As they embark on paths toward professional careers or post-graduate studies, members of Franklin & Marshall College's Class of 2014 were urged by ABC News anchor George Stephanopoulos to take chances and embrace lifelong learning.
"I hope you all stay curious and never stop learning," said Stephanopoulos, principal speaker for F&M's Commencement ceremony May 10. "One of the best parts of my job right now is how many different parts of the world, how many stories, and how much information it exposes me to every day.
"All that makes for a rich, stimulating and fast-paced professional life, but I also have to remind myself every day to slow down, to think, and remember what it's like to really study."
Also in his address to 604 members of the Class of 2014, Stephanopoulos shared an insight into the playful side of his longtime friend, F&M President Daniel R. Porterfield, a fellow Rhodes scholar at Oxford University in the early 1980s. He recounted how Porterfield one evening decided to throw a chili cheese potato through an open window. The spud missile landed on his pillow, and "It took all semester to get the stain out," Stephanopolous said. (After the ceremony, Porterfield good-naturedly bantered about the flying tater tale, remarking that it was a half-eaten chili cheese potato he threw because Stephanopolous had been taunting him that his arm was not strong enough to make the throw. "Obviously it was," said Porterfield, laughing. "And 30 years later I have no regrets.")
Stephanopolous also discussed his decision to veer from the path to the priesthood that men in his family traditionally followed. The Rhodes scholar and Columbia University graduate -- who went on to serve in the White House as a policy strategist to President Bill Clinton before becoming a journalist -- sounded themes that resonated among the event's other speakers.
"My parents supporting me every step of the way is something beautiful and true: people who really love you want you to do what you truly love," Stephanopoulos said. "So even as you thank your parents for all they've done to bring you here, then honor them even more with your independence. Reward them by charting your own path, and don't be afraid to take a chance."
Porterfield welcomed the graduates, faculty and more than 3,000 family member and friends in attendance with the message that love's empowerment is what gives individual students the space to learn and grow -- in college and beyond.
"Love makes space. A liberal arts education makes space. This great College makes space, for you and for all," Porterfield said. "If you love what you were empowered to do here, then it is your job to facilitate the preservation of this College and our perhaps fragile tradition of learning, in a society that needs us more than it realizes."
VIEW A SLIDESHOW OF THE EVENT
Porterfield reminded the graduating seniors' parents about their journey in raising their children who grew "in a few fast turns of our earth around the sun," and he reminded the graduates of the role their parents' love played in their accomplishments.
"Families, you gave them love and life, taught them right, guided them through change, and empowered them with freedom," Porterfield said. He then urged the graduates to stand, face their families seated behind them, and "give the loudest thanks you have to all those who are here today, or here in spirit, whose love has been your launching pad."
This year's recipient of F&M's Williamson Medal, Michael Haines '14, discussed the value of relationships in his speech to classmates upon receiving the College's most prestigious award for student achievement.
"While each of us has had a unique F&M experience, it wouldn’t be the same, or it may not even exist, if it weren't for the relationships we've forged over the past four years," Haines said. "Together we have helped each other grow and carve out our individual paths here at F&M … We need to harness what we've learned to successfully deal with the challenges that lie ahead."
In addition to awarding the Williamson Medal to Haines, the College conferred honorary degrees upon two distinguished alumni: Caswell Evans '65, an international leader in the field of dental public health, and Jennifer Whiting '78, the Chancellor Jackman Professor of Philosophy at the University of Toronto.
Other graduation honors were bestowed upon Stanley Mertzman, the Dr. Earl D. Stage and Mary E. Stage Chair in Geosciences, who received the Bradley R. Dewey Award for Outstanding Scholarship, and Mary Ann Levine, associate professor of anthropology, who was presented with the Christian R. and Mary F. Lindback Foundation Award for Distinguished Teaching.
The College also honored two retiring faculty members with Socrates citations: John Campbell, professor of psychology, and Roger K.R. Thompson, the Dr. E. Paul and Frances H. Reiff Professor of Biological Sciences.
John Coccia, F&M's director of media services, received the Richard Kneedler Distinguished Service Award, given to the member of the professional staff who demonstrates extraordinary commitment to the mission of the College.
Inclement weather brought ceremonies inside F&M's Alumni Sports and Fitness Center, where guests enjoyed the College's Commencement Wind Ensemble, directed by Brian Norcross, conductor of instrumental ensembles, and a stirring rendition of the National Anthem, sung by Samantha Kahn '14.
And in a centuries-old tradition, Alumni Association President Anthony DellaPelle '84 symbolically passed the torch to the next generation of college alumni. Accepting on behalf of his peers was Senior Class President Ian Irlander '14.
"While you've been a member of Franklin & Marshall for the last four years, for the rest of your lives you will always be F&M alumni," DellaPelle said.