It is an honor for me to welcome you to this commencement ceremony. I have been the President of Clinton Community College for four years; we have two commencement ceremonies per year; so this will be the eighth time that I have delivered such a greeting here. And if the truth be told, I have delivered similar remarks with only minor variations at most of the previous seven commencements. So this time, I thought that I should change things up a bit, but over the last few days, writer’s block has made it hard for me to get out of my rut.
Yesterday, after several unproductive hours of straining to write and then starting over again, I set my writing aside and turned my attention to the mountain of e-mail that was accumulating in my inbox. It was there that I found a message from a dear friend. This friend went out of their way to say a few kind words and to brighten my day. Their e-mail concluded with an uplifting quote from a famous person. The exact quote is irrelevant to today’s ceremony, but my friend’s random act of kindness refocused my attention. As I composed my response to thank them, I looked for a quote to send to them in reply.
An Internet search for -- you guessed it -- “quotes on kindness” returned a long list of suggestions. But as luck would have it, the first one I saw was attributed to Mother Teresa. Without going into too much personal detail, suffice it to say that I never thought I would be quoting Mother Teresa. Most people would think it more likely for me to quote a scientist like Albert Einstein, a statesman like Benjamin Franklin or a visionary like John F. Kennedy. But life is full of surprises.
When I read this particular quote, I knew it was just the right quote to send to my friend, but it also struck me as excellent advice for this year’s graduating class. Let me explain.
Have you noticed anything unusual about this year’s graduating class? Many of them are sporting special-edition Clinton Community College “Be Nice” sunglasses tonight. They are part of a year-long, grass-roots Campus Civility Campaign that has really caught on among our students.
I’m not sure who came up with the “Be Nice” tagline, but it is elegant in its simplicity. It appears on sunglasses, buttons, wristbands and lanyards that people have been wearing around campus. Those gadgets have been a constant reminder to us to… well… to be nice. And Class of 2013, let me applaud you for being one of the nicest classes of students that I have had the pleasure to know. I hope that in some small way, your experience at Clinton has helped you in that regard.
What you have learned in your classes and from your textbooks is excellent preparation for life and career. While it is no guarantee of future success, it will help you to be better prepared for the opportunities that will come your way after you leave Clinton. As important, or maybe even more important, are those lessons that I hope you have learned about your fellow human beings and how we all interact with each other. For therein lies the true power of our human society.
One of Clinton Community College’s Core Values is “Community.” When the College identified that Core Value as part of our 2012-2017 Vision, Mission and Values, the definition of “Community” was deliberately left open to interpretation. To some, and at some times, we think of how we value and serve our external community: Plattsburgh, Clinton County or even New York State and the World. But to others, and at other times, we think of how we value each other within this campus community, and how important it is for each of us to be a productive part of our campus community.
As my friend’s random act of kindness distracted me from my writer’s block, I found that it also allowed me to clear my head and be open to what was already right in front of me. And so, members of Class of 2013, I close by congratulating you on your accomplishments to date and wishing you continued success as you meet the challenges and opportunities of the future. And I leave you with this quote from Mother Teresa:
People are often unreasonable and self-centered. Forgive them anyway.
If you are kind, people may accuse you of ulterior motives. Be kind anyway.
If you are honest, people may cheat you. Be honest anyway.
If you find happiness, people may be jealous. Be happy anyway.
The good you do today may be forgotten tomorrow. Do good anyway.
Give the world the best you have and it may never be enough. Give your best anyway.
For you see, in the end, it is between you and God. It was never between you and them anyway.
That's what I think. Please let me know what you thing by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.