Dressed in flowing gowns and brimming with excitement, the Ithaca College class of 2011 gathered in Butterfield Stadium for the 116th commencement ceremony today. The 1,413 undergraduates, 48 graduate students and more than 2,000 supporters took part in the ceremony and heard advice for making a difference in an uncertain future.
The ceremony began with the awarding of an honorary doctor of laws degree to civil rights activist Dorothy Cotton for her dedication to education. Cotton has served as education director for Martin Luther King Jr.’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference and director of the Cornell University-affiliated Center for Transformative Action from 1982 to 1991.
President Tom Rochon then introduced speaker David Muir ‘95. Rochon said Muir, an ABC News correspondent, worked his way up from anchoring for ICTV to network news. He said Muir has used what he learned at the college in his reports on major stories around the world and continued support of students.
“We can safely say this was one network news anchor made in Ithaca,” Rochon said.
Muir thanked Rochon and his staff and spoke of lessons he learned from his experience as a journalist.
He told the audience that new graduates should strive to give the voiceless a voice, referencing his experiences reporting from earthquake disaster zones in Haiti to the tense streets of Egypt last year. He spoke about ordinary people caught in difficult situations, including a woman he interviewed in Hurricane Katrina-stricken Louisiana who entered a diabetic coma because of a lack of insulin.
“My message to you today is that you don’t have to be a reporter to do this,” he said. “You’ll see opportunities the moment you leave this campus.”
Muir told the audience about Gigi Ibrahim, an Egyptian political activist credited with helping mobilize the opposition movement against former president Hosni Mubarak though Twitter and Facebook. He said Mubarak’s ouster helped him realize the power of one person to make an impact worldwide.
“You have worked incredibly hard these past four years and now it’s your turn,” he said. ”You don’t need a camera or a microphone to have a voice. I know you already have one. I’m simply here to urge you to use it.”
Following the speech, deans from each school announced to Rochon that their students had completed all the requirements and were duly recommended by their professors to receive their degrees. Rochon then declared the students to have graduated with their respective degrees.
Rochon introduced Senior Class President Danielle Giserman, who told the graduating students to stand and applaud their professors, parents and themselves. She spoke about what it means to be a graduate from the college. She also told stories of the quirks and customs at the college — from full-body painting for the Cortaca football game to eating sub sandwiches from Wegmans.
Giserman presented the senior class gift to Rochon along with the other senior class officers Sarah Avery, vice president; Scott Steimer, treasurer; Julie Levitt, director of internal communication and Trevor Wolf, director of marketing. The class raised $36,305 from 489 donors, $26,541 of which will go toward funding a new media lab in the library.
Rochon closed the ceremony by highlighting the changing world he said the graduates were about to enter.
“You may be the ones for whom change is so omnipresent that the only thing that would make you uncomfortable would be to find out that there will not soon be another major advance in the way we stay connected with each other,” he said. “You were born into a world of rapid change, and things have been speeding up ever since.”
Rochon ended his speech with the thoughts of former college president Peggy Ryan Williams, who said during convocation four years ago that the students were responsible for their own continued learning and success.
“I know the statement that you are responsible can be a little bit terrifying,” he said. “But the upside of that same thought is that you are able to shape your own destiny.”