When Sallie Chisholm took the stage Saturday morning at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center to address the Skidmore College Class of 2015, she looked out at a student body drastically different from her own Class of 1969.
“For one thing, there were no men in my Skidmore,” she said.
Her class was recently the subject of a documentary film, “Women of ’69, Unboxed,” about the changes that took place at Skidmore as the college, and the rest of the nation, moved through turbulent social changes.
The film gave Chisholm a chance to see where many of her classmates ended up 46 years later, she said.
“No one could have predicted the paths that we would take based on our hopes and dreams, or lack thereof, when we graduated, myself included,” she said.
Chisholm was awarded an honorary Doctor of Laws degree as the college presented 632 degrees at its 104th commencement.
Chisholm majored in biology at Skidmore and went on to become a leading biological oceanographer whose findings revolutionized scientists’ understanding of ocean life and won her a National Medal of Science, presented by President Barack Obama in 2013.
As she concluded her short speech Saturday, she advised the new graduates to keep their eyes open and appreciate their lives as they live them.
“I wish you the best of luck in your next chapter,” she said. “You can be sure of one thing: It will unfold in ways you just can’t imagine.”
Chisholm was one of many to offer words of encouragement and advice as parents and friends packed the amphitheater at SPAC to watch students triumphantly cross the stage and put their college days behind them. Along with Chisholm, the college awarded an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree to teacher, author and activist Julian Bond, who has been a prominent civil rights leader for more than 50 years.
In his speech, Bond told of his grandfather, born in Kentucky in 1863, who walked 100 miles to attend college and delivered the commencement speech three years later. He spoke about the history of civil rights advancements in the 20th century, noting that “students like you” often played a large role, and he encouraged the graduates to continue in that tradition.
“As you go forth from this place, we hope you do well, but we also hope you will do good,” he said. “If my grandfather was here, I think he’d ask me, ‘What did you do with your freedom?’ Someday, someone will ask you, ‘What did you do with your education?’ Be sure you have an answer.”
Other colleges across the Capital Region also celebrated graduations Saturday.
SUNY Polytechnic Institute’s College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering held its commencement ceremony at the Albany NanoTech Complex, awarding 48 undergraduate and advanced degrees, while 2,186 students graduated from Hudson Valley Community College at its 61st annual commencement at the college’s Joseph L. Bruno Stadium in Troy
The Sage Colleges awarded nearly 800 degrees during its 98th commencement at the Houston Field House on the RPI campus in Troy; and 233 students graduated from the Albany College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences at its 135th commencement at the Empire State Plaza Convention Center in Albany.