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Harpur Commencement 2013

Harpur Students become Alumni

by Eric Coker

Interim Dean Wayne Jones held up a book called "Life After Graduation: Your Guide to Success" and told Harpur College's Class of 2013 that the manual is missing a chapter: How to be the best failure you can be.

"You will have failures in your life and in many ways it is the failures in our lives that often challenge us the most," Jones said. "It is through our failures that we often find our most exciting opportunities."

Jones was one of several speakers to address Harpur College graduates during the three Commencement ceremonies that took place May 18-19 at the Events Center. Harpur held a ceremony for each of its divisions: science and mathematics; fine arts and humanities; and social sciences. Students had their names announced and walked across the stage, shaking hands and posing for photos with Jones and President Harvey Stenger.

The ceremonies also drew dozens of Harpur College faculty members. Peter Knuepfer (associate professor of environmental studies), Thomas McDonough, chair of art history) and Solomon Polachek (distinguished professor of economics) served as grand marshals, while faculty representatives greeted each new graduate on stage. Many Harpur College staff members also served as volunteers behind the scenes and on the Events Center floor.

After emphasizing how the flags hanging at the Events Center represented the internationalization of Harpur College, Jones discussed the importance of a degree in the liberal arts and sciences. It is a degree that provides Harpur students with skills such as problem solving, communication and critical thinking that will not only help them achieve success, but also give them the ability to overcome and move beyond failure, Jones said.

"I would challenge you to embrace adversity, endure difficult times and find the path that will lead to your success," he said. "Be the best failure you can be by keeping your eyes and minds open to the opportunities that sit just beyond the horizon.

"You are a unique generation. In your relatively short lives, you have lived through three decades, two millennia and survived the end of the world twice! I know you can achieve anything."

Harpur Alumni Award recipient Ruben Santiago-Hudson '78, a Tony-award winning actor/writer/director who has starred on television shows such as "Castle" and in movies such as "American Gangster" and "Devil's Advocate," echoed Jones' views on failure.

"The only failure that's permanent is failure to wake up in the morning ... that's called death," Santiago-Hudson said. "You only get that one once. Everything else are just bumps in the road. That should stimulate you to work harder and come back stronger. Just let the bruises heal and take each temporary setback as a lesson to carry with you for the next leg of your journey."

Santiago-Hudson was one of four to receive Harpur alumni honors, along with husband and wife doctors Lee Guterman '81 and Lisa Benson '81 MA '83, who both practice in Buffalo; and Linda Riefberg '81, special counsel at Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson LLP in New York City.

Student speaker Danielle Leavy said she disagreed with the statement that college is "the best four years of your life." Instead, she challenged classmates to make every four years "the best four of your lives!"

"Come back for Parade Day," she said. "Come back for Spring Fling. Stay in touch with professors and friends. ... Start over if you want to. Take the class you've always wanted to. Life doesn't stop now; it begins."

A second student speaker, Jessie Rubin, praised her classmates as "the inspired generation" and said the most important thing she learned is "what home feels like when you make it for yourself."

"It's the people around you who make home what it is," Rubin said. "Home is my friends who have supported me in everything I do. ... The people who have populated my life here at Binghamton University with more love than I could ever imagine have made the Southern Tier my second home."

Commencement weekend's final Harpur College student speaker, Leonard Simmons, stressed the power of meeting conflict with compassion.

"It may seem that meeting conflict with compassion is not directly taught at Binghamton, but look around our campus," he said. "Look at the Peace Quad, named for the symbol formed at the intersection of its sidewalk and grasses. Look at the Mandela Room, named for the man who fought an unjust system with compassion at an international level, and inspired the world.

"Look at the Events Center, named for ... well, the point is that you can find examples all around campus," he said to laughter. "This lesson is truly taught between the buildings and outside the classrooms – and I believe you know this to be true."

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Last Updated: 12/10/14