Sunday, May 13, 2007 – 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 149th 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'd like to thank Cate Pasculli for leading us in America the Beautiful. 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.
Members of the class of 2007, 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 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 family.
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 2007 comes with grateful hearts and much love. Graduates will you share your appreciation.
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. During our opening Convocation in August of 2003, the metaphor of the college experience as a journey was first introduced to you as we took a virtual hike together along the Appalachian Trail. On Friday, Dr. Jennifer Elick and I were among 110 of you on a vigorous hike up Mount Mahanoy. How about one last pop quiz? Hikers: What happened 320 million years ago?
In addition to learning a bit of geological history, we learned that a successful hike is based on preparation, guidance, direction, teamwork, persistence and a healthy dose of fun. I know each has been a part of your Susquehanna experience – surely some more than others – and I trust that the part of your journey that ends here today was as rewarding as it was challenging.
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 who will apply what they have learned at Susquehanna in shaping the future of your communities and our world. 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.
Collectively and individually, the Class of 2007 has a significant legacy. Yet the best is before you. You leave here today 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 in 1858 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.
In December of this past year, at 91 years of age, we lost the Reverend Raymond Shaheen; Padre, as he was known to everyone. Many of you might have met him when you first visited Susquehanna, as he loved to greet visitors to the Admissions office. His warm voice would ring with the words, "Welcome!" or "We are so glad you are here." Padre exemplified the Susquehanna Way and our close-knit community. We drew on that strength and also found solace in one another as we mourned his passing, along with the loss of our brothers and sisters at Virginia Tech, with whom we share the unusual bond of orange and maroon, and earlier in your years here two members of the Class of 2007, Bob Murphy and Katie Kasinecz. There have been lessons for all of us in these losses – be part of a community, draw strength from it, add strength to it, lean on and care for one another. Hold tight to those lessons as you prepare to leave this place.
As I reflect back again to Opening Convocation 2003, 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!
On that day in August when you arrived as newcomers I told you of the giant red oak tree that we lost the summer before you arrived. You may recall that we offered to each of you an acorn to mark your new beginning here in the fertile soil of the Greater Susquehanna Valley. I told you then that the acorn has rich symbolic meaning for people throughout the world and that it is variously associated with wisdom, strength, abundance, success, protection and potential. Like the tree we planted together that September to take the place of that grand old oak tree, each of you planted yourselves here and your branches have grown in these four years as you became rooted in the Susquehanna family.
In recognition of that, after you receive your diploma today, you will each be handed a pewter acorn from a member of the Class of 1981 and former president of the Alumni Board, Virginia Lloyd.
Members of the Class of 2007, as I said to you in August 2003, it is our belief that each of you has capacity to grow into a mighty oak one day. The recommendation of the faculty that underlies the conferral of your degrees is Susquehanna's expression of your capacity to become a giant in your own right and to bring comfort, shelter and shade to your environment. May these small keepsakes remind you of your roots here at Susquehanna and of your unending potential for growth.
Congratulations and Godspeed.