Class of 2010 grads urged to take risks
By Eric Coker
Members of the Class of 2010 received some universal advice as they prepared for the next chapters of their lives.
Take risks, embrace change and don't be afraid to make mistakes.
"It's a time of mixed emotions, from 'I can't believe I'm graduating' to the joy and excitement of what you are moving on to," President Lois B. DeFleur said during Commencement ceremonies in the Events Center. "... When you are facing change and ambiguity, many people are tempted to pull back, retreat and avoid making decisions. But you have to take a risk. You have to make changes. You have to make a decision."
It has been a year of change and decision for DeFleur, who announced in January that she will retire in July after 20 years as Binghamton University president. DeFleur's final ceremonies saw more than 3,350 degrees conferred. The graduate ceremony took place May 15, while two Harpur College ceremonies and a professional schools ceremony were held May 16.
DeFleur told the graduates that studies show those who regularly take risks are not foolhardy, but "deeply aware" of their environments. These individuals tend to become confident leaders, she said.
"They are willing to alter their course if something does not work the first time," she said.
The Class of 2010 already has proven that it has its share of risk-takers, DeFleur said, pointing to Fulbright, Udall and Goldwater award recipients who have been willing to compete against students across the nation.
She also applauded graduates' "extraordinary" volunteer work, which has ranged from mentoring local youth to collecting food for the needy to helping Hurricane Katrina victims in New Orleans to organizing the Relay for Life fundraiser.
Steven Bloom '78, one of two honorary degree recipients, told the graduates about his own risk-taking. Bloom left Binghamton with a degree in biological sciences and eventually took a job in the environmental field. He then decided to make "an incongruous leap" into trading and investment.
"Incongruous is putting it mildly because at the time I didn't know the first thing about finance," he said.
Bloom went on to become a founding partner in Susquehanna International, a global proprietary trading firm, and founder and managing partner of Sagamore Hill Capital Management, a multibillion-dollar global hedge fund.
Bloom also discussed how his life changed when he learned that his 21-year-old sister had been killed by a drunken driver.
"In a strange and unexpected way, it gave me the greatest gift," he said. "That gift was a wake-up call announcing loud and clear the fragile and fleeting nature of our lives and the importance and urgency of making the most of it."
Bloom urged graduates to appreciate life, put energy into endeavors and be prepared to make mistakes.
"It is the doer who makes mistakes," he said. "The person who is mistake-free is probably sitting around doing nothing. In my view, if you know that you did your best, you are a success regardless of the outcome."
Other Commencement highlights included:
• Ahmet Acar, rector of Middle East Technical University (METU) in Ankara, Turkey, also received an honorary degree. Acar was honored for helping to establish the dual-diploma program between SUNY and Turkish universities. Binghamton and METU are partner institutions.
Acar called the honorary degree "a high point in my professional life."
"The dual-diploma program is simple, yet revolutionary," he said. "A most challenging yet surprisingly successful, innovative project of international cooperation."
• Brian May of the Thomas J. Watson School of Engineering and Applied Science was recognized by DeFleur and Anthony Kendall '83, MBA '85, president of the Alumni Association Board of Directors, as the University's 100,000th graduate.
DeFleur concluded her remarks by recounting a conversation she had recently with some graduating students.
"Each of them looked at me and said they were sorry to leave Binghamton," DeFleur said. "They said Binghamton had been the best time of their lives.
"I just want to say to all of you that my tenure here has been the best time of my life."