2023 Commencement Address

Good Morning and welcome to the St. Lawrence University May 2023 Commencement Ceremony! 

It is my distinct pleasure and honor to welcome our graduates and your guests to campus today for this auspicious occasion. Graduates, today we celebrate a tremendous milestone in your lives. The faculty and staff are proud of you. Indeed, Commencement is one of our proudest days on campus. Class of 2023, you are an impressive group who demonstrated perseverance, resilience, grit, and determination in the face of challenges.  

It has been a real joy to celebrate your successes in a variety of ways over the past few weeks, including yesterday’s Phi Beta Kappa induction ceremony, in which academic leaders of your class joined the country’s oldest and most prestigious academic honor society. 

This morning, let me share with you some details about your graduating class that illustrate the ways in which you have immersed yourselves in all that St. Lawrence offers to prepare yourselves for whatever comes next. 

Let’s start with the most important topic: academics. The most popular programs of study for this year’s graduates are our majors in Business in the Liberal Arts, Psychology, Economics, Government, and Performance & Communication Arts. And nearly a third of you pursued more than one major and more than half of you declared one or more minors. 

Some of you even completed a triple major. Nathan Turtledove, for example, is graduating with a triple major in Business in the Liberal Arts, Government, and Economics. This summer, he is heading to the Dartmouth College Tuck School of Business Bridge Program. Nathan has really taken full advantage of the St. Lawrence experience. He has served as the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee president, the Jewish Student Union president, a music columnist for The Hill News, and as tennis team captain.  

Like Nathan, so many of you followed your academic passions, and often discovered new ones, with the guidance of faculty mentors. You have reported to us that your collaborations with professors who challenged, encouraged and supported you as you pursued research and creative projects have been a highlight of your St. Lawrence experience.  

Perhaps one of the best-known student-faculty collaborations over the past year is the one starring the turtle-tracking dog named Newt. Julia Sirois, a conservation biology major, received a research fellowship to support her work last summer with biology professor Kristine Hoffman. Together, they trained Newt to sniff out turtles across Rhode Island as part of a conservation project designed to preserve endangered species. Julia’s work with Dr. Hoffman and Newt made national headlines, with an extended feature in People Magazine.   

English major Curtis Amory completed a fantasy novel titled “Blood and Roots” for his final project under the guidance of his mentor, English professor Sarah Gates. Curtis’s novel was informed by his important work and leadership for SLU EMS during his time at St. Lawrence.  

And Cora Ferguson, a Biology and Physics combined major with a math and sports studies and exercise science double minor, spent the past year researching magnetic fields as a therapeutic tool to promote neural regeneration for patients who have suffered strokes. She says she is grateful to her advisors, physics professor Massooma Pirbhai and biology and psychology professor Ana Estevez, who advised her as she conducted experiments, and presented her research. Cora will be heading to the University of Oregon for her Ph.D. in bioengineering. Also a student-athlete, Cora was named to the Academic All-District softball team by the College Sports Information Directors of America.  

Speaking of athletics: 

This year, of the 145 seniors who are varsity athletes, with 100 of you receiving either Conference All-Academic or All-Conference Honors. And 8 student-athletes from your class have earned All-American honors during your time at St. Lawrence. 

Athletes from the Class of 2023 have played on several league or regional title-winning teams, including Riding, Men’s Hockey, Men’s Soccer, Women’s Cross Country, Women’s Squash, Men’s Basketball, and Men’s rowing. 

Beyond athletics, campus leadership in our community’s more than 150 clubs and organizations has also been integral to your journey and has made our campus better. 

Rachel Burke was nationally recognized by the Andrew Goodman Foundation for her nonpartisan voter engagement efforts helping our campus community register, learn more, and turn out to vote in the 2022 Midterm Elections.  

And Marteas Johnson served as treasurer of Thelmo and as house coordinator for the Black Student Union. He applied for and received a Racial Justice Equity Project grant through the Black Laurentian Initiative. The grant supported a life-changing journey to Jamaica, where Marteas conducted research on Black-owned businesses. Marteas is a Business in the Liberal Arts and Mathematics double major, and will be joining Goldman Sachs as an analyst at their Newport Beach office in California.  

