Grant Cornwell Jr. '79

Remarks to Graduates-May 22, 2022

Let me first express my deep gratitude for this moment.  I am humbled and honored to be surrounded by the good people on the platform and by all of the other faculty, staff, and trustees here with whom I have shared meaningful work and life’s joys and trials for most of my adult life.

It is here where I discovered and cultivated my commitment to advancing liberal education as the most powerful, most relevant, and most effective preparation for the changing world our graduates will lead. 

My own liberal education began at St. Lawrence as an undergraduate and was nurtured and deepened during my years here as a professor and dean.

But my roots at St. Lawrence go deeper than that.  My dad graduated from St. Lawrence in 1939, and my brothers went here before me.  Goodness, I met Peg, my partner of 38 years, as a first-year student at the Quad Experience during Orientation.

I began my career as a professor here, and these are the halls and the colleagues that nurtured my creativity and passion for liberal education.

This is the place where Peg and I raised our three boys, enveloped by this community through warm and wonderful times and through great sorrows.

Peg, Kelsey, and Tosh, it is profoundly meaningful to share this morning with you.

Class of 2022, here is what I think.  I think it is an exceptionally exciting and important time to be a graduate of St. Lawrence University.

You are a class of graduates whose character has been forged in a cauldron of a global pandemic, a fiercely waged political struggle over the direction of our democracy, and the most important social movement to advance racial justice in our nation since the Civil Rights era.

You have done hard things through this, and accomplished a great deal, undaunted.  You emerge stronger, more resilient, more courageous, and more appreciative as a person.

You have followed rules that were uncomfortable just because it was asked of you for the good of others and your community.

You learned subjects and skills under sub-optimal conditions, struggling to learn in spite of impediments, and you did so brilliantly.

You have persisted when you were weary; you have risen to task after task out of sheer determination.

You have witnessed the world struggle with an existential threat, and you faced it without fear, creating opportunities for humanity, for fun, for relationships, and for work, all out of your own ingenuity.

I find you absolutely inspiring, and you have my highest respect. 

We are a nation divided that needs critical and analytic understanding of the root causes of our problems, not shallow and strident partisanship.

We need serious and intelligent minds working together. We need to listen carefully to those who think differently than we do, not just listen in an echo chamber of the like-minded.  We need answers as complex and nuanced as the problems themselves.  And we need bridges built between people who see the world differently.

 Now is the time to put your education to work in the world; now more than ever, we need you.  Your generation gives me great hope for the future, unbounded optimism not only for our nation but for global civil society.

You are a generation of problem-solvers, powered by pragmatic idealism.  You want to solve problems because you understand all too keenly that they are your problems to solve, and that failure to create change will result in very real and felt consequences for you and your future children. 

You are a cosmopolitan generation, so much better suited to lead the world that is becoming than those of us currently struggling with that mantle.

The good news is that your St. Lawrence education has prepared you for leadership in this world… your world.    You know better.  You think better.

So, as you go forth, please work for change motivated by compassion, motivated by a love of human dignity, a respect for human rights, and a disposition of gentleness towards others and the earth.

It is an honor to share this day with you.