Sunday, May 11, 2008 – 2:30 p.m.
Susquehanna University James W. Garrett Sports Complex Selinsgrove, Pa.
Good afternoon and more importantly Happy Mother’s Day. My name is Jay Lemons and it has been my great honor and privilege to serve as president of Susquehanna University during this 150th academic year. It is a joy to welcome all of you to the campus for this beautiful occasion on this glorious day along the banks of the river from which we draw our name.
I would like to thank Chris Hoster for leading us in America the Beautiful and also for leading us later in the singing of the alma mater. Also, special thanks to Kevin Henry and the SU Brass Quintet for their contributions to the ceremony and to all those who participated in Baccalaureate this morning.
For many of you, today is doubly joyous as you have the pleasure of seeing your Susquehannan graduate and celebrating Mother’s Day. I also know that at least one mother with us today, Megan Sites’ mother, Jeanie, is also celebrating her birthday. So, in the spirit of the Blue Man Group, will everyone join me in saying very slowly – not singing – Happy Birthday Jeanie. Ready? Happy Birthday Jeanie. Wonderful!
Members of the class of 2008, you entered Susquehanna with great expectations upon you and great promise to meet and exceed our hopes for you. As we celebrate your commencement today, I can assure you that you have fulfilled not only the expectations we had for you but, I hope too those you had for yourself.
On behalf of the faculty, staff, and Board of Trustees, I thank all of you who have had a hand in helping these 454 students succeed. We know that pursuing a college degree is not a singular endeavor; rather, it is one that requires helping hands, gentle nudges, and direct pushes from family, friends, teachers, and mentors. So in a sense, today is your Commencement too. We are grateful for the opportunity we have had to bring you into the embrace of the Susquehanna University family. While graduation marks the academic achievements of these students, it does not bring to a close your place in the University family. Please know by your presence in the lives of these graduates you will always be a part of this place.
Graduates – please stand. Turn to face the crowd. On this special day, please take a moment to look around this audience for your mothers, grandmothers, aunts, sisters, dads, grandfathers, uncles, brothers and friends who have helped to light the way for you. To all of you who have been there all along the way, this standing ovation from the class of 2008 comes with grateful hearts and much love. Graduates, will you share your appreciation?
Will the faculty please rise? The faculty are the heart and soul of an institution of higher learning. Here we have a supremely talented and devoted group of distinguished teachers and scholars. Faculty colleagues, I want you to know that I hear every week from our students that you are the most essential and best part of the Susquehanna experience. I want to join your grateful students and their families in thanking you for your dedication, your wisdom, and your love for Susquehanna students.
If you are feeling pride today, I believe it is well founded. These graduates have distinguished themselves here in compelling ways that lead me confidently to know that these new citizen leaders will make great contributions as they continue their journeys.
We gathered as an assembled body for the first time in August of 2004 for our opening Convocation. On that day, I planted with you the wisdom of Susquehanna alumna, distinguished attorney and trustee, Signe Gates. She believes that a Susquehanna education should help you begin to understand your place in the chain of human history. In your time here, the university theme has emerged as a unifying force to develop community knowledge and discussion on a multidisciplinary subject, strengthening the links of that chain of human history. In various settings and in various ways, you have explored the topics of Religion in the Public Square, Latin American Mosiac: Nations and Culture, On the Fringes: What Fades and What Flourishes and this year’s theme, Water. Enlightened thinking on these topics as well as any other you confronted, deliberated, churned and mastered comes from the gathering of teachers and students in the ongoing search for knowledge, truth, understanding and enlightenment.
Although I’m sure the time has flown by for you, four years is a long time. Over that time, you have grown from unsure, perhaps even timid young adults to confident and well-prepared women and men. The combined effects of your years at Susquehanna is a footprint on our campus that joins those of all the classes before you and sets for the classes that follow you the course of being and doing that is the Susquehanna way. As you have navigated these 300 acres over these past four years, I hope that you have developed an equally important sense of being rooted in a community that isn’t bound by acreage. While you leave our campus today, you have a lifetime relationship with the university and its people.
You represent the best of Susquehanna. Through your achievement, leadership and service you represent Susquehanna to the world. Some day in some small way, what you do and who you are may cause a young person to follow in your footsteps and look to Susquehanna.
I am so sorry that the weather did not cooperate on Friday so that the Class of 2008 could complete the hike up Mount Mahanoy. That event has become an important tradition at Susquehanna and one that I would like to create an opportunity for at Homecoming and Reunion Weekend in October. In addition to the hike, I hope you’ll come back to also participate in the groundbreaking for the new science building, an academic building that has been planned for and discussed for your entire time at Susquehanna as well as the completion of the two newest residence hall additions in West Village.
Collectively and individually, the Class of 2008 has a significant legacy. Yet the best is before you. You leave this institution of excellence primed for great achievement, distinguished leadership, and heartfelt service in continuation of Susquehanna’s mission. Those three values – achievement, leadership, service – formed the foundation of our university from its opening 150 years ago and remain durable yet dynamic as we learn more about the world, shape it, and are shaped by it.
Today, you have come full circle. The same powerful mix of emotions you felt as a first-year student at Susquehanna is likely bubbling up near the surface again today. Apprehension mixed with excitement about expectations, fear of leaving the home you knew to set about creating your own home in a new place and making new friends, hesitant about whether you’ll be able to succeed when you don’t know what lies ahead of you. On this day, you should also feel confidence because you’ve faced new challenges before and have prospered.
As we celebrate your graduation today, I would like to acknowledge a member of the Class of 2008 who was taken before his time. Justin Miller was lost to us in the summer before your sophomore year. We remember him today.
As I reflect back again to Opening Convocation 2004, I understand better the emotions your parents felt on that day. A mixture of pride, excitement about what is ahead for you, and the heart tug of saying good-bye and please know that our hearts are indeed tugged!
Several years ago, we began a tradition of giving graduates pewter acorns in celebration of the beautiful trees that mark our campus. The acorn has rich symbolic meaning for people throughout the world and it is variously associated with wisdom, strength, abundance, success, protection and potential. What has been planted here in these four years has been a mere seed of knowledge that will grow in the rich and fertile environment provided wherever you may next call home.
As you cross the stage and receive your diploma, you will begin the next phase of your lifelong pursuit of learning. In recognition of that and of the connection between Susquehannans, you will each be handed a pewter acorn from a member of the Class of 2003 who also spoke to you during Convocation in your first year, Jenni Rach.
Members of the Class of 2008, the recommendation of the faculty that underlies the conferral of your degrees is Susquehanna’s expression of our belief that each of you does understand your place in the chain of human history. But, to be truly educated, you must give yourself to the process of learning and the pursuit of curiosity. Seek answers to questions. Impart your knowledge on others. Your education isn’t ending, it is just beginning.
Congratulations and Godspeed.