American history is full of examples of people whose appearance, background, religion, sex, or race caused other people to discount them at the beginning, but who overcame that underestimation to make important contributions.
So said Dr. Christopher Leahy, professor of history and the 2014-15 Professor of the Year at Keuka College, in his keynote address Tuesday at academic convocation, which marks the official opening of the 2015-16 academic year. The ceremony includes a colorful processional with upperclassman bearing flags from around the world and faculty in regalia lining the sidewalk to Norton Chapel and applauding new students as they enter. This year, a record-setting number of new students experienced this symbolic rite of passage.
In Dr. Leahy’s address, the eight-year faculty veteran challenged students to resist the temptation to discount what someone else might teach them because of “superficial attributes.” He gave two examples from American history of individuals initially underestimated who defied expectations to make an undeniable mark: Al Smith, a NY State Assemblyman and four-term governor, and Fannie Lou Hamer, a civil rights activist and one-time Congressional candidate from Mississippi.
“People underestimated both Al Smith and Fannie Lou Hamer,” Dr. Leahy contended. “In Smith’s case, his colleagues in the NY State Assembly believed they had nothing to learn from a Bowery Irishman whose accent and (Catholic) religion were suspect. In Hamer’s case, her impoverished background, her race—and her sex—led white Mississippians to doubt her resolve and ability to effect change… Enough people doubted them, or told them they could not succeed, that they might have started to believe it themselves. Yet they did not.”
According to Dr. Leahy, Smith’s lack of formal education and Catholic background garnered condescension from Ivy League-educated legislators from elsewhere in the state, when he first won his Assembly seat in 1903. Yet Smith fought to prove himself, committing legislative bills to memory, sponsoring bills of his own, and leading the commission investigating the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire of 1911. Ultimately, Smith was elected governor of New York in 1917, served four terms and became the first Catholic to earn the Democratic nomination for U.S. President in 1928.
The granddaughter of slaves and child to sharecropper parents, Hamer became a vocal activist in the civil rights movement, literally singing hymns to scores of African-Americans riding buses to voter registration stations throughout the state. Famous for the line “I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired,” Hamer endured an arrest, jail beating and other persecutions to rally African-Americans and white students in the North to support civil rights. Her work helped bring national attention to the Civil Rights Bill championed by Pres. Lyndon Johnson in 1964. In addition to a run for Congress, Hamer also fought to win seats for African-American delegates of the Mississippi Freedom Party at the Democratic National Convention; stymied in 1964, she succeeded by 1968.
Dr. Leahy even shared a personal instance of underestimation: as a high school sophomore in Baltimore, Leahy complained to a friend after just one class that his new European history teacher, Dr. Dan Allen, was a boring government bureaucrat with a funny accent. But Leahy learned quite a lesson as Dr. Allen—who’d overheard the complaints —dismantled every presumption Leahy made, in the next class and over the course of the year.
An embarrassed Leahy was surprised to learn that Dr. Allen had a background in military intelligence with the U.S. Air Force, and spent four years working as the American embassy’s military expert in Czechoslovakia. Further, Dr. Allen was a friend of Dr. Jeane Kirkpatrick, the Georgetown University professor who helped shape American policy during the Cold War as Pres. Ronald Reagan’s Ambassador to the United Nations. Dr. Allen eventually became one of Leahy’s favorite teachers and inspired him to pursue a doctorate of his own.
Dr. Leahy closed with a 1910 quote from President Theodore Roosevelt that advocates credit be given to the individual who “strives valiantly,” in spite of coming short, “spends himself in a worthy cause;” and who ultimately experiences either the enthusiasms and devotions of high achievement or who “at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory or defeat.’”
Brief remarks to welcome new students were also shared Tuesday by College President Dr. Jorge L. Díaz-Herrera and Alan Ziegler, vice-chair of the Board of Trustees. The president encouraged students that the College will prepare them for the journey of their professional life, particularly through developing individuals who know how to apply digital technology within the context of their respective professions. The College’s Digital Learning@Keuka College (DL@KC) initiative includes a digital studies minor and incorporates digital literacy throughout the curriculum.
“My advice to you, Class of 2019, is to learn as much about this as you can. Learn to read and write code, the new literacy,” Dr. Díaz-Herrera challenged, posing questions aspects of DL@KC could answer within a number of academic majors. “You will learn that you have the power to do amazing things. When you graduate from Keuka College you will have that thread of digital literacy woven through all aspects of your education.”
Click here for more photos from Academic Convocation
Buoyed by high spirits and sunny skies, the 488 members of the Keuka College Class of 2015 and marched forward into the future, inspired by words of advice and encouragement from two high achievers. Saturday marked the 107th Commencement Exercises for Keuka College.
Both U.S. Senator Charles Schumer (D- N.Y.), and Dr. T. Alan Hurwitz, president of Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C. relayed personal stories of overcoming adversity, offering advice to the graduates how to turn challenges into stepping stones.
