Although many days, you will be able to predict the rain, there are going to be days when it pours, and you didn’t bring an umbrella. Life is going to be hard, but you just need to find your unlocked door—your opportunity,” she said. “Go out and conquer your new journey.”
The joy of the day was also tinged with sadness, as the College commemorated two members of the campus community who passed away this academic year—its late President Dr. John L. Graham and Crane School of Music senior Elizabeth Howell ’22.
“While Dr. Graham was with us but for a very short time, his impact on all of us and the entire campus was far greater than can be imagined,” O’Neill said. “Because we knew John Graham, we have been changed for good.”
Joseph Howell received a standing ovation as he came to the stage to accept his daughter Elizabeth’s bachelor’s degree in her stead. He attended the ceremony along with family members and loved ones, remembering Beth and all she had accomplished.
“Beth achieved so much in her time at SUNY Potsdam and The Crane School of Music, including being named principal cellist in the Crane Symphony Orchestra. She would have been graduating with honors today, earning her Bachelor of Music degree in music education,” said Crane School of Music Dean Dr. William Gibbons. “Beth’s family wrote that ‘she knew what we wanted out of life and went for it without hesitation.’ May we all learn from Beth’s example and follow our dreams without hesitation and without delay.”
Alumni Association President Sally Farrell Partner ’78 led the graduates in the turning of their tassels after they had all finished crossing the stage.
“College graduation is a great accomplishment whenever it happens, but it is all the greater because you have achieved this milestone under unprecedented stress,” Partner said. “SUNY Potsdam is a unique place, and this is reflected in our alumni network. Our alumni are impressive, and we love to help each other… As you continue on your life’s journey, remember: ‘Once a member of the Potsdam family, always a member of the Potsdam family.’”
During Commencement, SUNY Potsdam honors students who have either earned their degree or are eligible to graduate during that calendar year.
To learn more about Commencement at SUNY Potsdam, visit www.potsdam.edu/commencement.
About SUNY Potsdam:
Founded in 1816, The State University of New York at Potsdam is one of America’s first 50 colleges—and the oldest institution within SUNY. Now in its third century, SUNY Potsdam is distinguished by a legacy of pioneering programs and educational excellence. The College currently enrolls approximately 3,000 undergraduate and graduate students. Home to the world-renowned Crane School of Music, SUNY Potsdam is known for its challenging liberal arts and sciences core, distinction in teacher training and culture of creativity. To learn more, visit www.potsdam.edu.