Rep. Katherine Clarke '85

Remarks at Commencement - May 22, 2016

Thank you President Fox, Board of Trustees, Honorary degree recipients, faculty, parents, friends and loved ones, and most importantly the Class of 2016. I am honored to be with you today and humbled to receive this honorary degree.

I sat in your seat in 1985. I had brown hair, had been out too late at the Hoot Owl and was both excited and terrified to be graduating. In fact when President Fox contacted me with the wonderful news that I was going to receive an honorary degree here today, I confess I checked to make sure that my diploma was signed!

I thought many things on my graduation day - gratitude to my family, how I had made incredible friends that I was going to miss, and thoughts of what the future would hold - and how I hoped the speakers did not go on too long.

And now that a politician has taken control of the mic, I’m sure many of you may have similar concerns. So I’ll get right to it– first, my most heartfelt congratulations. Today marks a milestone and a major accomplishment. Everyone here takes pride in your success - and you are a beautiful sight. Each of you has a unique story, you have met challenges and taken advantage of opportunities that all got you here today.

I am certain you will use your degree, your education and your fellow alumni as a platform to launch from. But I want to you to see that your St. Lawrence experience is also a safety net. Your accomplishments, friendships and fellow Laurentians will break your fall. And I hope you will fall. And fail. And do it regularly.

Because while falling, even into a net, is very rarely graceful, it’s how you grow, it’s how you stretch and it’s how you find your true joy. I have failed in big ways and small since graduating from St. Lawrence, and sometimes even when you have a safety net, it hurts. But as hockey great Wayne Gretzky said, “you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.” And taking those missed shots, has allowed me to find my passion for public service and to have a wonderful family – who I thank for being here with me today!

The world is very different than it was 31 years ago when I graduated. And no, I’m not just talking about that we had nothing like Kirk Douglas Hall in 1985! We are living in a time of unprecedented opportunity. We are part of a technological revolution, big data is transforming the way we cure diseases and do business, and you will be part of the most diverse workforce in the history of our country. We also face unprecedented challenges with a yawning chasm between rich and poor, and global security threats ranging from climate change to extremism.

We need your ideas, creativity and grit. We need you to take a risk, so that you continue learning and exploring. Your St. Lawrence education is not static; it will continue to support you as you push yourself, and all of us, forward with you.

So dream big Class of 2016, take the shot, keep your hearts open and always, always – no matter how crazy/scary the political year- vote! And we’ll be there to give you a hand up when you need it, and to watch you soar. Congratulations and thank you for having me as part of the 2016 graduation ceremony and honoring me with this degree.