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Speakers encourage SLU graduates

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CANTON — As the Brockville Pipes & Drums led more than 580 new St. Lawrence University graduates Sunday in a recessional, they struck the familiar tones of “Auld Lang Syne,” the Robert Burns paean typically sung amid the revelry of a New Year’s celebration.

It was a fitting coda to the institution’s commencement, where the Class of 2012 was asked to blaze a new path into the world while holding onto the acquaintances and memories from their time on campus.

“By now you’ve walked all the paths on campus and memorized the shortcuts, but there is one path you have yet to tread,” said William L. Fox, university president. “To walk across the stage, to collect something that is yours for life.”

Michael D. Petroni, a biology graduate from Marlborough, Conn., was more direct as he delivered the senior oration.

“Atop this Laurentian hill, pointed maple leaves unfold, wings flutter through the branches and searching souls young and old gather to celebrate a momentous occasion,” he said. “Graduates, here we are at last. We have done it, we have done it, we have done it! Saints, here we are at last!”

Mr. Petroni said a spirit of cooperation and fellowship made St. Lawrence a special place.

“We are not just individuals jostling for position in a crowded world, but a combination of the people, places and stories which ignite our passions and love for life,” he said. “We may be leaving, but the bonds we have built remain. Keep them open and strong. Use them well. Become the person you want to be. Then teach your passions to others.”

A total of 584 degrees were awarded: 561 bachelor’s and 23 master’s degrees.

“It is so hard to know whether today should be happy or sad,” said Rachel Yalowich, a biochemistry and sociology graduate. “We leave today just as we came, excited but full of anxiety.”

That excitement was muted by the sardonic wit of Garry B. Trudeau, creator of the “Doonesbury” comic strip, who was awarded an honorary doctorate of humane letters at the ceremony.

“My goal as the cleanup speaker is to make sure you aren’t released into today’s economy until properly sedated,” he said.

The graduates should be observant, conscientious contributors to the world they’re entering, Mr. Trudeau said.

“Your education here was about taking a look, and then another, and then another, breaking through walls of complacency, whether they were built of self-deception or prejudice, always challenging the obvious, asking the impertinent question,” he said. “The only thing I fear more than fear itself is the moral certainty it seems to engender. ... it has always been doubt, not certainty, the constant questioning and testing of cherished assumptions, that has moved us closer to a humane and just world.”

Mary DiSanto-Rose, a 1975 graduate, also received an honorary Doctor of Arts for her decades of experience teaching dance on the collegiate level. Martha Swan, founder of John Brown Lives!, a global anti-slavery campaign, was awarded the North Country Citation.

“Plug in and be of use,” Ms. Swan said. “But also unplug and tune in to the sounds of silence and what poet Wendell Berry calls ‘the peace of wild things.’ In that quiet, cultivate your singular voice and make loving the world your life.”

Kelsey F. Tuminelli of Quakerfield, Mass., who received a bachelor’s degree in environmental studies and government, said the ceremony helped to calm her nerves ahead of a move to Orlando, Fla.

“I feel excited. I was nervous, but not anymore,” she said. “I have an internship at Sea World this summer. I will be a camp counselor there, teaching children about the animals in the park.”

Fellow graduate Alexander H. Duane, with a mathematics degree in hand, will take his education on a cross-country trip with conservation biology graduate Alexander R. Skaggs.

“We’re riding our bikes across country from Maine to British Columbia,” he said. “I feel great. St. Lawrence has meant a lot to me.”

Mr. Duane said he wouldn’t forget the acquaintances he met while at the university.

“It is a huge community here,” he said. “I can’t separate my social and academic life — everyone is so supportive, and we’ve all been integrated into the community and the north country.”

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