A packed Events Center audience watches the Commencement ceremony for the Harpur College of Arts and Sciences' Division of Science and Mathematics on May 18.
Photo by Jonathan Cohen
Schumer to graduates: ‘Go for it!’
May 19, 2014Tweet
The Class of 2014 has “two major advantages” as its members enter the next stages of their lives, U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer told graduates at two Binghamton University Commencement ceremonies.
“This is one of the 10 top educations in America,” Schumer said. “So you are graduating with a leg up in terms of your education. Secondly, you are the first generation to grow up amid all of this new technology. … Technology is to your generation like water is to a fish. You’ve been swimming in it your whole life.”
More than 3,200 doctoral, master’s and baccalaureate degree candidates were honored at nine Commencement ceremonies held May 15-18 on campus.
Schumer, who spoke at the School of Management and Harpur College of Arts and Sciences’ Division of Science and Mathematics ceremonies, told graduates that their Binghamton University education and technological proficiency have given them a great opportunity.
“Now is the time to figure out your dream and reach high to get it,” he said. “Then reach down inside yourself and see what you are made of. See if you can achieve that dream. My advice to the Class of 2014 is simple: Go for it!
“Sometimes you’ll make the wrong choice, but if my experience is any indication, you will pick yourself up, dust yourself off and move forward,” he said. “But if you make the right choice – with a lot of hard work, a little luck and some prayer – your life will be enriched forever.”
President Harvey Stenger presided over the nine ceremonies and shook the hand of every graduate who walked across the stage.
“This is the culmination of a long and challenging journey – a journey filled with the excitement of exploration and discovery, the guidance of faculty members and the friendship of colleagues and peers,” he said. “I welcome you into the new stage of your career and life. I look forward to learning of your many successes and hope that you remain steadfast members of the Binghamton University community.”
Harpur College of Arts and Sciences
Harpur Alumni Award recipient Keith Gorham ’73, MA ’75 stressed the value of a liberal arts education by telling graduates that they have developed “a huge tool to assist you in the future: your flexibility.”
“It’s an important skillset and you have it,” said Gorham, senior vice president of industrial relations for NBCUniversal in Los Angeles. “You’ve navigated four – and possibly more – years of undergraduate work, obtained your degree and are equipped with study disciplines and thought methodologies which have been fed and nourished by your multi-disciplinary studies. These are skills that will assist you going forward for the rest of your lives.”
Shari Lawrence Pfleeger ’70, DHL ’00 and Michael Garcia ’83, received Harpur Alumni Awards, as well. Pfleeger also stressed the flexibility that Gorham discussed.
“This college has a founding vision: ‘From Breadth through Depth to Perspective,’” she said. “I’m no ordinary mathematics major. I’m a Harpur College graduate. My education here has drawn me from breadth through depth to perspective. I not only know my mathematics, but also can write about it, teach it to someone and apply it to important world problems.”
Pfleeger, an entrepreneur, professor and scientist, challenged Harpur graduates to create an “inflection point” that will address the national gap in earnings and opportunity.
“If people push back and say that you a dreamer, tell them it can done – because you’re a Harpur College graduate,” she said.
Student speaker Belle Yoeli told graduates that they all have experienced “wow” moments, but the Binghamton “wow factor” goes far beyond those moments.
“The Binghamton ‘wow’ is the constant, thriving phenomenon that is the Binghamton University experience as a whole,” Yoeli said, adding that “wow” represents Binghamton’s faculty, sense of community, diversity and students.
Another student speaker, Christina Pullano, urged her classmates to “grow always, love deeply and serve wholeheartedly.”
“We’re taught too often to focus on doing as little as possible while making as much as possible, but don’t let that distorted message drive you away from doing what you believe is right,” she said. “We’ve been doing it for four years and I challenge us to continue and to bring that into a world that desperately needs it.”
The third student speaker, Samson Widerman, advised graduates to celebrate the small victories, keep developing silly ideas and build something ranging from a poetry blog to a jigsaw puzzle.
“Show some gratitude to your friends, family, professors, mentors,” he said. “Whether it’s today or tomorrow, tell them thank you.”
School of Management
Dave Penski, ’97, CEO of Zenith USA and School of Management Alumni Award recipient, provided the Class of 2014 with five ingredients for success: ask for help and advice; be ambitious; don’t be afraid to fail; work hard at something you care about; and give back to the people and places who helped you.
Penski has given back to Binghamton University: He told the Commencement audience that Zenith USA has hired more than 20 SOM graduates, has donated more than $50,000 in research grants and will have three students on scholarship in 2014-15.
“I thought of my path and the opportunities I was given,” he said. “How could I give back? Binghamton was on top of my list. I feel very strongly about state schools and getting an education at a reasonable price.”
Student speaker Marisa Sweeney recalled a greeting that her Wellness Through Yoga class would receive from its instructor: “There is no bad weather, only inappropriate clothing.”
“This applies to whatever awaits us beyond today,” Sweeney told her classmates. “Whether you envision your immediate future as a surefooted step on the trail to greatness or more of a begrudging leap into the unknown, the ability to flexibly adapt yourself and meet each change with positivity will pay off in spades.”
The school’s other student speaker, Kimberly Brower, emphasized that SOM has left graduates with the tools to combat any problem they may face.
