2012 Presidential Commencement Address
May 18, 2012 – 11:00 AM
Kenneth P. LaValle Stadium
Thank you Professor Walter. 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 2012 -- welcome to Stony Brook’s 52nd Commencement ceremony. You members of the Class of 2012 who have chosen to come to commencement are, of course, my favorites from among the nearly 6,500 students that applied to graduate from Stony Brook University today, and I congratulate each and every one of you. Well done, well done, well done. 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 61 members of the Association of American Universities (AAU), the most prestigious research universities in North America.
This has been a great year for Stony Brook University — so you, the class of 2012, will always be associated with one of most memorable years in our history: the remarkable 150 million dollar gift from Jim and Marilyn Simons and the Simons Foundation that is already changing our campus in so many good ways, the SUNY 2020 legislation which will pay tremendous benefits for the University over the next five years, the opening of a new campus in South Korea, the official ribbon cutting for our new Laufer Center, the establishment of new endowed professorships in Art, Medicine, and Computer Sciences, Tavis Smiley and Cornell West inspiring the campus, conference championships in women’s tennis, football and men’s soccer, basketball and lacrosse — and how about Wiz Khalifa at Stony Brook?
I know many of you will be leaving campus, but each of these things will benefit you in the long run, because they will add greatly to the overall student experience at SBU, and will drive increased excellence in teaching and research at your alma mater. And make no mistake about it, our excellence will add value to your degree. The better we get, the more doors that will open for you. 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 2012, we are pulling for you: I know you will 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 all of you, but I did the math, and even at five minutes per student it would significantly prolong today’s ceremony — by about 8 days. So instead I will focus on just three.
Yaseen Eldik is Stony Brook University’s first Harry S. Truman Scholar, receiving this distinguished national award for his groundbreaking work on Islamophobia among college students. Through a documentary film, scholarly work soon to be published in a distinguished law journal, and online publications, Yaseen has been a voice for tolerance and understanding, a fundamental tenet of the Stony Brook community and our campus compact. Yaseen, congratulations on your Truman Scholarship, and our best wishes as you begin your work at the White House … yes, that White House.
Juliana Perez Calle came to the United States with her mother from Columbia when she was five years old. They began life in the U.S. with nothing but two suitcases and $100. They moved many times, and Juliana attended more than 10 different New York City public schools. Despite terrible odds (none of her ESL second grade classmates went beyond a high school education), her love of learning and determination put her on a path to college. But when Juliana prepared to take the PSAT she discovered for the first time that she was an undocumented student — she was told she would never attend college. Through intense efforts, and the help of a donor who helped pay for her tuition, she was able to enroll at SBU, where she has become a successful student, campus leader, and, courageously, a spokesperson for the New York State DREAM Act, which would help other undocumented students realize their dream of a college education. Juliana, thank you for all you have done at SBU, and for your courage in bringing your story to us today.
At age 11, Brooke Ellison was struck by a car on her way home from school and left paralyzed from the neck down. She became a champion for hope and motivation, attended Harvard University, graduating magna cum laude, and serving as Harvard’s commencement speaker in 2000. She has become a leading spokesperson for stem cell research, and serves on the Ethics Committee of the Empire State Stem Cell Research Board, which oversees New York’s stem cell research initiative. Today Brooke receives her PhD in Sociology from Stony Brook University, having successfully defended her thesis Life Lines: Stem Cell Research in a Globalized World. Brooke has said: “Wherever there is a condition of discouragement or inopportunity, that’s where I hope to be.” Brooke, you inspire us every day with your courage and your unparalleled desire to have an impact on the world. Congratulations on your doctorate, and we are so grateful that you are a part of the Stony Brook University community.
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, and once again I ask everyone present to applaud all of our incredible graduates.
It is time to acknowledge one more 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 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."
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 150,000 Stony Brook alumni whose lives and work personify the mission of the University. Now go forth and prosper!
Samuel L. Stanley Jr., M.D.