If it weren’t for the black caps and gowns, it would have been easy to assume that the young crowd hanging out in the Saratoga Performing Arts Center parking lot Saturday was tailgating before a rock concert.
The Skidmore College grads-to-be sported goofy glasses, downed drinks and joked around in the warm May sun.
Psychology major John Mantas of Niskayuna grinned when asked if he planned to go home and live in the basement after receiving his diploma.
“My brother’s there already. I can’t go there,” he said, Dunkin’ Donuts iced coffee in hand. “I’ll be upstairs hopefully.”
Mantas said he plans to stay at home for a year and work. Then it’s off to grad school.
He called his years at Skidmore “an amazing blur.”
“I’m not quite sure what happened, but it was a good time,” he assured.
On the SPAC grounds, the good times rolled on. Spectators staked out spots on the lawn and lounged on blankets.
A red-haired girl with the words “Time to Shine” pasted atop her mortarboard tipped a green bottle of Andre champagne to her lips and then passed it to the student standing next to her.
Bryn Schockmel of Schodack Landing was not among those sipping champagne, but she was bubbly over the prospect of receiving her bachelor’s degree in art history.
“I’ve been to a bunch of concerts here. It’s cool to now be walking across the stage,” she said. Schockmel, who is headed overseas to study for a master’s in art history at the Courtauld Institute of Art in London, dreams of being a curator one day.
Walking across the bridge to the SPAC grounds, Laquan Victoria of Albany was all smiles when he spoke of his son Terron, a Skidmore basketball player who was graduating with a business degree and will be going overseas to pursue a career in professional basketball.
On this picture-perfect day without a cloud in the sky, it was easy to imagine that every one of the 628 new baccalaureate degree-holders will have nothing but bright futures ahead. But those who spoke to the students during the college’s 101st commencement ceremony cautioned that life in the “real world” is certain to toss challenges their way.
“I dare say that most of you are sitting here today with very precise and vivid fantasies of what you’d like your life to be,” honorary degree recipient Ron Chernow, an award winning biographer, said to the crowd. “… But it’s my sad task to tell you — and I’m sorry to be the one to break the bad news — that for many, if not most of you, your lives will bear scant resemblance to the lavish daydreams that you harbor today.”
Chernow, who won the Pulitzer Prize for his book “Washington: a Life,” told the crowd that many grand graduation schemes will go up in smoke. But that’s not necessarily bad news, he added, encouraging the graduates to use adversity to enrich their lives.
Terence Blanchard, a jazz trumpeter, band leader, composer, arranger and multiple Grammy Award winner who also received an honorary degree at the ceremony, told the crowd a personal story of a crisis-turned-blessing.
When he was in fourth grade, he was inspired to play the trumpet after hearing a jazz musician play at his elementary school. Blanchard’s father was friends with the musician, and asked the trumpet player if he would teach his son to play jazz.
“I was all excited to see what he was going to say and he said, ‘no.’ ” Blanchard recounted. “He said, ‘He’s got to learn that for himself.’ I was crushed, but it was probably the best thing I could have heard because it prepared me for the future. It made me understand that you have to learn things for yourself.”
Honorary degree recipient Suzanne Corbet Thomas, a member of the Skidmore Class of 1962, board member and past chair of the board of trustees, said that the liberal arts education that the students received has given them the tools to create and celebrate their uniqueness. She urged the students to “listen to that unique voice. That’s where your strength lies. Follow it and make a life that matters.”
College president Philip Glotzbach noted that the excitement of graduation is inevitably tinged with a sense of loss and uncertainty about the future.
“And yet these feelings are counterbalanced by an awareness of the horizon of limitless possibility that opens up now before you,” he said.
Grace Burton, associate professor of Spanish, delivered the commencement remarks. The crowd chuckled as she spoke about growing up in the years B.C. — before computers — and before digital TV, cable TV and color TV.
On a more serious note, she encouraged students to embrace silence, space, disappointment and loss, which she said will bring them wisdom.
New graduates also received diplomas Saturday from Hudson Valley Community College and graduate degrees from the University at Albany.
An all-time high of 2,325 HVCC students were eligible to participate in the college’s 58th commencement, which was held at the Joseph L. Bruno Stadium.
Thomas A. Constantine, former superintendent of the New York State Police, addressed the crowd at UAlbany’s graduate commencement, which was held at the SEFCU Arena. Constantine also served as administrator of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency in the 1990s.