May 2008 Commencement Remarks

  May 18, 2008

First of all I would like to say good luck to all of our graduating seniors here today.  This is a wonderful college and I am honored to be your president and to work with such an outstanding group of faculty, students, and staff as we move into a new era in the history of SUNY Potsdam.   

This is an especially important moment in the life of this institution.  This year we celebrate 192 years of service to northern New York and the region.  As you may know we are in the midst of a visionary plan to develop the College as we move towards our bicentennial in 2016.  But today, we are so very proud of all of you: the graduates who took only three years, the normal plan graduates who leave us after four years, the extended plan graduates who took five years, and even those of you who graduated in your own time.    Congratulations! 

  As many of you may know, I am also a professor here.  My specialty is the history and culture of 16th century Mexico, frequently focusing on the Aztecs.  The Aztecs were quite fond of events such as this, and punctuated them with long flowery speeches about virtue, proper living, and respect.  I will not bore you with one of these long declamations, but rather share with you a short speech reserved for events such as this.  It is entitled “The Growth of Reasons”


    As the corn tassels, as the corn becomes tender and it sprouts
It becomes bushy, thus one’s heart becomes prudent:
It blossoms, it germinates. 
Because it blooms,
Thus it glows, thus the face, thus the heart.
One carries it about, one sends a messenger
Thus one has a face, one has a heart
One has ears.  

In the original Nahuatl, the phrase “his heart, his face” is “ynic ixtli yollotli,” and is a very important phrase.  Among the Aztecs, metaphors played a very important role in both poetic speech and everyday discourse.  Aztec metaphors consisted of combining two words together to create a third meaning.  Here ixlti – yollotl, is just such an example.  On the surface the words mean “face – heart.” But taken together it means character or sensibility.  The poem I just read notes that just as a plant matures and blossoms, so the child grows and reaches maturity, and with maturity comes reason and character, “his face, his heart.”  For all of you here today, you have attained something precious and valuable.  You have gained your face and your heart.

There are two more ideas that I hope will help you along the way.  I commonly share these thoughts with our graduates, and there may be those who have heard them before, but I believe they warrant repeating.  First: reinvent yourself.  As you graduates go out into the world you have a unique opportunity to reinvent yourselves.  Armed now with your degrees and experience you truly can become the person you wish to be, leaving behind the personas you acquired in grade school, high school, and college.  You quite literally can be just about anything that you wish to be.  You can pursue additional education; you can travel the world; you can enter the job market; you can serve your country in so many ways.  But most importantly, you can reinvent yourself.  Make yourself the person you have always wanted to be, starting here, starting now. 

Secondly, you are going to be OK.  Our lives are a mixture of highs and lows, tragedies and triumphs.  We celebrate together and we grieve together.  As I have noted in other contexts, SUNY Potsdam is a supportive place that both challenges students to exceed their own expectations, yet provides a safe place for them, in good times and bad.  The bonds that you have made here will last your lifetime.  Armed with your experiences from SUNY Potsdam, with the knowledge you have gained here, the friends you’ve made among your peers and the faculty, and with your own families to support you, everything will be OK. You can handle just about anything that life might send your way.  So I charge you to take a long look at yourself.  This graduation provides you with a unique opportunity to make a new beginning.  Promise yourself that tomorrow and thereafter you will be the person you want to be.  Be yourself.   Live up to your own expectations for yourself.  You can do this secure in the knowledge that you are going to be OK.

Lastly, as you leave this place, remember that you will always be part of our SUNY Potsdam family.  Become active in our Alumni Association.  Let the world know how much the education and experiences you had here mean to you.  As they say at my alma mater “do well, and do good,” but most of all as Garrison Keillor says, “please, keep in touch.” Congratulations to you all.