SCHENECTADY Katie Schuff of Albany didn’t stray far from home to go to college, but the member of Union College’s 2012 graduating class said the school opened up the world for her.
“I traveled, through Union, to four different countries and I don’t know how many states,” she said. The math major studied abroad in Barbados and Cambodia, traveled in the southern U.S. to learn about the Civil Rights Movement and attended a physics conference in Hawaii. Soon she’ll head to Indonesia to teach English.
“[College] taught me so much about who I am and what I wanted to do. It was awesome,” she said.
Schuff was among 530 students released out into the wide world Sunday after receiving degrees at Union College’s 218th commencement.
Honorary degree recipient Dylan Ratigan told the grads-to-be that their futures are full of opportunity.
“You are the ones who are the richest in America. You have the most valuable thing, which is time, and the ability to run experiments with tools nobody has ever had before. In fact, unlike any other time in the entirety of human civilization, you are able to pursue almost every avenue that you choose to explore,” he said.
Ratigan, the opinionated host of “The Dylan Ratigan Show,” which airs locally on weekdays at 4 p.m. on MSNBC, was the featured speaker at the graduation ceremony. The 1994 Union College graduate told students that they need to ask tough questions and be willing to change their actions and their thinking when new answers reveal themselves.
“It is for us to challenge the culture of our longest-standing institutions, like education, health care and energy, to adapt to this new culture, to evolve. We can no longer accept that because it’s the way it’s been done before that it’s the best way to do it now. So I invite you to take a piece of your universe, to resurrect it, to change it, shape it into something that only you can imagine,” he said.
The Saranac Lake native also urged students not to be afraid of failure.
“If you’re not failing, you’re not trying and that is our greatest risk,” he said.
History major Eve Richards of Schenectady was all smiles at the ceremony. She said she isn’t sure what the future holds for her but she envisions a career that will satisfy both her love of sports and her love of history.
“I’m trying to get an internship with the Olympic Museum up in Lake Placid,” she said, noting that she thought such a position would be a nice marriage between her two favorite things.
Union College President Stephen Ainlay encouraged the graduates to go out into the world with confidence.
He recalled an interview between Union College Hockey Coach Rick Bennett and reporters in Tampa. When Bennett was asked if he thought Union had a chance to win the 2012 NCAA championship, he responded by asking, “Why not Union?”
“I loved his response; it showed a certain confidence but it also said something about not being intimidated by the scale of the undertaking,” Ainlay said.
He suggested that Bennett’s question should be shortened to “Why not U?” and that the Class of 2012 ask it of themselves often.
“When you encounter injustice in your communities and wonder who will address it, imagine your alma mater asking: ‘Why not U?’ When you encounter political inertia and wonder who will break the logjam and bring about change, again, imagine old Union asking: ‘Why not U?’ ’’ he said.
Ainlay noted that the Class of 2012 had been involved in a record number of historic firsts. Class members had a part in helping the hockey team win its first ECAC hockey tournament championship and its first NCAA tournament East Regional title. The Dutchmen also made the NCAA Frozen Four for the first time in their 21 years at the Division I level. The men’s lacrosse team advanced to the NCAA quarterfinals in 2012 for the first time in the college’s history as well.
Members of the graduating class included the first group of student interns sent by Union to IBM global research centers, and the class also had a key part in setting a record of volunteer service to the local community.
“No matter what you choose to do in the years ahead, remember that your academic lineage is a great one and your lineage beckons you to make a difference,” Ainlay said.