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THE SPEAKERS AND THE HONORED

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Gov. George Pataki
Making just the second commencement address of his life (he made the first that morning at Siena College near Albany) New York Governor George Pataki revealed that the only election he lost in his life was as a high school student attending a Boy's State convention at Colgate in the 1960s.

In a speech notably absent of political messages, Pataki said: "Most politicians would tell you that giving something back to society means devoting part of your lives to public service. But such generic advice ignores the fact that an undertaking is only as noble as the intentions behind it.

"From my own experience," he said, "I can tell you that hard work usually leads to success, but success -- or rather, society's interpretation of success -- doesn't necessarily lead to happiness. You can't truly be successful unless you are engaged in a pursuit that is full of purpose and has personal significance."

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Jeremiah Wright, Jr.
The governor's talk was the second major speech of the day. The first was the baccalaureate address delivered in Memorial Chapel that morning by Jeremiah Wright, Jr., pastor of Trinity United Church of Christ of Chicago, whose voice, President Grabois noted, "is consistently raised for the radical inclusivity of the human community and whose rooting is profoundly biblical." Wright is connected with two earlier Colgate speakers of note: Samuel Proctor and Cornel West. Proctor was Wright's doctoral adviser; West was a co-mentor with Wright and Molefi Asante in the Doctoral Program that they led at the United Theological Seminary.

Following up on a message in Paul's Letter to the Corinthians, Wright observed: "Sometimes when persons are struggling for something, when they are working hard to reach a goal, to graduate from Colgate, to pass final exams, their prayer life is much stronger. Their faith is much stronger. Scripture becomes much more meaningful. But after they reach that goal, after they achieve that plateau, somehow faith recedes into the background and Paul is saying to the Church at Corinth, `Don't do that.' As you graduate and go out into the world, you also are going to be put to the test. I want you to remember, no matter what the test, God is with you."

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Honorary degree recipients from left, Stephen Carter, David Kessler, Jeremiah Wright, Jr., Kurt Masur, David Lawrence and Gov. George Pataki with President Grabois

Governor Pataki received the doctor of laws, and Pastor Wright the doctor of letters. Others receiving honorary degrees were Yale law professor and author Stephen Carter (doctor of laws), former FDA Commissioner and now Yale Law School Dean David Kessler (doctor of science), Miami Herald Publisher David Lawrence (doctor of letters), and New York Philharmonic Music Director Kurt Masur (doctor of music).

Each of the honorands approached the weekend in his own way. For David Lawrence, the journalist's curiosity took over. Full of questions at every turn, Lawrence left a Saturday evening dinner to carry a torch with the graduating class. And he was up early for the baccalaureate, which he found to be, "A wonderful way to start the day." JL


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Impressions of Graduation 1998