In May, we had our usual four Pace University Commencement ceremonies. You probably think the Provost and I get tired of shaking hands with all those newly-minted Pace alumni, but we don’t. There is nothing like the sights and sounds of Commencement exercises.
From my vantage point on stage, I look out at thousands of graduates and their families. Our graduates’ faces display all sorts of emotions—pride, happiness, nerves, apprehension, anticipation, melancholy, and so many more. But mostly, Commencement is an incredibly happy event for everyone. Looking at each graduate, I was reminded of an old movie called The Naked City. At the end of the movie a narrator intoned, “There are eight million stories in the Naked City. This has been one of them.” At Commencement, there are thousands of unwritten stories on the faces of Pace graduates, and each graduate will have a story that is unique and worth retelling.
We were very fortunate to have honorary degree recipients at each Commencement who had some extraordinary stories to tell. Each individual was very successful in his or her own right and had devoted some part of their lives to public service. Judge Robert A. Katzmann is chief judge for the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit and he has authored influential decisions on a wide range of cases. Emily Kernan Rafferty is the president of New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art. She is the museum’s first woman president in its 135-year history. George Rupp, PhD, led the world’s leading global relief agency, the International Rescue Committee, for 11 years and was president of both Columbia and Rice universities. Alumnus Michael Dezer is a businessman responsible for the development and transformation of large parts of Chelsea in New York City and virtually all of Sunny Isles, Florida. And Lawrence Otis Graham is a lawyer, a best-selling author, and a television journalist with a commitment to improving race relations in America. What a joy it was to have such a distinguished group giving our students the benefit of their experience and wisdom.
Mr. Graham asked our former students to use their Pace degrees to fight against bigotry, poverty, sexism, ignorance, and apathy. Ms. Rafferty encouraged them to see the world through the lenses of travel, literature, music, art, and poetry. Dr. Rupp advised graduates to continue to think critically, but to balance that critical approach with value-driven judgment, and Judge Katzmann spoke eloquently of the need to treat our immigrant population fairly.
Watching our hard-working, driven graduates move on is always a little bittersweet. We are, at least intellectually, in loco parentis with our students. The pride and satisfaction that attends the amazing transformation through which so many of them travel is tempered with a sense of loss. We become, at least for the moment, academic empty nesters. Our nest is soon full, however, as an academic cycle that has been going on in Western education since the founding of the University of Bologna in 1088 starts anew. I hope and trust that our brand new alumni will return often and help future generations of Pace students write stories that are unique and worthy of retelling.