CLINTON — In his address at Hamilton College’s commencement, Freeman Hrabowski, president of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, advised graduates to “keep asking the hard questions and keep thinking of things we’ve not thought about – about social justice and inequality and seeking the truth.”
Hrabowski gave the address at Hamilton’s commencement on Sunday, May 26, in the Margaret Bundy Scott Field House where 491 students received bachelor’s degrees. He was awarded an honorary degree, along with The New Yorker cartoonist Roz Chast, former director of the Office of Management and Budget Shaun Donovan, and Hamilton alumnus and trustee Jeff Little ’71.
The Class of 2019 valedictorian was Jonathan Stickel, a mathematics and economics double major from Pittsburgh. Colleen Wahl, a computer science major from Berkeley, Calif., was salutatorian.
Hrabowski told graduates, “The way we think about ourselves, the class of 2019, as Hamilton College, as a country, as humankind, the language that we use in interacting with each other, the values that we hold will be so important because we become like whatever it is we really love. Our dreams and our values shape not only who we are today but who we will be in the future.”
Hrabowski advised graduates to “not only know your stories but learn the stories of others… how you got here today.” He told them to “keep asking the hard questions and keep thinking of things we’ve not thought about – about social justice and inequality and seeking the truth.
“The significance of a liberal arts education is that you never stop learning. You’re constantly learning new things,” he added.
Hrabowski told the story of how, when he was growing up, his grandmother would make two blueberry pies – one for the family and one just for him. While his mother would be upset as she was trying to teach him to eat healthy, his grandmother would encourage him to enjoy the pie while he was doing his math homework. “That is what I call savoring the moment,” recalled Hrabowski.
“Graduates, this is your blueberry pie moment. I want you to take this moment and savor it because there will be times you’ll be challenged, and you’ll have to ask yourself, ‘will I be ok?’ And my message to you is you’ll be very ok.”
“Remember that you’re sitting with your families who support you, and who got you here. This is your blueberry pie moment,” Hrabowski said.
Hrabowski also reiterated the words of Phi Beta Kappa secretary and CEO Fred Lawrence who said the most important things we can teach students are to present arguments with facts; to be willing to listen to other points of view and evaluate them; and to look for that common ground for the public good.
Also speaking at Commencement was Jonathan Stickel who in addition to being valedictorian received The James Soper Merrill Prize, and class speaker Matt Albino of Woodbury, Conn., chosen by his classmates.
Stickel likened the class’ four years at Hamilton to a stream. “If we turn back and reflect on our own lives prior to our arrival here, we can see some of the twists and turns that life threw our way. … In a similar sense, we can look back at Hamilton College as an institution prior to our arrival here and see some of the people and events that helped mold it. But, as we look back, we really can only see so far with clarity.
“For the last four years, we’ve been in that spot where the two little streams pour into each other, mixing their contents … But no matter how different our experiences were, and no matter how different the confluence may look, we all were forced to undergo this process of combining all that we are with all that Hamilton is.
“And as our streams merged, we were changed by Hamilton yet we also have changed Hamilton. Because, Hamilton is the people who comprise it, and as of the last four years, the people who comprise Hamilton has included us, the Class of 2019.”
Class speaker Matt Albino said he was influenced by Liz Joynt Sanburg a professor at Second City in Chicago where he completed a program last summer. He said she posed two questions:
1) What assumptions are you making?
And 2) Do those assumptions serve you?
Albino said the assumption he had – “’Surely I’m not someone with something of worth to say,’” did not serve him when thinking about his speech. “In fact, it was hindering me, begging me to be small and quiet,” said Albino. “For many of us, assumptions like these are a regular occurrence…. But) I want to remind you all, that as a class we have collectively shattered assumptions that have boxed us in.
“The most exciting moments and the most meaningful changes have come when we broke notions that boxed us in… And I know for some of us, breaking assumptions that box us in is a question of personal safety. But I hope that we, as a class of intelligent, caring, and creative individuals can continue to collaborate together in order to break the boxes that make us and those around us feel invisible.
I’m proud of what this class has disrupted and I’m excited to see what you all shake up next,” Albino said.