by Eric Coker
Harpur College of Arts and Sciences honored degree candidates from its three divisions and presented awards to three distinguished alumni during recognition ceremonies held in the Events Center on May 19.
"Since its founding, Harpur has enjoyed a reputation for excellence in the liberal arts and sciences – a reputation that has grown over the past 62 years and will continue to grow in the future," Dean Donald Nieman said. "Graduates who have come before you have helped to build that reputation. I am confident that those of you who are graduating in 2012 will add to our reputation for excellence."
The recognition ceremonies, held on the same stage that would host the weekend's Commencement ceremonies, allowed degree candidates from the divisions of Fine Arts and Humanities, Science and Mathematics, and Social Science to have their names called and walk across the stage. Students were greeted by Nieman and President Harvey Stenger at the first two ceremonies; Nieman and Interim Provost Jean-Pierre (Peter) Mileur greeted students at the Social Sciences ceremony. The ceremonies also honored nearly 100 recipients of Foundation Awards and many departmental honors candidates.
"As Harpur students, you have had a lot of fun and formed lifelong friendships," Nieman said. "You have also been challenged by your professors and by your peers. You've worked hard to meet those challenges and you have grown both personally and intellectually.
"You can take satisfaction in your accomplishments, just as we are extraordinarily proud to welcome you into the distinguished ranks of Harpur alumni," he added. "They are women and men whose lives have been changed by Harpur College and who have, in turn, changed the lives of others – just as you will use your Harpur education to pursue satisfying careers and make your communities and the world a better place for all of us."
One person whose life was changed by Harpur College is Distinguished Alumni Award recipient William Voelkle '61. He was a math major whose goal was to become a math teacher before taking an art history with Kenneth C. Lindsay, founder of the department.
"At that time it seemed inconceivable that an art history course and a single professor could so radically change my career aspirations, but that is exactly what happened," Voelkle said.
Voelkle would go on to receive a master's degree in fine arts from Columbia University. He later became the curator and department head of medieval and renaissance manuscripts at the Morgan Library & Museum in New York City. Over the past 44 years, he has been involved with all aspects of curatorial work at the museum.
Voelkle, a leadership donor to the Kenneth C. Lindsay Art Museum Study Room, accepted the alumni award in the memory of his mentor.
"It is to him – one of Harpur's greatest teachers – that I will forever be indebted, for he truly opened up a world of possibilities that I could not previously have imagined," Voelkle said. "Indeed, I owe much of what I have become to his inspired teaching, his humanitarian example, and his ceaseless confidence in me."
A second Distinguished Alumni Award was presented to Jessica Lorden '83, who serves as associate general counsel in IBM's Sales and Distribution division. The White Plains resident is a mentor to Harpur students in the Liberal Arts to Careers Externship (LACE) Program and is also vice chair of the Harpur College Dean's Advocacy Council.
Lorden shared lessons she learned while at Harpur College. The first lesson: Be kind and generous.
"You have been fortunate to receive an education from a prestigious liberal arts college," she said. "You have been given a platform to fully develop yourself. You have learned skills of advocacy and analysis, of written and spoken communication, and of critical thinking. What will you do with these skills to give back? I encourage you to give your time to a cause or causes you find meaningful. What you will receive from such commitments will far exceed what you have given."
Lorden also said she learned that success is based on many of the skills acquired and developed at Harpur, such as hard work, determination and perseverance.
"At Binghamton, I learned to think for myself and advocate for myself," she said. "I learned the importance of self-confidence, trustworthiness and integrity. I learned to be open to change. I honed social skills and learned to collaborate with others. ... I would assert that it would be difficult to thrive to the extent you have without those skills. So as you engage in the next phase of your life, whatever it may be, go forward with confidence that you possess the skills needed to pursue and succeed in leadership."
The third Distinguished Alumni Award recipient, Matthew Telfer '78, also emphasized the power of hard work and work ethic. Harpur College and IBM were founded in the region based on the work ethic of the people, Telfer said.
"The University continues in the tradition of that work ethic," he said. "We're known as 'The Poor Man's Harvard' or 'Public Ivy.' And that is fine. I for one prefer to be associated with people coming from the bottom up."
In 1999, Telfer started Border to Border Exploration, which has now drilled 29 complex horizontal wells in East Texas and is one of the top 70 private producers of oil and gas in the United States. Telfer and his wife also are founding donors to establish the endowed John S. Bridge Energy Resources and they sponsor alumni and student gatherings in Texas.
Telfer compared new graduates to a business startup and stressed the importance of connections and networking.
"Today is the startup of you – call on alumni and get advice," he said. "In turn, take time when a recent graduate calls on you for advice. Just as your connections are critical for your career development, maintaining your connection to your alma mater is now your enduring responsibility. This is a great University and your connection to it is vital in making it greater still."
Last Updated: 6/3/15