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Thousands celebrate graduates

More than 3,400 degrees were conferred at Commencement ceremonies last weekend, including more than 100 to Turkish students in the dual-diploma inaugural graduating class, more than 400 master’s degrees and over 100 doctorates. >>PHOTOS

For the first time, four ceremonies were held, one each for the Graduate School and professional schools and two separate ceremonies for Harpur College students, accommodating everyone who wished to attend.

Speakers highlighted the value of a Binghamton degree, but also challenged graduates to use their imagination, find their passion and give back. 

“Our world needs your talents and knowledge,” President Lois B. DeFleur told the graduates. “The globe is rapidly becoming interconnected and for some people, this interconnectedness is a source of pessimism and fear” about challenges with the economy, environment, war and famine. “But I am optimistic about the knowledge and intelligence that each of you will bring to helping solve these challenges,” she said.

“And I am especially optimistic because each of you is a Binghamton graduate and has the global understanding and expertise that our world needs most of all.”

Honorary degree recipient Ronald Ehrenberg ’66, an economist and faculty member at Cornell University, spoke of how his years at Binghamton transformed him, and that today, support of public higher education is more crucial than ever to maintain competitiveness in the global economy.

He also reminded graduates that no one sails through life without facing major problems; those who have achieved great success have an obligation to mentor others; and “family and friends actually mean much more in the long run than all of the professional success that one may achieve.”

Jeremy Schraffenberger, who received his doctorate in English at the Graduate School ceremony, spoke about imagination. “What makes us human?” he asked. “Imagination. The ability to forecast, to strategize, to plan. It gives rise to all that is good.

“The mission, very idea of the University is to cultivate an engaged and informed, an ethical and imaginative citizenry. If what we do is merely for the sake of plying a trade, it’s little more than whistling Dixie in the dark. Instead, let’s tell ourselves new stories. Let’s invent for ourselves a life that’s never been lived before.”

Honorary degree recipient

Richard Felder, a chemical engineer and who changed focus from research to teaching mid-career, told Harpur graduates at the morning ceremony that they must figure out what they love and a way to do it in their work to have the best life they can. “Go with your heart,” he said. “The pleasure of waking up every day and liking what you do will compensate for any inconveniences your choice may cause.”

Kamron Pourmand, who will attend Stony Brook University School of Medicine in the fall, addressed his classmates at the Harpur morning ceremony. “Celebrate today. We made it,” he said. “You have been in the real world and you’re leaving here more mature with a real education, degree and genuine friendships. Today, we hold our heads high and stand proud for where we have grown to.”

Raymond Osterhout received an honorary degree at the professional schools ceremony and told graduates to put their vision first and all else will fall into place, become an expert in their field and they’ll be seen as leaders and “tap into your creative side. You don’t have to step out of the box if you don’t get into the box in the first place.”

Speaking to fellow graduates at the professional schools ceremony, Alexis Stecker, who will begin work in global asset management at a firm in Manhattan, said to celebrate the end of this journey, and look for sturdy railings for support. “We each have that spark of powerful determination and drive that can propel us to greatness,” she said. “This is not the time to dream, but the time to live and make our dreams a reality.”

At the final ceremony of the weekend, Harpur graduates heard from the Turkish consul general, the Honorable Mehmet Samsar, who spoke of the partnership among Binghamton University and four universities in Turkey. “The significance of the partnership is even greater within the context of the diversified connections between Turkey and the U.S.,” he said. “We are close allies with common strategic interests and are in fact building bridges between our two counties and expanding the horizons of students and scholars.”

After having been “thrown out of grad school for bad behavior,” Ted Kooser, the 13th U.S. poet laureate, said he was proud to receive an honorary degree. At the afternoon Harpur ceremony, he said he finally knew what it was like to be the old geezer at the podium whose speech wouldn’t “last much past supper,” but who would offer his advice anyway.

He said graduates should carry more than a diploma with them — they should also carry “a little white box that’s just as important as that diploma. In it are thank you notes,” he said, “and you’re going to need a lifetime supply. It seems like a very small matter, but I know it’s true. Being gracious to others and taking a few moments to give your thanks will take you further than you can ever imagine, further than any number of academic achievements.”

Kooser ended with a reading of a passage from one of his books, which ends with a toast and glasses lifted. “It seemed appropriate to me to toast you in this way, as a writer, lifting a little glass of words, wishing you well.”

David Belsky, who will attend the University at Albany to pursue a master’s in public administration in the fall, spoke at the Harpur afternoon ceremony, telling fellow graduates that the things they have loved doing at Binghamton are the things they can love doing when they leave.

“Make a difference in the world, improve the lives of others and give back,” he said. “Whatever you do can be done in a selfless way. We are more prepared, more informed and more engaged for coming here. Find your own path in the circle of life.

“Today, we’re proud to be Binghamton graduates,” he said. “Tomorrow, it’s time to make Binghamton proud of you.”

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Last Updated: 10/14/08