Commencement Address 2015
Drew Bogner, Ph.D.
President, Molloy College
On behalf of the Board of Trustees, faculty, administration and staff, it is my pleasure to welcome you to the 2015 Commencement ceremony.
First, to the graduates of the Class of 2015, let me extend my sincere congratulations.
I would like to extend my thanks to the faculty and administration for another job well done in educating this next group of Molloy alumni.
I would also like to extend my sincere appreciation to the Board of Trustees, seated on stage and the former trustees in attendance with us today for their tremendous leadership.
Today, you, the Class of 2015, will walk across this stage, receive your diploma from me and in so doing will join almost 20,000 alumni who have previously walked across the stage - each with an individual story of success. But as Molloy graduates, you are a bit different from those graduating from other institutions.
In the next 10 minutes, I will hopefully help you understand one last time what all of your education at Molloy has been about and what you are called to do as you begin the next step in your life.
Let me begin by telling you a story....
If you have ever visited the American History Museum at the Smithsonian Institute located in Washington, D.C. you would see a stunning metal sculpture of the American Flag - 30' tall by 60' wide - and behind it, displayed in the dimmest of light, is the flag that flew over Ft. McHenry in the War of 1812 - The Star Spangled Banner - an icon of American Freedom. On summer days, crowds queue up by the hundreds to see the exhibit.
Outside this holy room around to the left, displayed in the lobby between 2 hallways, is a simple lunchroom counter. Here some individuals stop and read the sign, others move on past it, largely ignoring the exhibit. A few stop, pause and engage in lively animated conversation. You see, this lunchroom counter is also an icon of American freedom.
A few years ago, Joseph McNeil was in my office, a guest to meet the essayist, Malcom Gladwell, who had written about but never met Mr. McNeil. It was Mr. McNeil's 6 or 7 time visiting Molloy. He was a witty, pleasant but unassuming man. But he was also a hero.
We spoke about how we rightly honor those heroes of patriotism who fought in the wars - The Star Spangled Banner is a symbol of this. But, he said, we should also find a way to honor those heroes of social justice and those individuals who through their courage, tenacity and self-sacrifice made America, truly a land of freedom for all. The lunchroom counter is a symbol of this.
Now, I was struck by this observation - and I thought of you, the Molloy graduates. You see, Mr. McNeil was and is an everyday hero. His is the story of those who answered the call to right action. He didn't seek to be seen as great, but to be seen as good.
- To be seen as a good person - doing the right things
- To be seen as kind, just and fair - advocating for and doing the right thing in all situations - regardless of consequences.In 1960, Joseph McNeil was a freshman at North Carolina A & T College in Greensboro, North Carolina. It was a time of racial segregation - When many services from train waiting rooms, bathrooms, movie seats in theaters and even lunchroom counters were reserved only for whites.
Throughout his first semester, Joseph McNeil as with many college students, stayed up late talking with his friends about life, their future and their dreams and because of the constricted reality of segregation, the prevalence of racial injustice in America. They talked not just about their personal dreams but about doing the right thing.
Sometime in January, the talk of doing the right thing turned into action and McNeil suggested that they stage a sit-in. So, on February 1, Joseph McNeil, Franklin McCain, David Richmond and Ezell Blair walked 15 blocks from the campus to Woolworth's Department Store. The store sold items to both blacks and whites, but the lunchroom counter was reserved exclusively for whites. They bought some items and then sat down at the counter and asked to be served. When denied service, they produced their receipts and asked why their money was good everywhere else in the store but NOT at the luncheon counter. When requested to leave, they refused and stayed until the lunch counter closed.
The next day, they came back with 15 other students and on the 3 day, 300 had joined in. The protest spread to other department stores in Greensboro and then across the country. By the end of February -
1 month later - lunchroom counters in the North were integrated and then on July 25, they were integrated in Greensboro as well, as Woolworths and the other department stores changed their company policies.
Looking back, I doubt that Joseph McNeil or his friends envisioned that their simple but courageous act of protest would ignite a national response, but when they walked that February day from the campus library to Woolworth's, they did intend to do the right thing, to stand up for justice and fairness despite the consequences.
They did not intend, I suspect, to be seen as great men but to be seen as good and fair.
Now, this is your calling - as a Molloy graduate - you are called to be good, perhaps great, but definitely good
- You are called to be right in your actions with others
- To be respectful of all
- To see the humanity and potential in yourself and in everyone you encounter
- To be compassionate
- To seek out truth
- And to inform yourself about injustices in your own community and the world
You are called to be heroes of the everyday world
Mr. McNeil shared with me a profound observation that it was up to young people to do the heavy lifting in the civil rights movement because they could best bear the consequences of being agents of change - devoting the time necessary - bearing the possibility of job loss and career stagnation or even jail time.