While pursuing his first degree in electrical engineering, Dr. Hurwitz had no tutors, interpreters or note-takers, and had to rely entirely upon lip-reading. In one especially challenging electronics course, he had the option to take an F as his grade and repeat the course, or take a D and move on. After careful consideration, Hurwitz chose the F “because failing meant that I had another chance,” he told graduates.
“After the second time around, I got an A,” he said. “As you embark on your careers or post-graduate studies, remember that failure is not the end. Failing at something does not mean that you are a failure. It simply offers you an opportunity to learn and grow and do better the next time.”
Indeed, Dr. Hurwitz’s own story showcases his drive to overcome the many challenges and barriers he faced growing up as a deaf child in Sioux City, Iowa, before eventually rising through the ranks at the National Technical Institute for the Deaf (NTID) at the Rochester Institute of Technology to become its president. After a 40-year career at NTID, Dr. Hurwitz went on to become president of Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C., which, similar to NTID, serves students who are deaf or hard of hearing.
In a similar way, Sen. Schumer also made the most of a challenge faced after earning his bachelor’s degree. After missing an opportunity to travel the world for one year on an all-expense paid scholarship, Schumer stopped moping, dusted himself off, graduated law school and went on to earn his first seat as a NYS Assemblyman at the age of 23.
“The fact that you’ve gotten this great education at Keuka College and the fact that you are the first generation to grow up amidst this new technology so it’s almost instinct to you means one thing: If there was ever a time to figure out what your dream is and reach high for it, even if it seems hard to get to, now is that time,” Schumer told graduates in a surprise visit to the stage. “Reach deep down inside yourself. See what you’re made of. See if you can achieve that dream. My advice to the Class of 2015 is very simple: Go for it!”
“It’s not only my hope, not only my prayer, but indeed it is my confidence that you will succeed with flying colors and achieve your dreams,” Schumer said.
In additional activity at Commencement:
For more photos from Commencement, click here.
With the recent defeat of incumbent Mary Landrieu in Louisiana, the Republican Party will hold 54 Senate seats–a net gain of nine–in the next Congress.The midterm elections also saw the Republicans increase their advantage in the House of Representatives and add to their lead in governorships.
What were the reasons behind the GOP’s dominating performance?
To answer that question and others, Doug Lippincott, executive director of grants, governmental relations, and compliance invited Associate Professor of History Chris Leahy to be his guest on the December edition of Keuka College Today, which airs on WFLR (Dundee).
Leahy,who regularly appears on the show, talks about the obvious and not so obvious reasons behind the GOP’s big win and what it could mean for President Obama’s final two years in the White House. He also opines on what impact the midterm elections will have on the Tea Party, and while he weighs in on a possible Clinton-Bush rematch in 2016 (Hillary and Jeb, that is), he also offers up a somewhat surprising prediction for the GOP standard-bearer in 2016.
Keuka College will mark Veterans Day Tuesday, Nov. 11 with a 4:15 p.m. ceremony in Norton Chapel.
Local veterans, their families, and friends are invited to join the College community in the ceremony honoring veterans who have served our country.
College President Jorge L. Díaz-Herrera is expected to deliver remarks along with Chris Leahy, associate professor of history, who will speak on the meaning of Veterans Day; and Denise Duby, administrative assistant for the Office of Alumni and Family Relations. The founder of a support group for military families, Duby’s son is serving in the Marines. Duran Allen, a member of the Class of 2018 and a veteran, will also speak. Eric Detar, College chaplain, will offer a prayer of remembrance.
The program also includes Jeff Miller ’15 singing the Star-Spangled Banner, and Olivia O’Boyle ’15 singing Hero. Veterans’ names and pictures will be part of a special musical PowerPoint tribute, and each veteran will receive a flower.
The ceremony will conclude in front of the chapel with a 21-gun salute and the playing of Taps by members of the Penn Yan V.F.W. Color Guard.
After the service, local veterans are invited to have dinner in the Geiser Refectory, Dahlstrom Student Center. The first 50 veterans who show their military I.D. will receive their dinner compliments of AVI Fresh, the College’s food service provider. Meals can be purchased by other guests for $10.60 each.
Anyone from the community interested in honoring a veteran during the College’s ceremony can contact Laurie Adams, assistant director of alumni and family relations, at (315) 279-5653.The deadline for including a veteran’s name in the program is Friday, Nov. 7.
It’s spring 2014.
What better time to talk about the 2016 presidential election.
It’s about 19 months before the first primary and more than two years before the electorate will cast its vote to determine President Obama’s successor. However, things are heating up already.
Will Hillary Clinton seek the Democratic nomination? What about Joe Biden? Are there other contenders?
And what about the Republicans? Can Chris Christie overcome his troubles? Will the GOP cast their lot with Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, or someone else.
Meanwhile, in the Empire State, Gov. Cuomo is up for re-election this November. The Republicans have not fielded a strong contender since George Pataki. Will they this time around?
And then there’s the mid-term elections. Can the GOP take the Senate?
Associate Professor of History Chris Leahy sorts it all out in this interview with Doug Lippincott, which aired recently on WFLR’s Keuka College Today.