Lasher: ‘And So There I Was in Poland’

By Elise Donovan ’22

Herald Contributor

On August 27, the greater population of Hobart and William Smith Colleges gathered in the Vandervort Room to celebrate the start of the 2018-2019 school year. Featuring remarks from esteemed alums, student leaders, and HWS faculty, the ceremony presented inspiratory comments for the Classes of 2019, as well as words of welcome for the Classes of 2022.

To commence the ceremony, keynote speaker Margarita Ramos ’85, Global Head of Human Resource Compliance for Bank of America Merrill Lynch and former HWS trustee, spoke of her own experiences on campus as well as how her past lead her to HWS.

Having grown up as “the youngest of five Latina daughters raised in New York City by a single mother,” Ramos yearned for a place where she could share her story and use her voice, as well a place away from the city. As a kid, Ramos spent her summers in upstate New York as part of the Fresh Air Kid program, a not-for-profit agency that provides free summer excursions around the country to New York City children from low-income communities. It was within this program that Ramos learned of Hobart and William Smith Colleges, as well as developed her newfound admiration and dedication to the school. Once at HWS, Margarita spoke of a time where she was given “freedom to explore who I was, to take appropriate risks, and to test my voice. Here, I was empowered to interact — to challenge and become my best self.”

In his speech, Interim President Patrick A. McGuire L.H.D. ’12 noted a similar idea of using your voice for change with reference to a speech given by Martin Luther King, Jr. at St. Peter’s College in the 1960s. McGuire spoke with the intention to inspire students to remain active in their education, saying, “The project of education is built on coming up short … Your time is now as you begin your career at HWS.” In ending his speech, Interim President McGuire left the crowd with the inspiration to make the most of their time on campus in the coming year.

Other speakers, such as HWS Trustee Dr. Jeremy T. Cushman ’96, spoke of the role of choices in one’s  path to success, in that the choices made here “will reflect upon you, your community and this [Hobart and William Smith] family.” To add, both the William Smith and Hobart Student trustees made references to their time abroad in their advice. In line with the idea of taking the time on campus to make change, Gavin R. Gross ’19, who studied abroad in Nanjing, China, took time to address that not all change had to be immediate. In reference to the idea of making mistakes, Gross was quoted saying, “There is no better place to fail than here.” Caitlin E. Lasher ’19, who studied abroad in New Zealand and in the Netherlands, made reference to the same idea of failing to succeed by saying, “You will have challenges that you will face, and ultimately, only you can conquer these problems with the skills you have learned here.” She noted that her own challenges while struggling abroad – for instance, getting lost in Poland – were helped by “the skills I had learned and the people I have met while home at Hobart and William Smith Colleges.”

To help ease the obviously overwhelmed First Years, Associate Professor of Media and Society Leah Shafer provided some much needed relaxation techniques in wake of all the inspiratory messages. In one exercise, Shafer urged the audience to take part in yogic breathing, a form of breathing in which one exerts his or her pent-up energy in deep sighs. To remember the day, Shafer urged all attendees to take a selfie as a memento of Convocation.

Leah Shafer continued by encouraging all students to take advantage of the many resources available at HWS, as well as to take advantage of every day spent here on campus. She advised students to “make every day that you spend here a convocation, an opportunity for exploration” as well as to “build community, enlarge the small … and strive to enjoy your privileged place as a person alive right here, right now.”

The ceremony concluded with the obligatory bagpipe procession, and a mass exodus of people from the Vandervort room directly to Saga. In discussion afterwards, many students were positively impacted by the speeches, with many pointing to the poignant words of Margarita Ramos. Others reacted similarly, but with a slight indignation towards the proceedings taking place inside rather than on Stern Lawn, the original location. Personally, I was glad the heat advisory and storm warnings allowed for air conditioning.

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