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The art of the good start

Think of the college years as a road traveled by generation after generation of eager students—a nonstop highway of fresh new minds and characters. “We face them, our backs to their fu- ture … we learn their names and speak to them as they pass us,” ob- served poet Josephine Young Case, the late Skidmore administrator and leading light. All that youthful momentum not only moves students forward but, as Case wrote in her 1969 memoir, This Very Tree, it also keeps college faculty and staff feel- ing “continuously renewed.” Perpetual renewal runs high on cam- pus each September, but it turns espe- cially poignant every May, when Com- mencement takes place at the newly ver- dant Saratoga Performing Arts Center. Last spring’s ceremony, for instance, fairly burst with startup energy, as 658 members of the Class of 2010, including 34 University Without Walls students, were joined by nine students from the Masters of Arts in Liberal Studies program to accept their degrees and diplomas. As if taking a leaf from Case’s book, President Philip Glotzbach told the graduates, faculty, friends, and families packing the big am- phitheater that “we really are destined to be beginners again and again; each day is a new thing” for even the most accomplished among us. “When you run headlong into your own anxiety at some moment of begin- ning, know that it is just the world telling you that what you are doing is important.” Three honorary de- gree recipients offered their own tips on the



art of the good start, including University of Cincinnati President Gregory Howard Williams, whose Life on the Color Line: The True Story of a White Boy Who Discov- ered He Was Black was the Class of 2010’s First-Year Experience read- ing. Williams advised the grad-

uates, as his African-American father had often told him, to stay on their toes wait- ing for “that tap on the shoulder.” You can’t know what it will look like, or sound like, he said, “but it will happen. And I hope you will be willing to an- swer.” PBS commentator Gwen Ifil urged the grads “to investigate, and to under- stand, to always have another question,” and, oh, yes: “to save the world for the rest of us—I know that you’re up to it.” Sir Clive Gillinson, executive and artistic director at Carnegie Hall, set the bar even higher: “Every single thing you do

in life, you have to do as though your life depends on it.” Faculty speaker Winston Grady-Willis, associate professor of American studies and director of intercultural studies, con- gratulated the graduates for their respon- sible citizenship, sexual-violence aware- ness and prevention, and activism on behalf of Haitian earthquake victims. But Grady-Willis also warned them to stay sharp: “Your mettle will be tested, and very soon.”

Revved up and ready, the Class of 2010 brightened its final Skidmore mo- ments with a hail of flying mortarboards, a spontaneous back-flip neatly executed by one Michael Gifis ’10 as he crossed the big stage, and (to celebrate their class gift results) a glorious burst of vintage Isley Brothers rock (“You know you make me want to shout!”) that brought the en- tire class—and Glotzbach too—onto their feet and dancing. Jo Case would have loved it. —BM


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