Colgate Celebrates 202nd Commencement

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Seated, as commencement speaker Wynton Marsalis observed, “in a cocoon of feeling and surrounded by your people,” 687 graduating members of the Class of 2023 received their bachelor of arts degrees from Colgate University on Sunday, May 21.

Jazz trumpet legend Marsalis, the artistic director of Jazz at Lincoln Center, director of the Jazz Studies Program at the Juilliard School, and president of the Louis Armstrong Educational Foundation, made six simple requests of the graduates — actions they can “easily realize with minimal fuss every day of your lives, without wasting time, energy, words, or money.” 

Be present. “Experience things as they happen. Life is more interesting when you allow it to set your banquet table. Don’t get involved in curating your life. Let your phone do that for you. Be present and let the intensity of your participation shape your feeling, not the act of you observing your participation in your own experience.” 

Be where you are. “The paths to knowledge are as varied as there are individuals in this world. We can not be on all roads at once. When we wish to experience all things at all times we end up with nothing… Revel in the general spirit that defines this place. Wherever you may find yourself, take the organic lesson in community building that you have learned here.”

You might not be on time, but be in time. “The present is your safest and only practical choice. Be in time and you will be flexible enough to define yourself and your experience more broadly than your age, hairstyle, clothing, or favorite popular video, app, or platform. Be in time and you will maintain your equilibrium when the next war or financial crash or mass act of violence occurs. Be in time and you will come to see the value of singing, dancing, cooking, storytelling, playing, laughing, and many other tactile human interactions that are not in our cliched vision of a technological future. Be in time because the people all around you are the real technological marvels, and how we interact with each other is the most fascinating study on this earth. Be in time and you will never underestimate the impact of your disposition in any tough situation that you may encounter.” 

Be yourself and be fabulous. “I am reminded of the great trumpeter and sage raconteur Dizzy Gillespie, who had a request for me … In 1980, when I was 18 or so, I asked Dizzy, ‘How can I find my own personal sound?’ and he said, “You have to love yourself.’”

Be grateful. “I don’t want you to let a day go by that you don’t bow your head and acknowledge all that you have been given and acknowledge all that you give, and also all the blessings that you have received.” 

Be cool about it all.

In addition to the cool — and sage — Marsalis, who received an honorary doctor of arts degree, Colgate conferred honorary degrees upon four other distinguished individuals: Joseph J. Castiglione ’68, Boston Red Sox Radio Broadcaster; Ilya Kaminsky, poet, editor, and professor of creative writing at Princeton University; Mary Ann Moran ’77, University of Georgia Foundation Distinguished Professor in the Department of Marine Sciences at the University of Georgia; and Mark S. Siegel ’73, founder and president of ReMY Investors & Consultants, Inc.

Class valedictorian Caleb Levy of Kingston, Jamaica, graduated summa cum laude with high honors in physics. The salutatorian, molecular biology major Matthew Sampson of Fairport, N.Y., graduated summa cum laude and was elected to Phi Beta Kappa. In addition to those earning bachelor’s degrees, six graduate students earned the degree of master of arts in teaching with distinction and one, a master of arts with distinction.

“To be where you are now, to have persevered through all that you have, is a singular mark of achievement, a mark of strength and courage,” President Brian W. Casey told the class. “You are to be recognized and admired for such perseverance and work. You were the class that history touched, now a class entering a changed world. You are ready now, ready for that changed world — even if, at this very moment, winds are blowing and you are cold, you might not feel that way. You are.”