Colgate graduates on Sunday were urged to help change the mood of a nation beset by concerns over the Iraq war, gasoline prices, and even food prices.
Journalist Lesley Stahl, keynote speaker at the university’s 187th commencement, said graduating seniors should urge political candidates to “restore our national and natural pluck and spunk.”
Stahl said seniors are leaving the beautiful Colgate campus and entering an “America not as happy as it has been in the past.”
“We have allowed the terrorists to terrorize us into a society of timidity. We feel angst, and cold feet,” she said.
But the country has showed resilience by bouncing back from similar “down” periods in our history, she said, because “courage and grit are in our DNA.”
“We come from hearty stock,” said Stahl. “All of us.”
Stahl has been a correspondent on 60 Minutes since 1991. For the previous 20 years, she served in the CBS News Washington bureau and reported on major events such as Watergate and the Gulf War.
Stahl said most people she meets really love their jobs, and she told the seniors it’s OK if they don’t know what they want to do right away.
“You’re going to have to go out there and discover it. How will you know if you’ve found it? You’ll know because you’ll enjoy the doing of the work itself; not the pay, not the promotion, not the pat on the back from your boss, but the sheer pleasure of the slow, steady crawl.”
Before Stahl’s address, Colgate President Rebecca S. Chopp told members of the Class of 2008 that they will be known for their “hard work, curiosity, sense of fairness and fun, intellect, and passion.”
Above all, Chopp said, their leadership skills have defined them.
“You put your skills into practice,” she added. “You saw need, and you found ways to help.”
Chopp highlighted the many ways this year’s graduates left their mark, specifically noting efforts to bring environmental sustainability to the forefront.
“Thank you for combining your support for the environment with your support for Colgate.”
The Class of 2008 raised about $23,000 to launch an environmental sustainability fund, which will be used for, among other things, summer internships, guest speakers, and improvements to forests owned by Colgate.
Ninety four percent of the senior class made donations. Colgate’s board of trustees will contribute $23,000 to the fund, and a member of the graduating class will serve on the committee that oversees the fund.
Chopp charged the graduates to hold onto their leadership skills. “Lead with your hearts and with curiosity, passion and humility that you have exhibited so well during your time at Colgate.”
In addition to Stahl, Chopp also awarded honorary degrees to baccalaureate speaker Gail O’Day, the A.H. Shatford Professor of Preaching and New Testament at Emory University; John Cushman III ’63, Colgate trustee emeritus and well-known leader in the commercial real estate industry; William McKibben, environmentalist; Dr. LaSalle Leffal, one of the nation’s leading oncologists; and Aung San Suu Kyi, 1991 Nobel Peace Prize winner.
Under political house arrest by the Burmese military for much of the past 19 years, Suu Kyi was awarded an honorary degree in absentia. She led a peaceful revolt in Burma in the 1980s, promoting democratic reforms and free elections.