William "Billy" Baldwin '85 displays his University Medal to the crowd at Fall Commencement at the Events Center on Dec. 12. The actor/writer/producer received the University's highest honor and spoke to graduates and guests.
Photo by Jonathan Cohen
Baldwin to graduates: ‘Remember Binghamton’Tweet
Actor Billy Baldwin ’85 urged graduates to give back to the University that has provided them with knowledge, values and work ethic during the Fall Commencement held Dec. 12 at the Events Center.
“You may graduate today, but your relationship with this institution should not end today,” he said. “We need your help more than ever. We need you to be a partner in building a strong future for Binghamton. … This is already one of the top state universities in the country. Together, I want to work with you to make it the very best. I look forward to that. … Remember Binghamton.”
Baldwin addressed the graduates after receiving the University Medal, the highest honor Binghamton University bestows. The medal is awarded in recognition of distinguished service to the University, to higher education and to the community.
More than 400 bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees were awarded in the ceremony at the Events Center. The ceremony also featured comments from doctoral candidate Elizabeth Sierra-Zarella and bachelor’s candidate Aaron Gold.
Interim President C. Peter Magrath welcomed graduates and guests to the ceremony and instructed parents and family members of the graduates to stand up for an ovation.
“I’ve seen and been at a number of really good universities,” Magrath told the graduates. “Right now, I can’t think of any university that is more international, more diverse and more exciting than the University from which you are graduating.”
Baldwin, whose brothers Alec, Daniel and Stephen are also actors, has starred in films such as Sliver, Backdraft and Fair Game and can now be seen on the prime-time televisions shows Gossip Girl and Parenthood. As an advocate for Binghamton University, Baldwin serves as co-chair of the University’s fund-raising campaign, Bold. Brilliant. Binghamton.
Baldwin’s 30-minute Commencement address combined humor and self-deprecation with advice and passion about the University from which he received a political science degree. He recalled his own Commencement and the person who was standing in his spot on the stage in 1985: Writer and political activist Elie Wiesel.
“I don’t know about you, but if I had the choice between Elie Wiesel and the star of Dirty Sexy Money, the choice is clear,” he said. “Elie may have won the Nobel Peace Prize, been knighted by the queen and survived Nazi Germany, but did HE get to kiss Sharon Stone on the big screen?
“He may speak five languages, won the Congressional Medal of Honor and the Presidential Medal of Freedom, but did HE have a cameo in Forgetting Sarah Marshall? I think not,” he said to laughter from the audience. “You have chosen wisely.”
Baldwin also told a story about a woman he met who was certain that his father was an actor. Baldwin assured the fan that his father was a high school teacher who had died when he was in college.
“That’s funny. Then who is that guy on 30 Rock? I always thought he was your father, no?” the woman said to Baldwin, referring to older brother Alec, the Emmy-winning star of the NBC show.
“I’ve never said that publicly,” Baldwin told the crowd. “I was going to save it for David Letterman to really humiliate my brother, but I broke it out here today. So You Tube, thank you!”
The brotherly teasing goes both ways, though, as Baldwin said Alec has always told a story about the decision to attend Binghamton.
“Much to my annoyance and to this day, he tells people that the reason I came to Binghamton is because I thought it was in the Hamptons!” the Long Island native said to more laughter. “I can never convince people that it’s not true. They always believe it.”
Binghamton University has seen many changes in the past 25 years, Baldwin noted.
“When I was here in the early 1980s, up there in College-in-the-Woods, Seneca Hall, Room 2Q, there were only 4,000 students here,” he said. “Back then, when you went to Yale, there were students from all over the world. When you went to Penn State, there were students from all over the country. When you went to Binghamton, there were students from all over Nassau County.”
Baldwin became serious when attributing credit for the University’s growth.
“I’ve known and worked with (former University President) Lois DeFleur for many years,” he said. “We’ve even gone to battle on occasion. But nobody has done more for this institution over the past 20 years than the former president.”
Baldwin cited three examples that have helped – and will continue to help – elevate the University as an “elite public institution of higher learning”: Division 1 athletics, building the University’s endowment and planning a law school.
“If we are going to compete with the Virginias and the Berkleys and the Michigans, some heavy lifting had to be done,” he said. “Lois’ leadership and vision set all of that in motion.”
Despite a résumé that includes dozens of films and TV shows and production and writing credits, Baldwin admitted to the graduates that he could not think of one piece of advice related to his career that would matter to them.
“Everything that is really important to me that I can share with you today has nothing to do with show business,” he said. “At the end of the day, I’m a kid from Massepequa, Long Island, who is 25 years removed from graduation at Binghamton University – a graduate like all of you here today.”
Baldwin’s life lessons and guidance included: keeping things simple; being a part of the community; and staying positive about job prospects.
He also told the graduates that careers should enhance their lives instead of defining their lives.
“Don’t let the greatest role in your life flow from your job or career,” he said. “Let it come from your faith, your values, your role as a husband or wife. Let it come from your role as a mother or father. Let it come from your role as an active participatory member of your community.”
Baldwin said it is OK – even preferable – not to have all of life’s answers when handed a diploma.
“When I left Binghamton for New York City, I thought I had things figured out,” he said. “When I became famous and traveled the world, I hadn’t figured it out. When I purchased my first home and ran my first non-profit organization, I hadn’t figured it out. When I met my wife Chynna (Phillips of the music group Wilson Phillips), fell in love and got married, I hadn’t figured it out. When I became a father, I hadn’t figured it out.
“I now stand before you today – pushing 50 – to testify that I still have not figured it out,” he said. “You know what? That’s good news.”
Baldwin encouraged the graduates to always ask questions and to always be curious during a journey that begins with a Binghamton University education that has given them “values that provide a lifetime of growth and learning.”
“It’s the gift that keeps on giving,” Baldwin said. “Preserve that. Don’t let it die.”