Nearly 900 undergraduates receive degrees today at SUNY Potsdam commencement
Sunday, May 23, 2010 - 4:17 pm

POTSDAM -- SUNY Potsdam welcomed the Class of 2010 into the ranks of its 38,000 alumni during the 176th annual Bachelor’s Commencement Ceremony today in the Academic Quad.

With Satterlee Hall and its iconic clock tower as a backdrop, nearly 900 undergraduates were conferred Bachelor of Music, Bachelor of Arts, Bachelor of Fine Arts and Bachelor of Science degrees.

The ceremony included a keynote address by Commencement speaker and honorary degree recipient Kathleen Friery ’84, the former executive producer for Anderson Cooper’s nightly newscast on CNN, “AC360°.”

During her remarks, the Emmy Award-winning executive advised the graduates to learn a couple lessons from the humble bumblebee.

“The bumblebee should not be able to fly. With its fat body and tiny wings, it’s aerodynamically unsound. By any scientific standard, it simply cannot fly. And yet, bees do fly, because they don’t know they’re not supposed to. They’re persistent creatures that use their little wings to carry themselves to all the glorious nectar they can find. So, when I say remember the bumblebee, what I really mean is: Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t fly,” said Friery.

“So much of what lies ahead for you depends on you. Remember the bumblebee. Every one of you can soar.”

She told the graduates of the Class of 2010 about the top qualities she looks for in a job interview to show that a candidate is hard working—preparation, curiosity and enthusiasm.

Friery also shared with the graduates the inspiration she has taken from working with Anderson Cooper, especially from watching him save a young boy who was injured in a food riot while he was covering the aftermath of the earthquake in Haiti earlier this year.

“His first instinct was to do what TV reporters do and capture the moment on tape. But a split second later he realized he had to be a human being first, a reporter second. He tossed his camera aside and ran into the fray and pulled the blood-drenched boy to safety,” Friery said. “Sometimes being human is more important than your job. So be present. Do the right thing. Speak the truth to power, truth to your friends, and truth to yourself.”

Friery was instrumental in organizing a live teleconference with Cooper and SUNY Potsdam students about the Haiti earthquake as part of the 2010 Campus Festival this April.

SUNY Potsdam Pres. Dr. John F. Schwaller shared his thoughts on pursuing creativity in the face of adversity. He detailed important events in the history of the College as it evolved from the St. Lawrence Academy to the Potsdam Normal School and acquired the Crane Institute, always continuing to grow, even in the face of great change.

“Our College was forged in the War of 1812, survived the Civil War, the worldwide Depression of 1896, the Great Depression of 1930, both World Wars and many other periods of adversity and tribulation. And yet here we are. In an odd sort of way, difficult times have created incredible opportunities for the College,” Dr. Schwaller told the graduates.

“Our campus has confronted adversity and through creativity and ingenuity used it to transform the way we do things to achieve greatness. I challenge each of you to confront whatever adversity that you may have in your life and use it to move positively and powerfully forward.”

Outgoing Student Government Association Pres. Danielle McMullen, who graduated cum laude with a Bachelor of Arts in speech communication with a minor in political science, also had some advice for her classmates about learning to fly.

She quoted Douglas Adams, who said in his novel “A Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Universe,” “Flying is learning how to throw yourself at the ground and miss.”

“The sum of our academic experiences has produced individuals capable of adapting to our work environments. However, our time here is so much more than that. You are not just the numbers written in red on the top of tests and term papers. You are not just a collection of semesters,” McMullen said. “Attempt great things in life. It’s OK to make mistakes while getting there.”

Academic honoree Huidong Yang, a Chinese native who graduated summa cum laude with a Bachelor of Science in biochemistry with minors in mathematics and psychology, told his fellow graduates about how he discovered his passion for science at SUNY Potsdam.

“Thanks to the high degrees of freedom here, I had the chance to explore beyond what I had considered as my focus for years, and to undergo this critical transformation to pursue a different approach for scientific exploration, to take on the challenge as a quest for another level of understanding of biological mysteries beyond descriptive factoids, using mathematics not only as the language, but as the dominant mode of thinking,” he said.

Schwaller opened the ceremony by honoring Wally Siebel ’68, co-founder and president of Northern Music & Video, with the Roger B. Linden Distinguished Service Award, the College’s highest honor.

The College’s Commencement Ceremony concluded with the conferring of baccalaureate degrees to nearly 900 graduates, of whom many then turned their tassels and tossed their caps into the air to celebrate this important milestone.

SUNY Potsdam also graduated more than 300 master’s students this weekend in its fifth annual Master’s Commencement Ceremony on Saturday in Helen M. Hosmer Concert Hall.