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Undergraduate Commencement 2016

Remarks by President Denise A. Battles, May 14, 2016

Before we formally grant you your degrees, I would like to address a few personal words to all members of the class.

At 6:00 am on April 7th, the fountain at the heart of Geneseo was severely damaged and Emmeline, the beloved bear clinging to the center pole was knocked from her perch. I, like many of you, had a visceral reaction of shock and sadness to this incident, as perhaps the most iconic symbol of the community had been violated, perhaps even lost. In the days that followed, the outpouring of concern about Emmeline and her fountain came from all over the country as alumni, former area residents, and other friends of Geneseo reacted to the news. Fortunately, we learned that Emmeline was saved, the fountain will be made whole again, and the symbolic heart of this town restored.

As most of you know, I am a relative newcomer to Geneseo, still in my first year of service, but in that time I have seen the true character of this College, this extended community, as it was tested by tragedy but found the strength to come together as one. And while the damaging of a granite fountain and a bronze statue may be a small matter in the lives of women and men, what the incident revealed about what we value at Geneseo is most telling.

The name Geneseo is indicative of more than a location, a college, and village; it is about a sense of place and people, scholars and citizens, faculty and students, united by a shared purpose: the education of tomorrow’s teachers and doctors, musicians and managers, scientists and sociologists, who will become the molders and shapers of our future.

Emmeline’s fountain was pushed off its foundation, chipped by impact, and we all felt unease at seeing something so solid and so familiar be dramatically altered. Yet, within hours, the fountain was back in place, the statue safely stowed, and plans by professionals already underway to undo what had been done.

The resiliency, strength, intelligence, and talent it took to accomplish that feat are all characteristics to be found in Geneseo’s students. If called upon, hundreds of you would have gladly volunteered to push the fountain back in place as you understand the responsibility and joy of service to others, something I have witnessed time and again whenever a Geneseo First Response vehicle drives by, the siren for the fire department goes off, a food drive gears up, or a tour group heads past Welles. I know that scores of Geneseo students are involved in good works around the village and their home communities, giving selflessly of their time and abilities.

For example, in your pursuit of the public good, you have collectively contributed approximately 200,000 hours of community service during your four years here. You have raised thousands of dollars for worthwhile causes and charities, including the American Cancer Society. Just this spring, in this very arena, our Relay for Life event raised an astonishing $176,000 – a new record, which tops ever other college in New York and New Jersey, and ranks Geneseo among the top five colleges in the country for funds raised per capita!

In this past year, I have been astounded by the talents displayed by you, senior members of the student body—for instance, on a cold Saturday night with the Ice Knights, in Doty Recital Hall with the Chamber Singers, at the Entrepreneurial Challenge in Campus House, in MacVittie Ballroom with the Bhangra Dancers, and with the scholars of GREAT Day. All over the country, and for that matter, the world, Geneseo graduates are applying those talents and countless others to their careers and making their marks. You will leave here today, diploma in hand, and set on a similar course, joining those accomplished women and men who have demonstrated the value of a liberal arts education from Geneseo and why our graduates are in such high demand across the country.

I call on you one day soon to return to Geneseo, to walk down past the gazebo at sunset, to look in your old classrooms or find your favorite professor, to eat dinner again on Main Street, to reconnect with your school. And when you do, Emmeline will be there, in the heart of the village, still hanging on, as the water splashes in the fountain below her and the villagers walk by.

Geneseo is, and will forever be, your College, your home. We are proud of all you have accomplished and what you will become as you take the world by storm. Reach out with both hands and take hold of your future. Revel in all that your community has to offer and drink deep from its passions and pleasures. Take the initiative to lead and lean in. Join a community and give of yourself whenever you can. More than ever, this country needs citizens from all walks of life who take responsibility to act rather than react, to seek out solutions rather than settle for the status quo, to push hard to make a difference, even when it feels like you are trying to move a block of granite carved into a fountain. You are now part of the family of Geneseo graduates, strong and resourceful women and men who are used to heavy lifting and will be most willing to help you reach your dreams. I cannot wait to hear about all you will do, all the lives you will touch, and the mountains you will move.