L. Jay Lemons, Ph.D.
Good afternoon. My name is Jay Lemons and it has been my great honor and privilege to serve as president of Susquehanna University during this 154th 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.
Thank you, Tina Kerstan 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 Brass Quintet for their contributions to the ceremony and to all those who participated in Baccalaureate this morning.
For all assembled, today is joyous as we both celebrate graduation and Mother’s Day. Twenty two years ago, May 13, also happened to be Mother’s Day and it was doubly joyous for the families of Joe Sherlock and Kyle Stavinski, who were born that particular day. Happy birthday Kyle and Joe and Happy Mother’s Day to all!
I would note also that it is the birthday of Bill Moore of the Class of 1963. Bill is a part of a three-generation Susquehanna family who today witnesses his grandson, Eric Tuimisto, receive his degree. There are at least four additional three-generation Susquehanna families celebrating today. Congratulations to all of you and thank you for your loyalty to 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 2012 comes with grateful hearts and much love. Graduates, will you share your appreciation?
And now, 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 along with other members of the staff 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.
The first time we gathered as an assembled body was in August of 2008 for our opening Convocation. That day and that event are probably in the deep recesses of your mind. All of us who spoke that day tried to share with you that this exciting time in your life would be accompanied by challenge and pain along with joy and triumph.
Take a very quick trip with me as I reflect on some of what has transpired in the world and here at Susquehanna in the past four years:
The Great Recession began only days after your arrival here. We saw the fall of giants such as Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers, capital all but froze, and public equity markets lost half their value during your first year here.
You witnessed the election of the first African-American president in the history of the United States, the death of popular musical icons Michael Jackson and Whitney Houston as well as the death of Steven Jobs, whose company became the largest publicly traded company in the world, shortly after he gave us all the iPad.
You shared in the compassionate response to the devastating earthquake in Haiti, some of you lived through the earthquake in New Zealand, and we all shared in the horror at the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear tragedies that engulfed Japan and the devastation of the oil spill that would not end in the Gulf of Mexico.
You witnessed the final Harry Potter movies, the Twilight series has come and thankfully about gone, and the kids from Glee will graduate from high school finally at an average age of 25! On the fashion front, you experienced the rise of skinny jeans, the popularity and fall of both Uggs and Bogs.
Your college years brought the birth of the Tea Party and the Occupy movement. You also witnessed the last combat troops leave Iraq, and the long hunt for Osama Bin Laden come to an end.
Nearer to home you experienced many great thrills and joys. New experiences and new friendships. You also experienced the challenges of the loss of loved ones, homes, and other tragic events.
You survived the swine flu scare of 2009. One of my favorite sections of the Crusader is “Overheard On Campus” In a September 2009 edition, it was reportedly overheard on campus that a student said in the Garret Sports Complex: "Hey! You need to think before you touch, okay? Swine Flu does not discriminate." Many of you found meaning and nourishment in being involved with the Crusader, the Lanthorn and WQSU.
You helped welcome a rabbi to campus and later the birth of her adorable twins.
You were here to celebrate the university’s sesquicentennial at the Market Street Festival where a 300-pound cake depicting the campus was consumed. Talking about Market Street, think about the change you have witnessed there with the opening of Isabella’s, the Cupcakery, Subway, and most recently, Bella’s, and the coming of late night food to Kinfolks.
Change has also been constant on campus as you witnessed the final additions to West Village, the conversion of the St. Pius Church to a new health center, a new Writers House, the completion of the new science building and the renovation of Fisher Hall.
Your time here was also memorable for the theatrical productions during these years. They included: Fiddler on the Roof, the Sound of Music, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the Diary of Ann Frank, The Full Monty, the Laramie Project, the Lion in Winter, Funny Girl and Diana of Dobson’s.
You treated us to memorable opera performances such as Die Fledermaus and The Mikado along with countless vocal and instrumental concerts, recitals and exhibits of student artistic performance that demonstrate growth and learning. You delighted and impressed us with your capstone projects at Senior Scholars Day.
On the athletics front, you brought to Susquehanna conference championships and NCAA playoff appearances in many sports. More than a thousand of us shared in the thrill of the Landmark Conference basketball tourney this winter when the school spirit you created made O.W. Houts gymnasium feel a lot like Duke’s famed Cameron Indoor Stadium.
You travelled to nearly every continent, you sought to address needs and be of help to people throughout the world. You contributed mightily to SU Serve where Susquehannans collectively donated more than 17,500 hours of community service all across the globe during the month of April.
We gathered together this fall in remembrance of the 10th anniversary of the events of Sept. 11, 2001. This was especially poignant for one among the class of 2012, who lost a parent in the bombing of the World Trade Center and stands today as the first survivor child of a 9/11 victim to graduate from Susquehanna. We join with your loved ones in celebration today of your accomplishment.
During your time here you had the opportunity to hear lectures by extraordinary persons like EO Wilson, Charles Ogletree, Amy Jill Levine, Eleanor Clift, Tony Cortese, Angela Davis, Stewart O’Nan and distinguished alumni like John Strangfeld ’75 and Jennifer Perrine ’00 among many, many others.
You had the opportunity to see some of the world’s most talented performers on campus such as Emmanuel Ax, the American Spiritual Ensemble, and the Tokoyo String Quartet here. As well, I expect many of you will recall fondly the appearances here of One Nation, FloRida, Fabolous, Josh Blue, David Cook, the Neon Trees, and of course none of you will forget the night spent in this very space with DJ Pauly D.
You saw the continued growth of TRAX as a place for students to gather along with the birth of Traxportation, and the coming of LeaderShape as another enhancement to student life at Suquehanna. You experienced four Thanksgiving dinners, four candlelight services and four readings of The Night Before Christmas!
Your senior year was truly memorable as it began with something akin to biblical proportions as we felt the east coast earthquake here on campus just as many of you were returning to campus. Followed by a hurricane that was followed by the rains that would not stop and the inevitable flooding that pushed many of you out of your homes on the Isle of Que and pulled others of you there rendering valuable service to displaced residents. We began the year also with heavy hearts with the loss of Professor Richard Kozlowski and soon after the year began we lost David Stefanovige who graduated last May, and Elissa Krivistky of the Class of 2015.
The campus community was also rocked by the car accident of Holly Daubenspeck, who was returning to campus from her student teaching when the torrential rains put her in harm’s way. Holly suffered extraordinary injuries that have kept her from campus this year. Yet her loving family, many thousands of prayers, her amazing faculty and friends, and especially Holly’s own example of strength, courage and determination have given us a life affirming reason to celebrate as Holly will soon cross this stage on time with her classmates in the Class of 2012.
The combined effect 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. I hope that you have developed an equally important sense of being rooted in a community that isn’t bound by acreage. Your relationship with Susquehanna and its people is a lifelong one to be nurtured and shared.
Several years ago, we began a tradition of giving graduates pewter acorns in celebration of the beautiful oak 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 and the cultivation of habits of mind and heart that create the potential for each of you to live a life of achievement, leadership and service.
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 Molly Dougherty, the Outstanding Senior Woman from the Class of 2007, who is today a distinguished teacher.
Trustee Signe Gates has said that one goal of a Susquehanna education is that each student will come to understand his or her place in the chain of human history. It is this expression that underlies the faculty’s recommendation of the conferral of your degrees. But, to be truly educated, you must give yourself wholly to the process of learning. Be curious. Seek answers to questions. Share your knowledge with others. This is the chain of human history. Your education isn’t ending, it is just beginning.
Congratulations and Godspeed.
Note: Taken from prepared text. Actual remarks may have deviated from what was prepared.