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Commencement Address

Fred GrosseFred A. Grosse
Professor Emeritus of Physics

Grosse is the longest-serving faculty member in Susquehanna's history.

May 13, 2012

There are so many people I would like to thank for allowing me to be here:

Presidents Weber, Messerli, Cunningham and Lemons, who have signed my contracts. I think that was their solution to the unemployment situation.

The deans: Reuning, who hired me. Neff, Crumpacker, Fletcher, Housley, Martin and McMillin, colleagues who went insane and became deans. Funk and the best of them all, Terry Winegar, who is leaving us this summer.

My colleagues and fellow teachers. Thank you for retreats, conversations, boring faculty meetings and comradeship. Especially thanks for the applause given at the last faculty meeting. It touched my heart. AND it was longer than the applause for Dean Winegar. Am I competitive, or what?

My children, who grew up on old SU’s broad campus, "whose trees do whisper secrets grave, amusing and profound"—especially the wiggle vine tree, which they climbed. Thanks for the distractions: broken ankles and collarbones, falls from horses, and sledding trips down Chapel Hill first day it snowed.

My wife, Sherrill, who kept me working so long. “You are not going to retire and get under my feet all day.” She seems to now want me home. A few Fridays ago I went home early, and she allowed me to help her pull weeds. Dean Winegar, can I have my job back?

You students. When I came to SU, there were only two students. I can still remember their names—Adam and Eve. Dean Winegar gave me that line.

In truth, there were about 750, and I knew 80 percent of them. Today I know only those in my classes. Wish I knew more. Thanks to all of you for keeping me young at heart. You never got any older, why should I?

Perhaps most of all, thanks to you parents, grandparents, stepparents, uncles and aunts. You’ve paid me all these years to work at the best job in the world. Except maybe for playing second base for the Phillies.

Thank you all.

Clyde Jacobs, who gave us the Jacobs Fitness Center, won the U.S. National Clay Court Championships, 80 and over, at the Tennis Hall of Fame in Newport. He told me, “Just keep on playing. After a while, your opponents can’t see the ball or can’t run for it, or they just die off.” I guess that’s how I got here.

Fifty-two years. Boy, am I in a rut!

Clyde was telling me—and I’m telling you—that a character trait of great importance for your life is perseverance. Write that in your notes; it will be on the test. Or you might remember:

Give it an hour a day,
And your life is a roll in the hay.
Exams are a breeze,
You might even get Bs,
Holy cats (there is a phrase from an ancient culture),
Maybe even an A.

Keep on playing. Ahead or behind, keep on playing.

Don’t think about the score, salary, rewards, winning or losing. Keep on playing. The very first SU women’s tennis coach—I coached the men—told me, “In tennis, you have no control over the score—you can never win a match. All you can do is hit the ball over the net and into the court one more time. The score will take care of itself.”

Or, as a sign in the Wildwood, N.J., bus station taught me circa 1955:

As you wander through life, pilgrim,
Whatever be your goal,
Keep your eye upon the doughnut
And not upon the hole.

Grades are the holes in academic life. Study—do your job every day, learn the material—and grades take care of themselves. What was that word I told you to write down?

Our University Theme in 2013 is “Technology in Our Lives.” Let me give you some history.

In 1960, when I came to SU, if President John F. Kennedy wanted to telephone me, Joyce Gilbert, assistant registrar, would answer the phone in her office in Selinsgrove Hall. She would then walk over to Steele Hall basement, where the physics department—me—and the math department—Skip Robinson—shared an office. I would walk over to her office, pick up the phone and say, “Yes, Mr. President!” or more likely, “Hi, Bob”—my kid in first grade in the new elementary school—“of course I’ll pick you up at 3:15.”

Today, it seems like every student walking by has a phone hardwired to his or her ear.

I taught the first computer course here in the late ‘60s. We wrote FORTRAN programs on punch cards, threw them in a bag, and a math teacher who lived in Lewisburg took them to Bucknell, where they were run through the computer and returned by automobile.

We got a Boroughs B5570 mainframe in 1973. It was housed in what is now the SU radio station. The air conditioning bill was $35,000 a year. Main memory was 260K. Most of the telephones in your ears have 11 gigs—that is close to a billion times more power.

Math Professor and first Faculty Speaker Wallace Growney knew in the '60s how computers would change our lives. Wally and I supervised SU students who programmed in COBOL and wrote all the programs for the SU administration.

When my student, colleague and friend Koz signed us up for the JOVE program, studying the atmosphere of Mercury, Mars and the moon, I could help with the computer work. I got lost when ICONS and JAVA were introduced. Keep up with world progress.

Progress—that is another word to write down.

Learn to use new technology and new ideas in whatever you do. Don’t let change be a dirty word, unless you are changing your baby’s diapers.

In my early days, I thought I was the best teacher ever. I thought I was the best whatever, ever.

Pride is a sin. Fortunately I ran across a quote from Edward Gibbon, who wrote The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire: “The power of instruction is seldom of much efficacy, save in those happy circumstances in which it is superfluous.”

I guess that put me in my place.

But do take pride in your accomplishments; they are your life. Parents, take pride in your children; they are wonderful accomplishments in your life. Mine were. But lock your doors—they need to fly on their own.

Keep in touch with your classmates. Come back and visit us on homecoming and alumni days. Stop by to say hello to your favorite teacher. That is the biggest paycheck we get. You might say hello to the one you liked least. Time changes all things.

One of my favorite students, Bob Pickart, and I have agreed to email every five years, whether we have something to say or not.

Pride and People—write those down.

If I had more time, I’d love to tell you about the academic building fire, the Kennedy assassination and the flu epidemic, three events in three consecutive years that shut down campus for an extra week before Thanksgiving. I’d tell you about the helicopter that placed the cross on Weber Chapel, the orange octopus, the pumpkin on the music building, and my most embarrassing moment.

But just like 52 years, time flies.

I see that you are rutching around (Pennsylvania Dutch for what students do when class is running late). You are in a hurry to get off to better things. Good! But I have one more thing to tell you, so sit still. And Brandon, pay attention. Projectile motion demonstrated with chalk usually does get their attention.

I can’t spell.

During my first semester here, I placed a sign on a GA (the building that burned down) bulletin board. President Weber found me on campus that day. “At SU, we spell semester with an e.”

To this day, I don’t know what a ster is, but a semester is half of something, so I still tend to spell it "semister."

There was another word I couldn’t spell, and I needed a mnemonic, an aid to memory, to spell it. Like ROY-G-BIV for colors or SOH-CAH-TO-A for right triangles.

My daughter BJ, now Elizabeth, was 3. One of the SU cheerleaders was her babysitter. She invited BJ to cheer with the squad. BJ’s grandmother made her a costume so she looked just like the “big girls.” She was good; for three years she never cheered for a losing team. The day we tied Oberlin, it was pouring rain, and we did not let her go to the game. She was even in Philadelphia when little SU beat Temple University, 21 to 18.

So, 3-year-old BJ helped me remember how to spell that word that means so very much. Let me share her method with you. Please echo my sounds.

Go, Crusaders!

Just remember not to write the last u when you spell the word.

Class is dismissed! Pick up your diploma as your name is called. 

Note: Taken from prepared text. Actual remarks may have deviated from what was prepared.

Susquehanna architectural image

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