Commencement, Commitment and Character in the UB Community
Each spring, UB’s commencement exercises mark a major milestone in the lives of the thousands of UB graduates passing from one phase of their intellectual, social and civic lives to the next. At this moment of commencement, they cross the threshold that transforms them from UB students into UB alumni and go forth to make their unique contributions to the world. It is a momentous occasion, certainly, not only for the students and for the families and friends who have provided care and support during the university years, but also for the faculty, staff and alumni who have themselves contributed to each student’s intellectual growth and development at UB.
As I write this message, I am preparing for the first commencement season over which I will preside as president of UB. This is a significant moment in my own life as a member of the UB community, and I find myself looking forward to it with great anticipation. When I took the helm as UB’s president on January 1, 2004, I accepted the opportunity and responsibility of leading UB to greater excellence in all that we do. For a lifelong advocate of public higher education like me, assuming the leadership of a major public research university such as UB, with our tradition of outstanding academic achievement and potential for the future, represents a tremendous opportunity to contribute to the public good on a very significant level.
Every day UB makes that contribution, serving the public through the creation, dissemination and application of knowledge. Our students are without question our most important contribution, and our greatest resource, and the strength of our UB graduates is just one indication of our university’s ability to give back to society. Throughout the semester, as I have come to know and work more closely with this impressive community of faculty, students and staff, I have had the opportunity to begin to work with faculty launching new scholarly projects, researchers initiating promising new collaborations with UB’s partners in the industrial and business sectors, and students embarking on public outreach and service programs. Commencement 2004 allows me my first occasion to officially celebrate the wonderful diversity of achievements of our students as well as our faculty, staff, alumni and friends.
Commencement is traditionally regarded as a season of change, a time of new beginnings, and the marking of this event is one of the most meaningful rites of passage in any academic community. This spring in particular, the symbolism of commencement resonates with me on a deeply personal level. Ultimately, however, I believe that individual beginnings and endings are less important than the essential, vital constants that remain unchanged by time. As the essayist, philosopher and poet Ralph Waldo Emerson famously observed: “What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.” Individual character—honor, dignity, compassion, an enlightened and disciplined mind—is the key constant that transcends all temporal changes in situation, in occupation and in lifestyle. This notion, I believe, applies very aptly to the academic pursuits in which we are engaged at UB.
Our students bring a rich variety of interests and backgrounds with them when they come to UB, and during their time here, they encounter countless different avenues for pursuing these interests. The paths that lie before them are likewise innumerable: Upon leaving UB, our graduates will have the opportunity to share the knowledge and skills they have learned at UB with communities across the nation and around the world. Whatever interests brought our students to UB, and whatever academic or professional careers they are now preparing to enter, they have one essential characteristic in common: They will always be vital members of the UB community. They will always carry within them the dedication to academic excellence and the scholarly ideals of inquiry, debate and discovery that are essential to the UB ethic. This essential commitment to the creation and sharing of knowledge is the core of UB’s academic enterprise. The end goal of all of our educational pursuits at UB is to ensure this commitment to knowledge becomes a constant within our students’ lives, both here at UB and beyond.
In these first months of my presidency, it has become very evident to me that our alumni presence is strong and vital, playing an essential and active role in the development and growth of our intellectual community. UB students don’t cease their relationship with our university once they graduate. Quite the contrary—as our dedicated alumni have demonstrated time and time again, our graduates’ ties to UB in fact deepen with time as they make their contributions to the world, continually discovering new ways of applying the knowledge they gained as students, and continually adding to their own records of achievement. Through every accomplishment, our alumni prove UB’s excellence and extend our university’s relevance to the larger communities they serve in important and enduring ways.
UB’s academic ideals and community values lie within each of our students, past and present. When our graduates go forth into the world, they take with them in spirit the strength and promise of the entire UB academic community. This commencement season, as the class of 2004 begins the exciting process of sharing the knowledge, skills and thirst for discovery that are the essence of the UB experience, I will indeed feel a very special connection.
John B. Simpson