September 21, 2023
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Harpur Commencement 2023: Support and sacrifice shape achievement

Physician Camille Clare ’92 receives Alumni Award

Students celebrate at the third Harpur College Commencement ceremony on May 13, 2023. Students celebrate at the third Harpur College Commencement ceremony on May 13, 2023.
Students celebrate at the third Harpur College Commencement ceremony on May 13, 2023.

Camille Clare doesn’t remember which Commencement speaker took the podium back in 1992. Sitting in her robes as proud family looked on, she was poised to return home to the Bronx and then on to the Albert Einstein College of Medicine and her future.

“As the oldest daughter of immigrant parents from Jamaica in the Caribbean, I was well-aware of the new world that being a student here would open for me,” remembered Clare, a psychobiology major. “Many of those experiences would shape my life and my future career. This day is as much about you as it is about your parents and supports who are here to cheer you on.”

Now a board-certified obstetrician and gynecologist, Clare received the Alumni Award during the first of three Harpur College of Arts and Sciences Commencement ceremonies on May 13. More than 2,100 students received their degrees from Harpur, Binghamton University’s largest school and home to majors from physics to neuroscience to Africana studies.

Leadership was the theme for Clare’s Commencement remarks. After earning her medical degree, she completed her residency at the State University of New York at Buffalo, and also holds a Master of Public Health in Health Policy and Management from New York Medical College. She is chair and tenured professor at the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology of Downstate Health Sciences University College of Medicine, and professor of health policy and management in its School of Public Health.

Coming to Binghamton, she already knew she wanted to become a physician and joined the Charles Drew Minority Pre-Health Society, the oldest pre-health student organization at Binghamton. It helped her step out of her comfort zone and become a public speaker — something that didn’t come naturally, she admitted.

Her best friend in the organization, Robert Heckstall, gave her the advice she needed to apply successfully for medical school. She also developed lifelong friendships with her roommates, who kept her grounded as she navigated challenging coursework.

Regardless of their specific major, Harpur College graduates are leaders, and effective leaders have three essential tasks: developing a vision for their lives, creating a skillset for success and surrounding themselves with a “power team” they can trust, like Clare’s roommates and her friends in the Charles Drew Society.

“Whether you know it or not, leadership is in your DNA,” she told students.

Far from being at a disadvantage, graduates of Harpur have an edge in today’s job market. LinkedIn has seen a 21% percent increase in postings advertising skills and responsibilities, noted Provost Donald Hall.

“That’s also good news for you because, no matter what your major or area of study has been, you are leaving us with a foundation based in liberal arts. This strong foundation has helped you hone your critical-thinking, decision-making and communication skills and will serve you well in whatever career path you follow,” he said.

An unexpected turn

The ceremony also held its surprises. U.S. Sen. Majority leader Charles Schumer stopped by to voice his support for graduates, and Binghamton University President Harvey Stenger also took an unexpected turn.

He began with his usual celebratory speech, then paused — for a long, uncomfortable time.

“Blah, blah, blah,” he said, shuffling papers at the podium, then began anew.

He reminded graduates of a fateful month: March 2020, when the coronavirus pandemic reached Binghamton. For the next 18 months, the entire country lived in fear, sadness and uncertainty.

“We isolated, quarantined, socially distanced, masked up, got sick, studied from our bedrooms, knew friends and loved ones who died, and questioned our future as a species,” Stenger recounted. “But you and Binghamton University faced it with courage and determination.”

By the first week of that April, the University became the first SUNY school and the fifth in the country to refund students their housing costs, to the tune of $25 million. It almost cost Stenger his job, but he has no regrets: The move was consistent with Binghamton’s core value of student success. When campus reopened, Binghamton observed strict rules on masking and social distancing, and delivered thousands of meals per week to students in quarantine.

“Yes, we made mistakes. But we quickly tried to correct them and somehow, some way we ended up here. You ended up here,” he said. “Nice job.”

Words of wisdom

Proud families and friends filled the rows at Binghamton University’s Events Center, as smiling graduates processed in cord- and stole-laden green robes. During the three ceremonies, Harpur College’s student speakers shared the life-lessons that they and their peers have mastered over the past four years.

“Binghamton University taught me how to fight for myself. It taught me through the constant reach-outs from mentors, teachers and staff across campus that I am worth something, no matter how bad I’m feeling about myself,” said English major Blessin McFarlane, the student speaker during the first Harpur ceremony of the day. “It gave me all the tools I need to succeed.”

She relied on a piece of wisdom she received from her grandmother while growing up: “Closed mouths don’t get fed.” She didn’t truly understand its meaning until she came to college, where students are expected to use their voices to ask for help, whether emailing professors about a deadline extension, contacting departments about program opportunities or marketing themselves in applications.

“It’s like being in a statistics class where you’re given an equation and then expected to apply it to a whole range of situations,” she reflected. “It taught me that my voice was my most valuable possession.”

While family plays a major role in many graduates’ lives, Chloe Van Caeseele also pointed to the support that students receive from peers and professors once they’re at Binghamton. The student speaker during the second Harpur ceremony of the day, the anthropological perspectives major, said the support she received from professors, friends and family inspired her to keep going during even her toughest days.

“Every one of us sitting in this stadium would be nothing without the people we met during our time here,” she said. “And that is what Binghamton does best: It breeds a culture of higher education that is centered around the people.”

While dreams are the focus of many graduation speeches, by themselves they’re not enough to fuel success, according to biological sciences major Oscar Hutarra, student speaker during the third Harpur ceremony. During their time at Binghamton, students learn the importance of planning and structure, he said.

“We are here because we had the determination, the drive, to make our ideas a reality. Just like dreams, an idea by itself will remain an idea,” Hutarra said. “Having the willpower to make sacrifices and see that planning through is what converted all of our ideas into a goal.”

Grueling study sessions, scrapped drafts and sleepless nights led to the fulfillment of that goal — a college diploma —with the prospect of even more achievements on the horizon.

“Keep dreaming, keep creating new ideas and always see them through to the end,” he said.

Posted in: Campus News, Harpur