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It's Time to Commence Reflecting about College Past and Beyond


It's gown-wearing time up on the Syracuse University hill this weekend, and that starts the procession of graduates, parents, siblings, boyfriends and girlfriends, grandparents, neighbors, friends, proud people all at the colleges in the valleys and on the shores of our fine region.

Graduation. Commencement, if you wish to push deeper into the academic lexicon, most certainly the preferred word on the headline on the page proclaiming best-selling author Mary Karr as the addressee at the Syracuse University ceremony that starts at 9:30 a.m. Sunday in the Carrier Dome.

SUNY Morrisville holds its ceremony in Madison County on Sunday, too. 

Let's see. Sunday morning May 17, the Le Moyne College commencement over on that hill will feature an address by Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the archbishop of New York. At SUNY Oswego on Saturday, May 16, they'll split their ceremony into three parts for different schools, with a trio of speakers: Margaret A. Focarino, commissioner of patents at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office for the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences; Yvonne Spicer, a vice president for the National Center for Technological Literacy for the School of Education; and Fritz Messere, dean of the School of Communication, Media and the Arts for his school and the School of Business Administration. They  sound like wise folks, all.

So it goes, with Onondaga Community College, SUNY Cortland and Cazenovia College all will be graduating their seniors on May 16, too. Hobart and William Smith; Ithaca College; Cayuga Community College, May 17; and Colgate University. Cornell May 24. If I missed one around here that you consider local, I apologize.

Let's just say that chances are pretty good that you, somebody you're related to, or somebody you know very, very well has been or will be involved in one of these ceremonies.

I put on a green cap and gown and flipped my tassel after receiving an associate's degree for journalism in May 1977 at what was then called Morrisville Agricultural and Technical College.

My parents and my sisters came up from Long Island. My girlfriend's father came down from Old Forge.

That's me in the picture, on the quad. 

I cannot recall who was our commencement speaker that day.

Were we inspired? It's no long shot to say that we were. We'd just spent two years of our lives studying together, growing up together, fresh out of high school and thrown into a strange place and told to make something of ourselves, get passing grades, or go home. And we'd make it.

Were my parents and sisters proud? I know they were. They'd sent away kids are were getting back young adults excited for the next chapter and challenge.

Three years ago this May, I was able to experience it from the other perspective, as my smart daughter received her bachelor's from SUNY Oneonta. My dear wife Karen and I sat in two separate commencement ceremonies and heard two notable speakers. Who they were I cannot recall. But I can remember how proud the crowd around the table was that evening at the dinner at Benihana's in Liverpool to celebrate as older and younger adults told stories and wished well and basked and speculated. Perhaps some memories from Morrisville returned. Just a little uneasiness and I-know from the former students, maybe, and a bit of know-it-all and cocky you'll-see from the elders?

Some things never change.

That's why this weekend, next weekend and the one following, are special here in Central New York. Some notable speakers will laud students for hard work, warn them of lurking pitfalls, pump them up and give them advice. Parents and families and friends will listen, watch, be proud and wonder what will come next, and what they can do to make life's realities be manageable while letting the young adult fly off. Teachers will quickly recharge for another round.

Things will be said to ponder, to cherish, to remember.

Please feel free to add your wisdom and memories to the conversation by commenting below.

I wrote more about the experience of Morrisville journalism students in particular today at my blog, after attending the convocation to pay tribute to retiring professor Brian McDowell. You can read that story by clicking here.

Mark Bialczak has lived in Central New York for 30 years. He's well known for writing about music and entertainment. In 2013, he started his own blog,, to comment about the many and various things that cross his mind daily.