No matter how grand the aspirations of this year's college graduates may be, U.S. Rep. Louise Slaughter today told the Class of 2009 at the University of Rochester, "You are not going to be graded on service to others, but your life will not be complete without it."
The opportunity to address approximately 1,000 graduates and their guests at the Arts, Sciences and Engineering commencement filled her, she admitted, with a bit of awe and self-consciousness. "Why should we simply because we have lived a while be telling you the way you should live your lives? asked the 12-term congresswoman. "I don't want you to do the things we ask you to do. I want you to do better—and I know that you will."
Slaughter also accepted the George Eastman Medal from University President Joel Seligman for her exemplary leadership and service representing the 28th Congressional District in Western New York. The 159th commencement ceremony, held on a cool and sunny day at the Eastman Quadrangle of the River Campus, also included the awarding of an honorary Doctor of Laws degree to Eastman Kodak Company Chairman of the Board of CEO Antonio M. Perez, and other honors and congratulatory remarks.
At today's Eastman School of Music commencement, graduates heard Eastman alumnus Mark Volpe, managing director of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, talk about communicating the value of classical music "in a world where a generation has grown up without music education," he said. "Musicians can't remain islands." Christopher Seaman, music director of the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra, received an honorary Doctor of Music degree at Eastman's ceremony in Eastman Theatre with approximately 250 graduates and their guests. (Learn more about Eastman's commencement)
In the College's outdoor ceremony on the Eastman Quadrangle, Slaughter acknowledged today's economic challenges, but encouraged graduates to view the future with optimism: "The degree that you have won from the University of Rochester will be a door-opener for all over the world," she reminded them. "There's a desperate need in this country for talented young people like you to become involved in this world and in public service."
Seligman singled out some of the many seniors who had made community service an integral part of their college experience through relief efforts after Hurricane Katrina, fund-raising for stem cell research, and mentoring hundreds of city school students. "At the University, a commitment to our community is a core value. It means more when times are tough. So many of you are struggling with the challenge of finding your own jobs, but you have taken time to help others . . . Great communities are made of people like you."
Senior Class Council President Yorda Yenenh rallied the graduates with a list of memorable events and simple pleasures shared during four years together. "We have shaped the University just as much as it has shaped us," Yenenh said.
The graduates' place in the city of Rochester was given an historical context when Kodak CEO Perez noted that "Kodak and the University have worked as partners for more than 100 years" on their shared vision for greatness.
When people asked Kodak founder George Eastman why he cared so much about the University, Perez remarked that Eastman had said he had two reasons: "First, 'the progress of the world depends almost entirely upon education.' His second reason: The University was located in Rochester, 'the town I am interested in above all others.' "
Near the closing of the 75-minute ceremony, the University of Rochester Wind Symphony entertained several thousand people in the crowd with Sousa's The Stars and Stripes Forever while seniors unleashed balloons, beach balls, and confetti in a show of celebration.
The number of bachelor's, master's, and doctoral degrees conferred during commencement ceremonies this weekend and on June 14 for the William E. Simon Graduate School of Business Administration ceremony totals 2,624.