If ever there was a time that a generation needed to know good people exist, it’s now.
After a year of shooting sprees and bombings, unthinkable crimes and a society growing more wary of its potential for depravity with every head-shaking headline, the College of Saint Rose Class of 2013 heard a message we’re all desperate to believe: “Good people finish first.”
The four words were the central message of James Sandman’s commencement address Saturday morning inside the Times Union Center. The Albany native, Saint Rose graduate and one of the nation’s leading legal representatives for the poor didn’t offer any tried-and-true keys to success. He didn’t assure graduates they would find the cure for cancer or create world peace. Instead, he offered a gut message, one he knew to be true from experience.
“Whoever said that nice guys finish last was a cynic, a loser and wrong,” Sandman said to applause just a few minutes after receiving an honorary degree. “I came to my own conclusion that good people finish first from observing successful people I admire. In every instance, I have noticed that their character has contributed to their success.”
Sandman had many role models who confirmed to him good people finish first, but none more than his father.
Edgar Sandman graduated from Albany Law School near the top of his class, but couldn’t find a job, “in part because of blatant discrimination against Catholics,” his son explained Saturday.
So he took a job rolling pennies in the basement of an Albany bank, where years later he became president before eventually being recruited as a senior executive at one of New York City’s largest banks.
“No one would ever describe my dad as a self-promoter,” the younger Sandman said. “Quite the contrary. When you talk to people about my dad, the first thing they mention about him is his integrity. Rock solid integrity. He is a man of his word, a straight shooter. He has a preternatural instinct for the right thing to do, and he just does it as if there were no other alternative.”
Like father, like son — the younger Sandman has exhibited those qualities in his own career and commitments.
Sandman spent 30 of his nearly 40 years as a lawyer working product liability and toxic tort cases. In 2007, he joined public service to some raised eyebrows, and three years later he became president of the Legal Services Corp., a Washington nonprofit that promotes access to justice for low-income Americans across the country.
He ended his speech by reminding Saint Rose graduates their education may have bolstered their academic knowledge, but more importantly, it instilled in them values of honesty, trust, respect, fairness, responsibility and service to others.
“These are the real benefits of a Saint Rose education,” he said. “Whatever you do, be confident, be certain in the knowledge that good people finish first.”
Before conferring 626 bachelor’s degrees and 983 master’s degrees, college President David Szczerbacki urged graduates not to join the naysayers who question whether a college degree is really worth it.
“When you hear that the economy is poor or that the world is spinning out of control or that the sky is otherwise falling, remember that you and only you control your destiny,” he said. “Rise above the cynicism, negativism and defeatism that will be all around you.”
SUNY Cobleskill also held its commencement Saturday morning, this year forgoing a lawn ceremony for an indoor one because of rain. Comedian and 1995 graduate Pete Dominick delivered the commencement speech, taking the stage after remarks from College President Candace S. Vancko, College Council Chair Olive Scott, Vice President for Student Affairs Steven Ackernecht and Student Government Association President Julicia Godbout. More than 500 degrees were conferred as part of the ceremony.