Jesse Feitel '13 delivers 2013 convocation address
Political science major encourages fellow students to 'look back and act forward'
Jesse Feitel '13, a political science major and The College of Arts and Sciences' student marshal, delivered the following speech at The College's undergraduate convocation ceremony on Saturday, May 11, 2013, in the Carrier Dome:
Good Morning everyone.
I’d like to thank Dean Langford and The College of Arts and Sciences for having me at this very special occasion, and welcome fathers, mothers, grandparents, uncles and aunts--proud family members of all kinds, distinguished guests, faculty and staff to this momentous occasion. To my fellow graduates--my classmates, my peers, and my dear friends--I want to commend you on two very significant accomplishments to date: the first, of course, is on your hard work and dedication that has landed you here, today, as a soon-to-be graduate of Syracuse University. You all deserve another round of applause.
The second accomplishment, equally as impressive, is for making it halfway through this long weekend without completely disowning your family--whether it be out of total embarrassment, or after that argument you had while waiting 3 hours for dinner last night at Dinosaur Barbeque.
Of course, as a student I speak for us all when I say we’re so thankful for our family members in attendance this morning and throughout this weekend.
Lately, I have been thinking quite a bit about what I’ve done to deserve the honor of addressing you all today. I certainly don’t have the highest GPA out of this array of scholars in front of me--nor have I had the richest experience out of anyone in this group; this class is an incredible collection of future scientists, writers, philosophers and policy-shapers. We have students sitting amongst us today who have traveled throughout our world in a tangible effort to make the life of even just one person better. Far too often, these students--OUR students--aren’t recognized for their notable accomplishments.
Far too often, the work completed by you isn’t the most glamorous or flashy. Your greatest achievements, and most significant contributions to our University, our great city--our world--may very well have been crafted inside the corner desk at the library, or next to a cup of coffee at 3 o’clock in the morning. This work is completed at local community centers on the Northside of Syracuse, in classrooms and in courtrooms, in art galleries and solitary laboratories making discoveries to advance the interests of mankind.
These students, these young people, who come from all walks of life, are often shadowed by an overwhelming sense of negativity about individuals our age and the position we, a group of soon-to-be college graduates, are all in today. By claims that higher education is failing us--that the value of a college degree is meaningless if you can’t secure a high-paying job afterwards.
Are these valid points to consider? Absolutely. Voluntarily signing up for a University with a price tag of this size is not an easy decision, and I know many of us wrestled with that very choice only four years ago. But consider President Theodore Roosevelt’s take on education--that “A man who has never gone to school may steal from a freight car; but if he has a university education, he may steal the whole railroad.” I can’t emphasize enough how lucky each of us is to be wearing these caps and gowns today.
There are also claims our generation can no longer live in the moment--that we can’t appreciate what is in front of us without sharing it with a few hundred of our closest friends; that our generation idolizes celebrities that are famous for simply being famous, or can’t avoid checking Facebook a few times during an 80-minute class session. These are criticisms I’ve heard and read, but have also been guilty of myself.
So I ask all of you today, myself included, can we prove them wrong? Can we, twelve-hundred students strong, prove the value of our degree starting as soon as we walk out of those large and scary revolving doors? Can we demonstrate and truly live up to the brand of proactive, mature, and well-meaning Syracuse graduates that have sat in the very seats you’re all occupying today? Can we cast off the misconceptions that hang over the heads of students our age?
We all have stories, backgrounds, talents, and aspirations that make us unique. I can stand here and share how I went from entering Syracuse as a future sports broadcaster, riddled with worry and self-doubt about my future profession, to the student you see today: a confident and clear-minded future law student--who’s picked up a few pounds since then, too. The point is that with such a vast amount to study at this University, and so much that we can do as willing and capable college graduates, I truly believe that our individual efforts pale in comparison to what we can do as a class speaking on behalf of our generation. Let’s put that degree to good use.
None of us will leave the Dome today or tomorrow entirely transformed or with a completely new outlook on life. I don’t expect any of you to drop all of your belongings and commitments and travel around to change the world--although I do know a few of you who have committed to such a task already. What I am asking each of you to consider is what you can do today to prove those who look upon our generation with negativity and doubt wrong. It’s simply not enough to sit there and say "It’s alright 'cause I’ve got a degree."
We’ve got a lot of work to do, Class of 2013. Walk out your front door and you’ll find a myriad of issues just waiting to be tackled by an SU graduate with bright eyes, large aspirations, and a capacity to work late nights. After all, as Abraham Lincoln said, "You cannot escape the responsibility of tomorrow by evading it today." Our collective efforts, I assure you, will be tested as soon as you pack up your dorm room or apartment and head into the next phase of your life.
I don’t expect any of you to know your path at this very moment--that would be unfair considering I, too, am unsure of where life will take me next. What I do know is that with a malleable mind and an open heart, we can commit to treat each other better, and start to make positive changes in the perception of our generation.
We can learn how to shake a hand firmly and to have a conversation with someone while looking them in the eye instead of glancing at the screen of a cell phone. We can commit to pay more attention to the number of causes we feel passionate about, rather than the number of Twitter followers we may have online. (I have over 600.) We can move forth boldly on new paths and initiatives using that 21st century degree you’ll all be grasping in a few minutes, while still paying close attention and respect towards our past experiences and values. Simply, we can learn how to look back and act forward.
So, class of 2013, what will you do? As the former and now late New York City Mayor Ed Koch once said, “The fireworks begin today. Each diploma is a lighted match. Each one of you is a fuse.” Take that to heart, my dear friends, and let’s all start this next chapter in our lives together, lighting the sky a bright orange.
Thank you again, and my deepest congratulations to each and every one of you on this amazing day.