Purple and white balloons twirled in the crisp May breeze as the Class of 2009 graduates made their way to midfield. Over 3,000 people crowded into Butterfield Stadium to watch President Tom Rochon address the class at the 114th Ithaca College Commencement.
Rochon greeted the stadium and introduced the guest speaker, former astronaut Jim Lovell. Lovell was one of the first humans to leave Earth’s orbit and was the commander of Apollo 13. Rochon referenced Lovell’s famous remark when Apollo 13 experienced an explosion.
“My own profession involves a little bit of problem solving on a day-to-day basis,” he said. “Though the crises in my office are essentially never life-threatening, it would still be fairly unusual for a week to go by without me saying or someone saying to me, ‘Houston, we’ve had a problem.’”
The crowd rose in accolade as Lovell approached the platform. He began his speech by encouraging the graduates to achieve the impossible.
“As late as 1957, Dr. Lee De Forest, inventor of the Audion tube, said, ‘Man would never reach the moon, regardless of all future scientific advances,’” he said. Lovell said eleven years later he proved Dr. De Forest was wrong.
He told the graduates they control future and are capable of changing its outcome. It would be up to them to make the impossible seem ordinary, Lovell said.
“My mother could hardly believe I circled the moon in 1968,” he said. “But today, my 43 year-old son doesn’t think its any big deal.”
Aside from his personal anecdotes, Lovell’s biggest piece of advice came from the famous children’s book author, Dr. Seuss. Lovell took an excerpt from “On Beyond the Zebra” telling the graduating class the future begins where education ends.
“’In the places I go there are things that I see that I never could spell if I stopped with the Z,’” he said.
Lovell used the quotation to urge graduates to go beyond what they learned in the classroom and finding new ways to recreate history. He said the focus of education is to foster thinking and development after graduation.
“The end of one experience is always the beginning of another,” he said. “For education is much like success. It is a journey not just a destination.”
Senior class president A. J. Mizes addressed the audience following Lovell. Mizes’ recited an anecdote about a man who was under the impression he was building a particular house for a contractor when in reality he was building his own. The contractor gave the carpenter the keys to the house for free once it was finished.
“If he had only known that he was building his own house, he would have done it all so differently,” Mizes said. “Now he had to live in the home he had built none to well.”
Mizes’ said this story has practical implications.
“Often we build our lives in a distracted way, reacting rather than acting, willing to put up less than our best,” he said.
Mizes’ message aimed to inspire graduates to take action in their own lives. He quoted Lovell to encourage graduates to be proud of what they achieve.
“Captain Jim Lovell of the Apollo 13 mission to the Moon once said, ‘There are people who make things happen, there are people who watch things happen and there are people who wonder what happened,’” he said. “’To be successful, you need to be a person who makes things happen.’ Everyone, you would not have been accepted to and then graduated from this fine institution if you were not successful.”
The remaining class officers accompanied Mizes on stage after the speech to present Rochon with the class gift. Vice president Christan Balch took the podium as Amy Morse, director of internal communications, James Cherniss, treasurer, and Peter Pasco, marketing director, handed Rochon a check for $63,280. The senior class will put its name on the press box of the new Athletic and Events Center, said Balch.
The Class of ’09 raised $28,850 for its class gift and $5600 for several other allocations. It was then awarded $28,830 from Atlantic Philanthropies for winning a challenge based on its accomplishments for the Athletic and Events Center.
Commencement came to a close as the 1690 undergraduate and 420 graduate students slid their tassels across their flat brim caps from right to left. President Rochon gave one last remark telling the Class of ’09 a new awareness would overcome them, and if it already did, the ceremony succeeded in its purpose. For Rochon, new awareness came from the recent birth of his first child, Liam, but for graduates it came from the beauty of South Hill.
“If you look at the sky, and the trees, and the lake and everything around you and you feel as if you are seeing these things for the first time then you are graduating in this moment,” he said.