Class of 2020 Commencement Speech
From President Carlee Drummer, Ph.D.
Greetings – and congratulations – to the Columbia-Greene Community College Class of 2020! Last September, when we began the new academic year, no one could have imagined that your graduation day on May 16 would be hijacked by a pandemic known as COVID-19.
Regardless of not being together today, you will forever be the C-GCC Class of 2020, and I hope as alumni you will treasure wonderful memories of the time you spent at the College and the relationships you forged – for the rest of your life. And, I am looking forward to celebrating your achievements with you and your families later this year on November 28.
Even without a crisis, Commencement is an emotional time. You are happy to be finished with your coursework and proud of your accomplishments, but you undoubtedly are quite anxious about what lies ahead. Indeed the past three months have brought into clear focus how quickly our lives can change. And I think it’s important to think about your future in a different way.
In 1918, at the height of World War I, the Spanish Flu pandemic suspended the world in uncertainty and took the lives of approximately 50 million people. But this crisis spawned a number of positive outcomes.
Stricken by the virus and lying in his sick bed, the young poet T. S. Eliot began writing what would become “The Waste Land”, a literary masterpiece that begins, “April is the cruelest month”. The poem heralded a new modernist era in literature that led to Eliot winning the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1948.
While caring for wounded soldiers at a military base, a 20-year-old fledgling nurse, Amelia Earhart, contracted the disease. During her recovery, while spending countless hours staring out the window, she watched aircraft taking off and landing and began thinking about a career in aviation. Ten years later, she became the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic.
The Spanish flu also acted as an incubator for The Bauhaus, an architectural movement that emerged with “a new aesthetic” for the modern world. Architect Marcel Breuer designed tubular steel furniture that was easy to clean, and his colleague Marianne Brandt introduced clean-lined household objects from metal teapots to lamps. As one historian notes, “Their sleek modern designs – still popular today – were not just lifestyle choices but vital to survival.” (Milken Institute: Kulapat Yantrasast)
Apple CEO Tim Cook observes, “Those who meet times of historical change with their eyes and hearts open – forever restless and forever striving – are also those who leave the greatest impact on the lives of others.” Think about the people who impact you beyond your loved ones and your friends – the healthcare professionals, first responders, grocery store clerks, farmers who keep food on our tables, gas station attendants, postal employees, delivery drivers, auto mechanics, and so many more. These are people who willingly risk their lives by serving others.
So, Class of 2020, you are entering new territory and have the opportunity to change the world – through the arts, medicine, technology, and fields not yet discovered. You are a talented and diverse group, and I look forward to seeing how each of you will put your education – and innovative spirit – to work. As Abraham Lincoln noted, “The best way to predict your future is to create it.”
To that end, I share the following poem, “The Dash”, by Linda Ellis:
I read of a man who stood to speak
at the funeral of a friend.
He referred to the dates on the tombstone
from the beginning to the end.
He noted that first came the date of birth
and spoke the following date with tears,
but he said what mattered most of all
was the dash between those years.
For that dash represents all the time
that they spent alive on earth.
And now only those who loved them
know what that little line is worth.
For it matters not, how much we own,
the cars . . . the house . . . the cash,
What matters is how we live and love
and how we spend our dash.
So think about this long and hard.
Are there things you’d like to change?
For you never know how much time is left
that can still be rearranged.
If we could just slow down enough
to consider what’s true and real
and always try to understand
the way other people feel.
And be less quick to anger,
and show appreciation more.
and love the people in our lives
like we’ve never loved before.
If we treat each other with respect,
and more often wear a smile,
remembering that this special dash
might only last a little while.
So, when your eulogy is being read,
with your life’s actions to rehash . . .
would you be proud of the things they say
about how you spent YOUR dash?
Congratulations, Class of 2020! Enjoy the journey, and think about what you will do with YOUR dash.