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
Rocker Alice Cooper proclaimed those words in his 1970s hit Elected.
Some 40 years later, President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney are saying the same thing–in many ways to many people because the 2012 presidential election is shaping up to be one of the closest in history.
Given the expected razor-thin margin of victory that Obama or Romney will come away with Nov. 6, a lot of attention has been focused on 270: the number of electoral votes needed to win the White House.
Some people have called for abolishing the Electoral College and having the popular vote determine the election. Other contend it is the fairest way to elect the president.
Chris Leahy, associate professor of history, has been tracking the swing states, electoral votes, and other issues surrounding the Obama vs. Romney race. In this interview with Executive Director of Communications Doug Lippincott, aired recently on WFLR in Dundee, Leahy discusses the history of the Electoral College, previous close races, the possibility of an electoral vote tie, the chances of the popular vote winner losing the electoral vote, and more.
Keuka College Today airs the fourth Thursday of every month from 8:30 – 9 a.m. on WFLR (1570 AM and 96.9 FM).
Forty-nine faculty and staff members were recognized for their service and dedication to Keuka College at Community Day Aug. 20.
Five-year service awards were presented to: Eva Moberg-Sarver, director of student activities/associate director of New Student Orientation; Doreen Hovey, executive assistant to the vice president for academic affairs; Jonathan Accardi, director of campus recreation; Christopher Leahy, associate professor of history; Andrew Robak, assistant professor of chemistry; Patricia Mattingly, assistant professor of nursing; Jennifer Mealy, assistant professor of social work; Kimberly Fenton, interlibrary loan librarian; Joshua Ficks, manager of TeamWorks!; Judy Gilmartin, administrative programmer; John Locke, director of instructional design and multidisciplinary studies; Kathleen Snow, academic skills counselor; Marjorie Multer, administrative assistant, admissions; Julie Burns-Percy, assistant professor of social work, Accelerated Studies for Adults Program (ASAP); Jessica Noveck, student services representative; Chevanne DeVaney, director of multicultural affairs; Teri Spoor, IKON site manager; Craig Gelder, manager, Follett Bookstore; Terry Reape, dining services; Korey Goodman, dining services; Steven Riekofski, maintenance; and Sue Morse, housekeeping.
Ten-year service awards were presented to Tim Sellers, associate vice president for academic affairs; Vicki Smith, chair and professor of occupational therapy; Tom Tremer, chair and professor of criminology/criminal justice; Anna Decker, secretary, education graduate studies and administrative assistant, Lightner Library; Sharon Tyler, associate professor and librarian; and Susan DeLyser, human resource manager.
Fifteen-year service awards were presented to Jean Wannall, professor of occupational therapy; Anne Weed, vice president of academic affairs; Brad Turner, technical support technician; Kathy Waye, executive director of alumni and family relations; and Kasey Klingensmith, professor of biology.
A 20-year service award was presented to Jeff Bray, assistant director of athletics and head athletic trainer.
Twenty-five year service awards were presented to Doug Richards, chair and professor of English; and Sherry Fox, accounts payable.
Thirty-year service awards were presented to Tom Carroll, professor of chemistry and physics; and Joan Magnusen, professor of biology.
Merit awards were presented to: Laura Alfieris, assistant director of admissions; Carroll; Rachel E. Dewey, communications specialist; Kathleen Hastings, assistant director of admissions counseling; Jennie Joiner, assistant professor of English; Kelly Lickert, head coach, women’s lacrosse; Eugene Mont, resident director, Ball Hall and retention counselor; Tim White, resident director, Blyley and Harrington Halls and retention counselor; and Penny Webber, office manager for Academic Success at Keuka (ASK).
Two Presidential Awards for Sustained Outstanding Achievement were presented to Christen Accardi, marketing manager, ASAP; and Tracy McFarland, associate vice president for student development.
Keuka College marked Veterans Day with two events.
Assistant Professor of History Christopher Leahy discussed the history of Veterans Day and related issues in front of an overflow crowd of students, faculty, and staff in Hegeman 109.
That was followed by an outdoor ceremony at the World War II monument. A local honor guard and College Chaplain Rev. Eric Detar paid tribute to those who have served, and are serving, our country.