The pandemic foiled some of your study abroad plans, but nearly a third of you were still able to pursue Off-campus study at our signature programs in the heart of the Adirondacks, in New York City, in Kenya, in London, and at partner programs around the world, and these experiences shaped your goals for leading lives of impact after graduation.  

For example, Maddie Mercier studied abroad in Kenya, where she interned for the Flone Initiative, a women-led organization, working towards the creation of safe, sustainable, and accessible public transportation spaces for women and vulnerable groups in Africa. This summer, she will be interning for the Brookings Institution doing policy research for their African Security Initiative project. Following that, she’ll attend Utrecht University in the Netherlands to pursue a master's degree in Conflict Studies and Human Rights.  

And Derek Sherrange spent the first semester abroad in the London First Year Program and then completed a St. Lawrence University Public Interest Corps internship with GardenShare exploring issues of agriculture and food justice in St. Lawrence County. After Derek receives his diploma today, he will be interning with the U.S. Department of State in the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor – Office of South and Central Asia. Then, with the support of a Fulbright Scholarship, he’ll pursue a master's in international relations at IE University in Madrid, Spain. He has already been accepted to the Global Studies Ph.D. program at UC Irvine after he receives his master’s.  

Many of you have made important connections with the St. Lawrence alumni network, consistently ranked in the top 5 nationally among all private institutions.  Over 150 of you completed the formal year-long LINC alumni mentoring program, while many, many more of you had the benefit of informal meetings with alumni in career fields that interest you. And we estimate that over 200 of you participated in organized events including both virtual and in person SLU Connect programs in cities around the country, including Burlington, Boston, and San Francisco. Through these programs, alumni generously offer advice, business cards, and leads for jobs and internships. 

And you’ve completed some fascinating internships. Zhuoer Li, a Philosophy and Mathematics double major from China, spent two semesters off-campus to immerse herself in American work culture and to make connections with alumni in finance. She studied in Washington, D.C. in the spring of 2022 and then in our NYC Semester in the fall. While there, she interned at Class of 1980 alum and trustee Trip Samson's office at Landmark Management. She was recently hired by Class of 1991 alum Steve Wesson to work at HQ Capital as an Investment Analyst.  

And Evan Holm, an Economics and Environmental Studies combined major and Statistics minor, credits the large St. Lawrence presence within eBay as key to his opportunities with the company. After completing a summer internship with the company in San Jose, California last summer, he will return following graduation to take part in its Finance Futures Program, a two-year rotational finance development program that will give Evan valuable professional experience and insight. 

Graduates, individually and as a class, you have much to be proud of. You’ve succeeded in the classroom, completed independent projects, collaborated with faculty on research, scholarship and creative activities, studied abroad and studied away, completed internships, completed community-based learning, served as leaders on campus, and were successful in your athletic endeavors. And now, you are ready.  

You are ready to take on the future, no matter if that is going into the workforce, going to graduate school or to professional school, going to a service program, or if like my own daughter who graduated from college two weeks ago, you still need a little time to discern those next steps. The fact that you were successful here in all the ways I described—and that you did that in far from ideal circumstances due to the pandemic that affected your college years, is testament to the fact that you are ready. 

Graduates—As you experience this moment today, I encourage you to take a deep breath, and let yourself experience the emotions this day brings: pride, joy, and maybe some relief.  

And I also hope that during your special day today, that make room for gratitude. After all, while today is YOUR day, you didn’t get here alone. Let’s take a few moments to recognize some of the individuals who have supported you in getting to this moment.   
We are so grateful to your guests who are here with you today. Your parents, family members, and friends have supported you, encouraged you, and helped you reach this milestone. Parents, family members, and friends, will you please rise as you are able, so that your students, and we as faculty and staff, may thank you for your role in our graduates’ success?    

Graduates, in addition to the steadfast support of your families and friends, throughout your years at St. Lawrence, you were challenged and supported by our faculty, who serve as teachers, advisers, and mentors.  Your academic and personal development is a direct consequence of the meaningful interactions you have had with our faculty members, both inside and outside of the classroom.  

Faculty, will you please rise, as you are able, so that we may honor your role in our students’ educational success and personal development? Thank you for all that you do, every day, to challenge and support our students—they would not be here today without you.