“Whether you’re looking for career advice or assistance, a friendly shoulder to lean on in a time of need, or someone to explain what exactly a bearcat is, graduating from SOM ensures that your search will never have you turn up empty-handed,” she said.
Thomas J. Watson School of Engineering and Applied Science
William Berical, former vice president of engineering for BAE Systems Platform Solutions Sector in Johnson City, received the University Medal. He served as chair of the Watson Dean’s Advisory Committee for 13 years and as a member of the IEEC Industrial Advisory Board for 16 years.
“My time with the Watson School was very rewarding and I certainly enjoyed every opportunity we had to work together,” he said.
Student speaker Daniel Wong told his classmates that they do not need to “follow a rubric to fulfill your passions and dreams.”
“Whether you are preparing and looking for a job or going to graduate school, want to start a business, Kickstarter project or travel the world,” he said, “the only thing you need to do is spend time every day moving closer toward your goals.”
Alper Alimoglu, a graduating master’s student from Turkey who played on the University’s tennis team, also addressed his classmates. He urged the graduates to constantly improve their ideas and dreams.
“Just like I can’t exactly predict the next step in a tennis match, uncertainty should drive your creative passion and keep it alive,” Alimoglu said. “Every obstacle and every failure has a purpose. They are simply another opportunity to improve.”
College of Community and Public Affairs
Eric Schwartz ’79, dean of the Hubert H. Humphrey School of Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota, spoke to the graduates a day after receiving an honorary degree from Binghamton University.
Schwartz, a former U.S. assistant secretary of state, thanked the graduates for their commitment to public life. He also said their degree will help give them the tools to promote “the common good in an increasingly diverse world.”
“Your interests are many and varied,” he said. “Whether you aspire to be a social worker, a state legislator, a city planner, a community organizer or even the president of the United States, while your goals are diverse, you are united in your broad objective of engagement in professions where your principal task will be no less ambitious than to make the world a better place.”
Student speaker Tanairy Carbo told her classmates to strive for excellence and asked them to imagine that “someone is looking into the window of your life.”
“Would they see a disaster zone or will it be bright skies and a cool breeze?” she said. “I know it might be hard to see that now, but you truly wield the pen that writes your story. Although there might be battles along the way, battles are just success unconquered.”
Decker School of Nursing
In a speech that involved noisemakers, a stethoscope and taking a selfie, student speaker Jon-Paul DiMarco said exceptional nurses can make a difference and the Class of 2014 should “take the small steps to become that force.”
“We’re taught as nurses to not only help treat ailments, but to treat patients holistically,” he said. “Let’s get to know their struggles and find a way to relate, because chances are that they’re hurting about something that can’t be seen superficially, regardless of what they seem to portray to others.
“Have the patience to take the extra time to understand someone to give the best care possible,” he added. “Everyone here knows that you all have the heart and brains to be both a great nurse and a great person. Now it’s time to time to use that potential and be great.”
Also during the ceremony, Emily Gunner received the UHS Spirit of Nursing Award. The honor goes to a graduating nursing student who has demonstrated commitment and contributed to nursing excellence as a student nurse at United Health Services.
Graduate School of Education
In a ceremony held in the Anderson Center’s Chamber Hall on May 15, the Graduate School of Education honored 17 students. Jacob Hammond, who received a Master of Science in Education in adolescence special education, addressed his classmates by discussing a story that he reads to his 4-year-old daughter Elsie: “The Three Questions.”
The Leo Tolstoy story, adapted by Jon Muth, serves as a reminder to treat each moment in the classroom as an opportunity or a gift, Hammond said.
“When we are with them [students] in the classroom, they are the ones who matter the most – not the testing, not district drama,” he said. “If we don’t treat each moment like a gift – an opportunity to make a difference – we risk missing those moments when students voice problems relevant to their lives, or miss a put-down that silences that voice.”
Three honorary degrees were conferred at the doctoral recognition ceremony on May 16. Besides Schwartz, Carol Harter ’64, MA ’67, PhD ’76 and Deborah Gray White ’71 were honored.
The first female to earn three English degrees from Binghamton University, Harter served as president of SUNY Geneseo and the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV). After leaving UNLV, she established the Black Mountain Institute, which provides a forum for international writers and scholars to address society’s most pressing issues.
Harter credited her successes to receiving “the best education imaginable” from Binghamton University.
“The incredible faculty here challenged us to examine new ideas, understand different ideologies, and stretch our minds and hearts as we tried to absorb centuries of knowledge and read hundreds of books,” she said. “The faculty simply made higher learning an all-consuming, transformative experience in our lives. There was nothing we couldn’t do and there is nothing you won’t be able to do either, despite some of the obstacles you now see before you.”
White, an acclaimed historian, author and professor, recalled coming to what was then known as SUNY Binghamton in 1967, as a student “fresh out of the New York City housing projects and public schools.” White was part of the first Special Admission class at Binghamton – a program now known as the Educational Opportunity Program (EOP).
“(Binghamton) took affirmative action to give me the chance to fulfill my potential and I ran with it,” she said. “Looking back, I can truthfully say that Harpur gave me the chance to take the road less traveled and it surely made all the difference.”
White advised the graduates that if they ever find themselves in a position to give someone a chance, do so.
“Like Binghamton did for me, you might make the crucial difference in someone’s life,” White said. “And they in turn might make a difference, or the difference, in yours.”