2013 Presidential Commencement Address
May 24, 2013
Kenneth P. LaValle Stadium
Thank you Professor Schwartz. I would like to add my greetings to all present today: members of the faculty and staff, parents and friends of the graduates, our distinguished special guests, and above all -- the graduating class of 2013 -- welcome to Stony Brook’s 53rd commencement ceremony. Graduating from Stony Brook University means you have received a degree from one of the best Universities in the world, one of the top 50 public universities in the U.S., and one of the 62 members of the Association of American Universities (AAU), the most prestigious research Universities in North America.
The class of 2013 has a special place in my heart, because many of you entered Stony Brook University with me in 2009. In some sense this is my graduating class, and while I did not fulfill the requirements for a Stony Brook degree, and therefore will not be walking with you today, I do feel a very real bond with each and every one of you. I remember the rain-out of new student convocation, my first Roth Pond regatta, Da Chen’s presentation for the Freshman read, and so many events, including Bruno Mars, playoff football in this stadium, and College World Series baseball. I remember hurricanes, blizzards, budget cuts, but I also remember beautiful days on the Staller steps, the unveiling of the Umbilic Torus, the opening of the Rec Center (by the way it has already had more than 240,000 visits), the electrifying visit from Tavis Smiley and Cornell West, and the chance to watch so many of you transform from wide-eyed Frosh to confident senior. And I hope like me, that you have really enjoyed these four years, and learned a tremendous amount.
I know many of you will be leaving campus, but I want you to know that those of us who stay behind will continue to work tirelessly to improve Stony Brook University. And make no mistake about it, our excellence will add value to your degree. I want the value of your Stony Brook degree to increase every year, making your investment in Stony Brook, both of time and money, the best investment you ever made. I know I speak for every faculty and staff member at Stony Brook when I say we are committed to excellence, committed to seeing this young University achieve greatness. You should expect nothing less. And of course, we have great expectations for you as well. After all, the success of our alumni is one of the seminal ways by which we are defined as a University. Your successes, your accomplishments, your good works, are an integral part of how the world views us, and a fundamental measure of our effectiveness as a University. So class of 2013, we are pulling for you, I know you are going to make us proud.
Why am I so confident? Because some of your classmates have already done some amazing things. Each year I like to highlight just a few of the incredible graduates at Stony Brook University. I really would like to feature each and every one of you, but I did the math, and even at 5 minutes per student it would significantly prolong today’s ceremony, (by about eight days actually). So instead I will focus on just three.
Kevin, an Honors College student who double majored in Mathematics and Physics with a minor in Music, has been selected as a Churchill Scholar by the Winston Churchill Foundation of the United States to study at the University of Cambridge where he will spend the 2013-2014 academic year pursuing a one-year Master of Advanced Study degree in Mathematics. This prestigious award is given each year to select students that demonstrate exceptional academic talent, outstanding achievement and a capacity to contribute to the advancement of academic knowledge in their respective field. We are all extremely proud of Kevin for achieving such a high honor, and as such he honors Stony Brook. Kevin is the first from Stony Brook to be awarded this prestigious scholarship in the tremendously competitive Cambridge Department of Pure Mathematics. That he has accomplished this underlines his prowess as well as that of our Math Department. I could not be more impressed.
Nadia immigrated to this country from Bangladesh with her family as a toddler. She learned as a teenager that she and her mother had overstayed their visas and were considered “undocumented”. In 2011, she received a letter stating that she was due for deportation in 19 days. Her story gained national attention and she and her mother were granted a reprieve. Her experience led her to found the DREAM Team, a club for undocumented students that has raised awareness about this issue and the DREAM Act. She is graduating today with a degree in Psychology with a minor in Studio Art and plans to apply to graduate school in architecture.
James “Zak” Szakmary
Zak quit college in 1967 to enlist for three years in the United States Marine Corps. In May 1968, he left Vietnam and was wounded by friendly fire that summer and spent three weeks in a field hospital. He left Vietnam in June 1969 to complete the balance of his enlistment at Camp Lejeune, N.C. He received nine decorations including a Combat Action Ribbon and a Presidential Unit Citation. He was discharged in 1970 after a relapse of malaria. For 20 years, Zak worked as an air traffic controller, serving at Islip, Republic and Kennedy airports. In 2009, he returned to Suffolk Community College and transferred to Stony Brook in 2011. He’s graduating today with a Bachelor of Science in History and plans to continue his studies in the fall, attending SUNY’s Empire State College for a master’s in Public History.
These are just three examples of the lives of excellence that our students typically live, but I want to compliment all of you on your achievements. The Class of 2013 and all of our students are making a difference on our campus and in our region. Our students helped prepare and man local shelters during hurricane Sandy, and in the seven months since the storm, hundreds of students and staff have participated in organized volunteer recovery efforts in Freeport, Long Beach, Mastic Beach, and more. Four members of the class of 2013, Samuel Rosner, Peter Sheh, Derek Cope and Maggie Knight organized a bone marrow drive, registering more than 800 students and staff, to help those with leukemia or lymphoma. We know of one match that has already resulted from the drive. This is just a small sampling of what our students do, so class of 2013 thank you, from all of us, for everything you have done for us.
It is time to acknowledge one more very important group. I would like to extend a special word of thanks to the parents, relatives and friends of our graduates who have helped them – in ways material and otherwise – to reach the academic goal they have attained today. As the father of four children, I know something about what it takes to provide a son or daughter with the opportunity and tools needed for success. I know that it has not always been easy for you; that in some cases it required real sacrifice to make this day possible. But I also know the joy that a family member feels when a son or daughter, grandchild, niece, nephew, or close friend achieves an important goal – and I am happy to share that joy with you today.
So to the graduates, let me say that years from now, when you think about this day, and you actually will, what you will remember most is not the commencement speech or the details of the ceremony, but being with your loved ones, friends and family members, and their joy at your success. And that’s the way it should be.
In closing, before sending you forth as Stony Brook University graduates, I want to give you three bits of advice that I have shamelessly lifted from other commencement speakers.
First, from Mary Schmich: “Wear Sunscreen. The long-term benefits of sunscreen have been proved by scientists whereas the rest of my advice has no basis more reliable than my own meandering experience."
Second, from Stephen Colbert: “..being pre-approved for a credit card does not mean you have to apply for it. “
Third, as the famous poet said: “the Tassle’s worth the Hassle."
And last, but certainly not least, from my last year’s commencement speech, “Don’t forget to stay engaged with Stony Brook University. Remember the good times, be proud of your degree, and when you can, give back to help others realize their dreams.”
Congratulations, you now join the more than 145,000 Stony Brook alumni whose lives and work personify the mission of the University. Now go forth and prosper!
Samuel L. Stanley Jr., M.D.