2020 Commencement Address

Good morning, and welcome to the Commencement exercises for the St. Lawrence University Class of 2020!

My name is Kate Morris, and I am the brand new President of St. Lawrence University, a role I began exactly one month ago, on July 1, 2021. It is my honor and privilege to be here today with our 2020 graduates and your loved ones.

Indeed, if there is any graduating class that most deserves pomp and circumstance to celebrate their accomplishments, it is the graduating Class of 2020. You have waited a very long time, and through very difficult circumstances, for this day to arrive.

In the months since I was announced as president-elect, and in the month since I have served as president, I have learned that Laurentians have a seriousness of purpose, a fierce commitment to community, an adventurous spirit, and a depth of resilience. These characteristics served your graduating class particularly well as you navigated the most challenging times of any set of college students in recent history. Like your families, friends, faculty, and staff, I am proud of your accomplishments and am honored to be here with you today as we recognize and celebrate your graduation.

And what a celebration it has been thus far! I trust you've enjoyed your return to campus this weekend. Folks on campus planned and carried out great events for you, great meals for you. Last night's fireworks were outstanding. In fact, although it's been a labor of love, I hope you realize that literally hundreds of people on campus have made this weekend possible for you graduates. We have had people from all divisions of the university--Operations and Facilities, Dining, University Advancement, Student Life, Academic Affairs, and Safety and Security--who have come together because we wanted you and your guests to have an amazing experience. Let's give a moment of thanks to all of those who made this possible.

President Kate Morris.

And while we're in that moment of gratitude: to the parents, to the families, to the loved ones, to all of you who have supported these graduates, thanks to you. Hey graduates, stand up, look for your people. Tell them thank you for everything that they have done for you, not only to get you to this moment today, but all throughout your life. And if your folks aren't here, look into the camera right there because it's being live-streamed. Please give them some recognition and gratitude.

Throughout this weekend I've been pleased to see so many recent graduates and your families full of energy and enthusiasm to be back and I'm confident we'll keep that great vibe going. Let's enjoy the ceremony today because you deserve it.

And although I am your president now, during your young alumni years, I was not your president during your student years. That president, your president, is President Bill Fox. Today, President Fox will be introducing the Senior Speakers, serving as your Commencement Speaker delivering today’s Keynote Address, and ceremoniously conferring your degrees, just as he did one year ago when you completed your degree requirements. I will congratulate you and welcome you to the alumni community from the side of the stage.

It is therefore my honor and privilege to introduce William L. Fox, President Emeritus, who will now preside and serve as your Keynote Speaker.

By way of introduction, I would like to read from the resolution of recognition approved by the St. Lawrence University Board of Trustees at their May 2021 meeting, honoring your president, President Emeritus William L. Fox. 

From the resolution:

“Whereas Bill Fox began his presidency as St. Lawrence faced the effects of a serious recession, and he commissioned two all-campus working groups to respond to the financial challenges, and then envisioned a bold next chapter for the University; and

Whereas with campus colleagues, Bill Fox brought that vision to life through the Strategic Map, which shaped a decade of tremendous growth for the institution: implementing a distinctive new curriculum that included the development of St. Lawrence’s popular business in the liberal arts major, an environmental literacy requirement, as well as in-demand programs such as a statistics major and public health minor; and

Whereas off-campus study programs expanded during Bill Fox’s tenure to include 30 programs in more than 20 countries, including St. Lawrence’s innovative Liberal Arts in New York City semester and the Sustainability Program in Canton; and

Whereas Bill Fox gave priority to creating a more inclusive campus, empaneling the Presidential Diversity Commission and the Presidential Commission on the Causes and Prevention of Sexual Misconduct; hiring the University’s first Associate Dean for Diversity and Inclusion, and supporting the Black Laurentians Initiative, among many new programs; and

Whereas the University’s secure future has been assured by Bill Fox’s faith and trust in the Experience St. Lawrence: A Task Force on Structure, Policy, and Planning, a report accepted in December 2020 by the Board of Trustees; and

Whereas since Bill Fox’s arrival in 2009, St. Lawrence’s total enrollment accounted for the broadest geographical representation ever in the university’s history, with U.S. students of color and international students making up more than 20% of the current student body; and

Whereas Bill Fox led the University to record fundraising results as The Campaign for Every Laurentian has [now] exceeded its $225 million goal, with a focus on funding priorities that allow for innovation and the delivery of a 21st-century liberal arts experience for all students; and

Whereas during Bill Fox’s tenure, St. Lawrence’s campus grew to include timeless new buildings and renovated historical spaces spanning academics, athletics, and the arts; and

Whereas when the iconic and beloved Gunnison Memorial Chapel spire was heavily damaged by a fire in October 2013, Bill Fox resolved to have it rebuilt, repaired, and added back to the North Country skyline; and

Whereas in his last year of his presidency, his leadership extended to assuring the existential safety of the Laurentian community as its members faced a global pandemic that caused swift and complete reinvention of residential, liberal arts education; and

Whereas Bill Fox’s greatest legacy may be the immeasurable value he placed on relationships with fellow Laurentians, from offering countless open office hours for students seeking advice or counsel and writing innumerable notes of congratulations, condolence, or gratitude; to enjoying a spontaneous chicken salad sandwich in Dana with whomever welcomed him to their table and jogging the Saddlemire Trail with the track and field team members as their faculty advisor; and

Whereas for President Fox’s devotion to the St. Lawrence student body, the Board of Trustees has honored him by naming the Fox Center for Academic Opportunity in tribute to him; 

Therefore, the Board of Trustees, on behalf of every Laurentian, makes its formal gratitude and respect known by this declaration that William L. Fox shall hereby be named President Emeritus of St. Lawrence University; and

Be it further resolved that the Board of Trustees further resolves to rename Madill Hall, the location of the Fox Center for Academic Opportunity, as Fox Hall.”

On a personal note, since I met President Fox in February, he has become a colleague, mentor, and friend. President Fox, it is truly my honor to introduce you today.

Class of 2020, I invite you to greet President Emeritus Bill Fox.

Sunday, August 1, 2021