SCENE | Sotomayor headlines 150th Commencement at St. Lawrence

Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court Sonia Sotomayor makes remarks during the 150th Commencement exercises Sunday at St. Lawrence University. Looking on, from left, are the Rev. Peter Gomes of Memorial Church at Harvard University, Donald K. Rose ‘64 chair of the St. Lawrence board of trustees and the Rev. William L. Fox, Jr. ‘75, president of the University. Behind them are other University trustees.

We had a remarkable 18 hours this weekend in Canton, where we attended the 150th Commencement at St. Lawrence. The camaraderie of our University was at its apex, especially as we welcomed three remarkable honorary-degree candidates: Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court Sonia Sotomayor, whose niece, Kiley Sotomayor ‘10 earned a degree in psychology; North Country poetess Chase Twichell; and the Rev. Peter Gomes, a professor of theology at Harvard who also serves as rector of that institution’s Memorial Church.

I have attended eight commencements since matriculating in 1998 and each has been terribly bittersweet. It is no surprise then that the great happiness of graduation at St. Lawrence is coupled by a deep sadness. Laurentians have a connection with their University that is so deep and difficult to articulate that the best way I’ve found to describe it is mystic. Our new president, Bill Fox ‘75, offered this description in his remarks at Sunday’s ceremony:

“… the Laurentian experience has a curious geometry; it is not at all linear, but rather it is spherical or circular. In many ways you end right where you started — and this will be one of the patterns of life growing out of this very day. Your belonging to St. Lawrence does not merely begin and continue on a straight plane to a vanishing point; rather, nothing of the sort, because the connection of mind, hand, and heart keeps coming ‘round.”

Sotomayor, making her first public remarks since being confirmed as an associate justice last year, directed graduates to value the affections and bonds of family and to follow their passions.

“To find work that you find meaningful and satisfying over the course of a long career, you will undoubtedly have to work hard for these opportunities,” she said, after receiving an honorary doctorate in the law. “But if you find work that you are passionate about, it will help sustain you. Always be kind and you will accomplish great things.”

Gomes, who received an honorary doctorate of divinity, his 40th honorary degree, offered the most humorous address I’ve ever heard at a graduation.

“I come by my degree a lot easier than you. I did not spend one single winter here,” he said. “You are smarter than we are, but we know more. And when you are as smart as we are, we get rid of you by graduation.”

He encouraged students to learn from the failures they are sure to encounter on life’s journey and, in the best kicker I’ve heard in a while, he offered this piece of grammatical advice: “It’s not who you know, but whom.”


Special congratulations to these graduates, whom of I’ve come to know through my family, my time in Lake Placid and Bronxville, my service on the Alumni Executive Council and through my connection to The Hill News, the student weekly at St. Lawrence:

Tara Akstull, Rachel Berman, Nick Blaise, Catherine Burke, Mwelwa Bwalya, Jessica Demakos, Connor Hackett, Jenny Houser, Stanzi McGlynn, Chelsey Nuffer, and John Van Anden.

For much more on yesterday’s Commencement, including audio of each address, click here.

Here’s a gallery of photos from yesterday’s exercises:


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  1. [...] neither of us are Harvard people, we shared a Laurentian affinity with Dr. Gomes, whom we met last spring when he was awarded an honorary degree at St. Lawrence’s 150th Commencement… As I noted on Facebook earlier today, Gomes delivered the finest speech I’ve heard at any of [...]

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