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1,000 receive degrees in first Fall Commencement

Television journalist Soledad O’Brien, who received the University Medal, gestures during her speech.

Define your own success and take responsibility for achieving it, journalist Soledad O’Brien urged graduates Sunday during Binghamton University’s inaugural Fall Commencement.

“What do you see in your future?” she asked. “Imagine it and go and build it. It is the responsibility you now have.”

More than 1,000 bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees were awarded during the ceremony, which also included remarks from President Lois B. DeFleur, U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer, Decker School of Nursing doctoral candidate Margaret Wells and Alan Weissman, a candidate for a bachelor’s degree in psychology.

O’Brien received the University Medal, which is given in recognition of distinguished service to the University, higher education and the larger community.

She drew on her personal life – including the story of her immigrant parents and the challenges they faced as a biracial couple in the 1950s – to inspire the graduates to ignore potential naysayers and follow their dreams.

“They listened to their hearts and lived the lives they wanted to live,” O’Brien said of her parents, a black woman from Cuba and a white man from Australia. “Listen to your own heart and follow your own dreams.”

O’Brien said she agrees that you can’t have it all, but you can define what “all” will mean for you. In her case, she has four children as well as a high-profile job with CNN. She feels challenged and fulfilled, she said, and she’s glad she didn’t change her first name or turn down some of the “lame” jobs she had early in her career.

“Do not worry about finding a job,” she told the graduates. “Find your passion.”

Like O’Brien, Weissman, the undergraduate speaker, got a few laughs from the crowd. He reminisced about his first visit to the campus, when he arrived in sunshine, saw some snow fall and finished the day in the rain.

He also recalled his difficult freshman year, when he changed career plans and didn’t feel interested in student life. Joining student organizations helped him turn his life around and gave him a sense of purpose, said Weissman, chapter president of the National Society of Leadership and Success, a leadership consultant for the XCEL Center for Excellence in Student Leadership and former director of public relations for Rainbow Pride Union.

He urged the graduates to turn disappointments into something better and to live without regret.

“Always bring an umbrella,” Weissman said. “Remember after you leave Binghamton not to let rain ruin your day.”

  View photos from Commencement 2007.

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Last Updated: 10/14/08