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Union College commencement: ‘Make positive differences,’ graduates told

Union College commencement: ‘Make positive differences,’ graduates told

Commencement speaker instructs newest alumni to find, hold on to and never let go of their passion
Union College commencement: ‘Make positive differences,’ graduates told
Union College graduates are shown during the 225th Commencement Ceremony, held Sunday morning in the Memorial Fieldhouse.
Photographer: Marc Schultz / Gazette Photographer

While wet weather may have changed the location of Union College's 225th Commencement Ceremony, it failed to dampen the spirits of the 500 young men and women waiting for their names to be called so they could walk across the stage to receive their diplomas and symbolically begin their futures. 

Sunday's service, held inside the college's Memorial Fieldhouse due to rain, took on a clear theme: that the students who were about embark on the rest of their lives had not only earned their way to the stage, but were also capable of earning anything else they wanted if they simply decided to reach for it.

In his address to the graduating class, President David Harris, speaking at his first commencement as the school's leader, told the soon-to-be alumni that even though they would shortly be going their separate ways, Union College and the experiences they had there would always bind them together.

He also told them to believe that they are ready to venture out into the world, which is in need of the new and innovative ideas they will bring to any table that they sit at.

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"Please stay close to one another and close to those of us who remain here. We brothers and sisters can share wisdom with one another when times are uncertain and celebrate when times are good," he said. “Make positive differences, in ways large and small, in places near and far, with wisdom and compassion. Your brothers and sisters were always broader than your team, your fraternity or sorority, your club, or even the Union community. Now is the time to play on this larger stage. Know that you are ready for what comes next, and that the world needs you.”

Harris also pointed out the symbolism in how the graduates would have left the commencement ceremony, had it been held outdoors in Hull Plaza: Union's newest alumni would have exited west, the direction of opportunity, through the iconic Nott Memorial. 

Commencement speaker Susan Zirinsky, president and senior executive producer of CBS News, received an honorary doctorate of letters.

In her speech, Zirinsky outlined her time in the media sphere, first touching on how she started out as a young woman and then talking about her experience climbing the ranks to become a producer tasked with making tough calls. The thing that got her through the tough days, she said, was her passion, and she encouraged all of the graduates to follow whatever theirs was.

"Find your passion. Find it, hold it, and don't let it go, no matter what," she said.

Zirinsky also involved the students themselves in her speech. At the beginning, she asked that all of the graduates stand up and be recognized for their accomplishments. At the end, she asked the students to turn to their neighbors and shake hands.

"You're going to do something great together," she said. "I'm handing you all the baton. It's time to start the race."

The College also awarded an honorary doctorate of letters degree to Deborah Margolin, a playwright, actor and founding member of Split Britches Theater Company.

Margolin is Professor of the Practice in Yale University’s undergraduate Theater Studies Program.

Christie Dionisos, a double major in neuroscience and gender, sexuality and women's studies, was Sunday's student speaker. While she also congratulated her peers on their collective achievements, she also noted that it's okay to go forward with some uncertainty. The graduates, she said, had already shown that they are capable of great things.

"The seat at the table has been offered to you. You are worthy of this seat and what you do with it is up to you. Prove to the world it is yours," she said.

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