I asked him how his parents felt about his actions. "Well," he said "I purposefully didn't tell them before I went that first day to Woolworths. I called them that night."
"And I said, Mom, I might be going to jail and she said, I sent you down to Greensboro to get an education. Now what's this all about?"
Joe told her that "she had raised him to stand up against injustice and to do the right thing" and eventually she consented and gave him her blessing - her permission, if you will, to do what Joe already knew in his heart to be the right set of actions.
And for all of you parents and spouses and family members in the audience - when your Molloy graduate endeavors to set out to do good, risking whatever consequences might come, you have a duty - to give them your permission, permission to set aside practicalities, timeframes, various expectations, including your own for their life, and support them in being an agent of change and a force to do good.
Parents and spouses and friends - you are called to be collaborators for good.
Now, let me give you another example of an everyday hero closer to home.
Many of you grew up on Long Island or live here now and you know we have great beaches, great restaurants, good schools, great colleges like Molloy, the City on one end and the North Fork/Montauk on the other.
But we also have issues ranging from high taxes, lack of affordable housing and apartments, public transportation that can get you to and from Penn Station but struggles to get you anywhere else around Long Island and still today some of the Country's most segregated set of communities.
We have lived with the good and the bad for decades. Our issues seeming to be intractable and unsolvable, labeled as such by Newsday as far back as 1978.
Nancy Douzinas, though, refused to believe that these problems were and are unsolvable. Through the Rauch Foundation, Nancy founded the Long Island Index in 2004. The Long Island Index was like most transformative actions - simple in concept but profound in its impact.
The Long Island Index gathers data on a range of issues from affordable housing to land use to the economy to healthcare to education to poverty, racism and public transportation.
And it presented it in an impartial way with comparative measures. The idea being that good data presented in an impartial way could ignite public discourse and move public policy.
Within a year after its founding, the Long Island Index data was being used by Long Island leaders to frame issues and calibrate the need for change.
Nancy assembled a group of like-minded souls, people like me, motivated by Nancy's zeal, who believed that change was possible.
And I was inspired to do more for the community. You see, real leaders like Nancy and Joe have a way of doing that. They ignite and inspire others to act.
At one meeting of the Long Island Index Advisory Council, my colleague, Bob Scott, the outgoing President of Adelphi University, asked if Long Island had a community leadership program. Around the table various people considered the question and the collective answer was "no."
Now, I had been through this type of program in Wichita, Kansas, when I was a Vice President at Newman University, and I knew how effective such a program could be - so I made a note of it.
With a grant from the Rauch Foundation, using the Index's rich source of information, Molloy, through Ed Thompson's leadership, developed a program to deepen the understanding of Long Island's community leaders and turn them into educated advocates for change.
Today, Energeia, Molloy's Academy for Regional Stewardship, has graduated 350 passionate agents for change and whether they know it or not, their newly found dynamism can be traced back to Nancy.
Today, the Index continues to pound home the reality of Long Island and shape an agenda for change, focusing on issues that will or do affect many of you, Molloy's newest graduates.
Issues like Long Island's economy and the availability of jobs, the creation of livable, walkable downtowns that can compete with the City that is tempting you to leave Long Island and public transportation that is increasingly a desirable option.
When Nancy started all of this - this cascade of awareness and a call to action, she didn't intend to be seen as great, but to do good.
You see, Nancy is an everyday hero:
- She had the force of a good idea, fortitude and perseverance.
- She refused to be undaunted
- She believed - believed that Long Island could be better and
- She knew that she could be an agent of change
You, the Molloy graduates, are called similarly to be agents of change:
To see possibilities -- possibilities for how things could be better
to identify solutions and work to enact them
to be truth-tellers unafraid to speak up
to do the simple things in the moment that by their collective action can lead to change
You - each one of you - are called to be an everyday hero
And every day will present you with opportunities to do the right thin
- Opportunities at work
- In a relationship
- With a stranger you encounter
- Whether you volunteer and how you spend your time
- What you will buy for yourself or give away to another
When you walk away from Molloy, I want you to remember that you are a Molloy graduate - called to be more than just any other college grad - you are called to success, to be great, but you are also called to be good.
You are called as was Joseph McNeil and Nancy Douzinas, to be a hero of the everyday. Congratulations!