Schenectady County

500 earn Union College diplomas

About 500 undergraduates received their diplomas from Union College on Sunday, drenched in the sunsh

About 500 undergraduates received their diplomas from Union College on Sunday, drenched in the sunshine of a sunny June morning and the pride of thousands of friends and family.

Most of the visitors sat on folding chairs or leaned against trees on Hull Plaza at the campus, enjoying light refreshments as the voices of speakers boomed throughout the campus.

“Starting tomorrow, the meal plans and dining halls disappear,” class of 2008 student speaker Varun Shetty told his fellow graduates. “Scariest of all, people might stop referring to us as kids.”

Shetty is from Long Island and graduated with a dual major in biology and political science.

During his four years at Union College, he helped organize fundraisers and get supplies to victims of disasters such as Hurricane Katrina and the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami. He also held a campus vigil to raise awareness of the genocide in Darfur.

“If nothing else, our time here at Union has given us an understanding of the way the world is,” he said. “My education came from students who reached out to people halfway around the world.”

A total of 62 undergraduates from the Capital Region received degrees on Sunday, according to college officials. Although the majority of graduates hail from New York, countries represented in the class of 2008 include Canada, Japan and Ukraine.

Josh DeBartolo and Kaitlyn Canty were the class co-valedictorians. DeBartolo, of Middleburgh, will work in Salt Lake City with Goldman Sachs as an analyst. Canty, of Cheshire, Conn., will attend law school this fall in Hartford, Conn., at the University of Connecticut School of Law.

Honorary degrees were given to John Dower, a professor of Japanese history at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Ruth Simmons, president of Brown University.

“I hope all of you will hold on to the very close friends you have here at Union,” Dower said. “I wish you all Godspeed.”

Dower’s 1999 book, “Embracing Defeat: Japan in the Wake of World War II,” won him a Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award. Some of his recent work has focused on how the United States can learn lessons about the reconstruction of Iraq by studying the aftermath of World War II in Japan.

Simmons, who is the first black president of an Ivy league institution, told the graduates that they were “fully empowered” by their education. She graduated from Dillard University in New Orleans in 1967 and earned a doctorate in Romance languages from Harvard University in 1973.

“In being here, you represent what we wish for all young people,” she said. “Many in the world will never have a chance to make it to this point.”

Simmons said it was important for the graduates to appreciate diversity and practice personal sacrifice. “It is, perhaps to the good, that power often comes cloaked in difference,” she said. “Resist the seduction of segregated enclaves.

“Let this day be one of many hints when you take the time to ponder on your blessing,” Simmons added. “You have the opportunity to make a great difference in the world.”

Union college was founded in 1795 as the first college chartered by the Board of Regents in New York. The college’s 100-acre campus was the first college in the country with a unified campus plan, according to the college’s Web site.

“I would like to close today’s commencement ceremony and send you on your way by paraphrasing the charge that Union’s first president, John Blair Smith, gave to Union students over 200 years ago: ‘As you leave this place, do so ready for a useful life,’ ” college President Stephen C. Ainlay said in his closing speech to the graduates.

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