Words of Wisdom from Binghamton Commencement Speakers Over the Years

Posted by Julianna Klein on May 9, 2018

With Commencement right around the corner, now is a time to celebrate, reflect and look forward to the future. Everyone seems to be offering advice, from professors and parents to friends. If you’re like me, you might feel like you need all the advice you can get about handling life after graduation. Luckily, Binghamton commencement speakers have shared a wealth of wisdom over the years, and I've collected a few of the most empowering quotes here.

Ruben Santiago-Hudson '78

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Ruben Santiago-Hudson '78 is a Tony Award-winning actor/writer/director who has starred on television shows such as Castle and in movies such as American Gangster and The Devil's Advocate. He received the Harpur Alumni Award at the 2013 ceremony.

"The only failure that's permanent is failure to wake up in the morning ... that's called death. 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."

Danielle Leavy '13

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Danielle Leavy ‘13, who was a student speaker at the 2013 ceremony, 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. 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.”

Billy Baldwin '85

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Billy Baldwin ‘85 is an actor who has played in films such as Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Flatliners and Backdraft. He spoke at the 2010 ceremony. 

“Don’t let the greatest role in your life flow from your job. Let it come from your faith, let it come from your values. Let it come from your role as a husband, or a wife. Let it come from your role as a mother, or a father. Let it come as a member of an active participatory member of your community, or your church, or your temple, or your mosque, or whomever your higher power is. Let your career be a component of your life -- let it enhance your life -- but don’t let it define your life.”

Stephanie Courtney '92

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Stephanie Courtney '92 is an actress/comedian and an Alumni Award recipient who portrays "Flo" in the Progressive Insurance commercials. She spoke at the 2015 ceremony. 

"We're in a culture and a country that's obsessed with winners and, moreover, sees winning as a skill. If you succeed, you were smart, not lucky. If you fail, well, it's your fault. Success, failure. Win, lose. Right way, wrong way. I just want to tell you that it is all a lie. All the setbacks? The dry spells? The times when you feel all alone with the results of your life decisions? That's a sign that you dared to go outside of your comfort zone and try."

Tyler Mehlman '16

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Tyler Mehlman ‘16 was the student speaker for the 2016 Watson School of Engineering Ceremony.

“Solving problems: that is engineering, and that is what drives us. The world has no shortage of problems, and every day more people will call to the engineers of the world to solve them, both great and small. So I’d like to present everyone here with a challenge: go out, and solve the world’s problems. That is the path we have chosen as engineers and scientists. No problem is too big, nor too small, and no problem is without a solution. Formulate it, and implement it.”

Kimberly Brower '14

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Kimberly Brower ‘14 was a graduate student speaker at the 2014 ceremony, graduating with a master’s in accounting through the School of Management.

“Nothing in life is ever 100 percent perfect, or right, or complete. Life isn’t meant to go according to any master plan, but when you surround yourself with the right people, there’s no detour you can’t handle.”

Marc Lawrence '81

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Marc Lawrence ‘81 is a screenwriter, film producer and film director. He worked as a staff writer and supervising producer on NBC’s Family Ties. He has written films such as The Rewrite, Miss Congeniality and Forces of Nature. He spoke at the 2016 ceremony.

“I think it’s important to really subject the conventional wisdom to strong inquiry, and not just follow the herd.”

Deborah Gray-White '71

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Deborah Gray-White ‘71 is an historian. She is also an author and a professor of history and women’s and gender studies at Rutgers University. She received an honorary doctorate degree at the 2014 commencement ceremony.

“Here’s some advice that I can offer as you go forth into your chosen professions: First, if you are ever in a position to give someone a chance, someone whose potential is revealed in something other than the standards or the standard criteria for what you have to offer, act affirmatively, and give that person a chance. Like Binghamton did for me, you might make the crucial difference in someone’s life, and they in turn might make the difference in yours. Second, I will advise you to follow your instinct. For the rest of your life, you’ve got to wake up in your own skin, and make yourself happy. No one can do that for you, but you.”

Don Greenberg '15

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Don Greenberg ‘15 was the student speaker for the 2015 Watson School of Engineering ceremony.

“I’m not telling you to latch onto a crazy dream and pursue it, I’m telling you to latch onto nothing. Loosen up, let your instincts guide you. Deep inside, you know what you need to do next to achieve your greatness. Listen to that voice. It might be buried deep, but I know it’s in there. Because that voice is just you, minus the rankings and insecurities and assumed likelihood. That voice is 20+ years of experience and it knows you better than you know you. It will never tell you to cruise.”

Jacqueline Mamorsky '17

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Jacqueline Mamorsky ‘17 was the student speaker for the 2017 College of Community and Public Affairs ceremony. She received her master’s degree in public administration, and delivered her speech in sign language.

“Let’s not forget that having a voice is not just about speaking. It’s about having the ability to listen to people. It’s not about having the ability to hear, but the ability to have empathy and sympathy. It matters how you approach people and learn their stories and walk in their shoes before you understand why and how you can fight for them. I don’t need to hear to learn their stories: I see their stories in their faces, body language, wrinkles, calluses and scars.”

Steve Karmen

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Steve Karmen is a composer who has written advertising songs such as “I Love New York” and the Hershey’s Chocolate jingle. He spoke at the 2012 ceremony.

“Doing what you love is not only the path to success, but to a happy life.”

Amy Hyatt '78

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Amy Hyatt ‘78 is an ambassador to the Pacific island Republic of Palau. She spoke at the 2017 ceremony. 

“If you are so sure you know where you’re headed, you may be tempted to disregard something unexpected and wonderful. Some of the best things that have happened in my career were unplanned. Sometimes I chose them with reservations, because that wasn’t where I thought I was headed. But the unexpected nature of an opportunity can make it that much more rewarding in the end if you seize it.”

Julianna Klein is a senior English major who hopes to pursue a career as a writer. She spends her free time sprinting as a member of the women’s track and field team. 

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