Maxwell alumna Phaedra Stewart ’91 finds it difficult to look at the world without seeing opportunities to connect with people, raise their spirits and empower them to make their lives better. A self-described serial entrepreneur (some might say a serial…
Remarks by Chancellor and President Nancy Cantor at Syracuse University’s 153rd Commencement
Remarks by Chancellor and President Nancy Cantor at Syracuse University’s 153rd CommencementMay 15, 2007SU News ServicesSUnews@syr.edu
Webcast of commencement ceremony available at http://commencement.syr.edu
Remarks by Chancellor and President Nancy Cantor at Syracuse University’s 153rd Commencement and the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry’s 110th Commencement
May 13, 2007
I want to offer a warm welcome to the families and friends of the Syracuse University Class of 2007. Congratulations from all the members of the University community! I’d like to ask our faculty, staff, parents and friends to stand and join me in giving the Class of 2007 a huge round of applause — aren’t they wonderful? (Crowd applauds.)
And now I want to ask the 2007 graduates to stand and join me in thanking your families — especially your mothers on Mother’s Day — your professors and your friends with another round of applause. (Students stand, face the audience and applaud.)
Success is always a joint accomplishment, and this celebratory occasion is a very good moment to remember together that none of us got here by ourselves.
Someone held us in their arms when we were babies, fed us, sheltered us, laughed with us, dried our tears. Someone taught us to read, listened to us, helped us dream, believed in us, told us to keep trying. Maybe you can look at them across this great room. Maybe they’re far away. Or maybe they just live in your heart.
This is a good time to remember that none of us can live only for ourselves, no matter how much we are pressured to get ahead, compete with each other, to look out for number one. You know by now that education is more than facts, more than skills, even more than knowledge. Your friends, your professors, your teammates, your workmates, the people you have come to know outside our campus are also part of your education. Taken all together, what you have experienced at Syracuse can be — and must be if we are to collectively thrive in the future — the foundation for living an ethical life. Education gives us the courage to keep asking ourselves what we are living for and what our lives mean to others in this world we share.
As we take stock of that meaning in our own life, we also join everyone around the nation, and indeed the world, in thinking of the loss of life at Virginia Tech. We ask why and how — why did this happen and how could it happen? Just as Syracuse has done since Lockerbie.
And though there are no good answers in either case, in the aftermath of both, we turn naturally to the renewal that is possible when the next generation both remembers and recognizes tragedy and works to heal by standing forth for good.
Here, at SU, this makes me think of the myriad of engagements that you have had with children and their families, whether in the literacy corps here in Syracuse or as far away as Ecuador.
I turn to our partnership with the Syracuse City School District, and the time, experiences and voices that many of you have shared with students in the schools. I think of the remarkable book of poems just published — “Soul Talk” — in which middle school and high school students in Syracuse join our faculty and students and other community members in raising their voices for healing and for hope.
Listen to the words of Alice Mihigo, an 11th-grade student at Nottingham High, who moved to Syracuse in 2001 from her native country, Congo.
Her poem is titled: “We Had Music”
Children were crying loudly There was blood all over the clouds. But our land was taken; We didn’t have food. But still our hearts were filled with goodness Because we had music. We danced all night And, yes, we did all right. Because we had music, Some of us were dying with a big smile, With music.
Though our world is filled with too much lost talent, too many broken hearts, it is also filled with perseverance, with music and with the hope that comes when we do remember, and then turn to each other to embrace those memories in the most constructive way possible, by working on a better world, going beyond the bettering of our own position.
As the great moral philosopher and economist Amartya Sen reminds us, quality of life — real quality of life — must be measured by more than tangible resources alone. In my field of social psychology, we have a name for the pursuit of material things that never really ends or fully satisfies. We call it “a hedonic treadmill,” and we contrast its shortcomings with the sustainable rewards that come from engaging with others and building bonds of community — creating a communal responsibility that satisfies the more basic human need for belonging.
It is my hope that you will take your education, your talent, your imagination, your creativity, your precious and unique self, and join communities of others who will help you create something with lasting meaning, no matter how small it might seem when you begin.
Although we think of ourselves mostly as individuals — and this is somewhat intimidating in a global society riddled with insecurities — everything that has ever been accomplished — everything that has made this world more generous, more humane — has begun with one person talking with another, starting wherever they are and daring to invite others to join them. You are not alone, and you should never try to be.
Have courage. This is my hope for you. And as you make your way together, building a better, more peaceful world, do it with music in your ears.
Celebrate today, and in the days to come, as another of our Soul Talk poets, Lauren Ligon, an 8th-grader at Levy Middle School, wrote:
“Dance Your Heritage”
Dance your heritage Step, swing, sons of kings Tap into your Eternal springs Performance, Emotions, excitement in motion Journey through time A driving devotion So dance to remember, Dance to forget Celebrate your heritage, Get lost in sweat
May you all dance well, and long.
I congratulate you on your achievements, and on all that is yet to come.