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Ronald Ehrenberg ’66, SD ’08

Harpur alum, students speak at Fall Commencement

By Eric Coker

Harpur College students and alumni stood front and center at Fall Commencement, delivering the three graduation speeches to the Class of 2014.

More than 400 Binghamton University students walked on stage to receive bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees at the ceremony, held in the Events Center on Dec. 14. The ceremony also featured comments from internationally known economist and educator Ronald Ehrenberg ’66, SD ’08; doctoral candidate Trisha Cowen MA ’10; and bachelor’s candidate Samara Matityahu.

Ehrenberg, who serves as the Irving M. Ives Professor of Industrial and Labor Relations and Economics at Cornell University, discussed how his years at Harpur College “fundamentally transformed” him and helped launch his career.

“Harpur College was an extraordinary place when I arrived as a 16-year-old freshman in 1962,” he recalled. “Its goal, as articulated by President Glen Bartle, was to be a public Swarthmore — and it surely was. The motto of SUNY in the 60s was ‘Let each become all he is capable of being’ and — sexist language aside — we all surely did. About 10 percent of the graduates of my class went on to get PhDs and a far larger percentage achieved success in a variety of professional fields.”

Ehrenberg said his parents wanted him to become a high school mathematics teacher, but Harpur’s faculty opened his eyes to other possibilities and “showed me that a student chooses his own path.”

“I learned from them that great teachers have unique styles,” he said. “Some are captivating lecturers, some let students know about their concern for them, some are comedians and use humor to keep students on their toes, some give students massive reading lists and scare them into working harder than they ever dreamed possible, some interact with their students outside of the classroom and some do all of these things. When I reflect on how I have evolved as a professor, I clearly see the influence of my Harpur professors.”

Today, Ehrenberg is director of the Cornell Higher Education Research Institute and a member of the SUNY Board of Trustees. Ehrenberg and his wife, Randy Ann Birch Ehrenberg ’67, continue to support Harpur College and Binghamton University. Ehrenberg served on the Harpur College Economics Department Advisory Council and presents to faculty and students in the Economics Department. In 1998, the Ehrenbergs established the Judith and Seymour Ehrenberg Endowed Scholarship, which benefits Harpur students of limited financial needs. In 2011, they established the Eric Lawrence Ehrenberg Memorial Award in memory of their son who passed away in 2008. The award is given to a graduating senior who has overcome serious health problems or other adversity.

Ehrenberg concluded his speech by offering three life lessons to Class of 2014. The first: Nobody goes through life without facing adversity. Second: Fears are not unique and even heroes are mortal. Finally, Ehrenberg told graduates to remember that “family and friends mean more in the long run than all of the professional success that one may achieve.” He cited the work of his wife, who he met at Harpur College and went on to become superintendent of the North Colonie School District near Albany.

“I hope that each of you will find the professional success and meaning in your life’s work and be as fortunate as I have in finding a lifelong partner,” he told the graduates. Cowen, who taught creative writing and other courses as a graduate student at Binghamton University, urged the graduates to “embrace your inner nerd.” She recalled meeting with a student in October who told her: “Ms. Cowen, you’re a real nerd. Not the kind you find on TV, but like the real kind.”

“Being a nerd means fostering your imagination and it’s in college where most of us learn to embrace our eccentricities and the eccentricities of those around us,” said Cowen, who received her doctorate in English. “Diversity is cool and our unconventionalities are what define us. I’ve learned to embrace being a nerd, and you should, too. Nerd no longer means using suspenders to hold your pants up. Being a nerd means being an individual. Being a nerd means being brave enough to admit our academic obsessions.”

Nerdiness is not about being a brilliant recluse, she said: It’s a way of thinking. “Nerds question the information they receive until they are satisfied with its authenticity,” she said. “To be a nerd, you must be on an insatiable quest for knowledge that doesn’t stop at the borders of Binghamton’s campus.”

Matityahu, a psychology major who transferred to Binghamton University from Westchester Community College and became a student ambassador for Undergraduate Admissions, offered the Class of 2014 “the three ‘nevers’ to live by after graduation”: Never forget where you started. Never disregard your struggles and triumphs. Never underestimate yourself.

“As Binghamton University alumni, we will always stick together, whether we recognize someone from our class on a random subway in New York City, or we become business partners with someone who graduated a year before or after,” Matityahu said.

“As alumni, we’ll always have a place to call home,” she added. “We’ll always have a family here. We’ll laugh at and appreciate the struggles we once thought of as tough. And of course, we’ll remember our peers and faculty here when we are meeting other alumni old and new in the real world.”

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Last Updated: 3/1/17