Commencement closes SU's year with celebrations and calls for curiosity

Award-winning poet Mary Karr and others aim to inspire more than 6,000 SU and SUNY-ESF graduates, their families and supporters on Sunday.

The excitement on the faces of graduating students and their families is pervasive, giving a colorful, vibrant buzz to the Carrier Dome this Commencement Sunday.

Doting mothers run around with coffee cups, fathers snap last-minute photos before their graduates run off to their procession, and children grin bashful smiles, anxious for the ceremony to begin. Graduates can be spotted all over campus up until 9 a.m., when they must be in their places at the Dome, huddled and bouncing with a healthy mixture of joy and nervousness.

“May you leave us more curious and more openhearted about your fellow citizens than when you first got here.”
- Mary Karr

On this Mother's Day Sunday, Syracuse University conferred 5,613 degrees at the 161st Commencement, while the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry (SUNY-ESF) had 566 graduates at its 118th Commencement.

By 9:40 a.m., the procession moved onto the Dome floor, featuring a sea of navy blue, black, and green robes filling the chairs, accented by ribbons of orange. The student procession was led by all-University Senior Class Marshals, Ashlee Sage and Ronald James-Terry Taylor, alongside 23 student marshals representing the 13 schools and colleges of Syracuse University. Two student marshals led the SUNY-ESF graduates. Nancy Weatherly Sharp, professor emerita of SU's newspaper program, led the academic procession, and also served as macebearer.

Spotted amongst the sea of regalia were students who took creative liberties with their graduation caps, creating a variety of unique, inspirational and memorable designs and sayings on their mortarboards such as: “Thanks Mom & Dad,” the map coordinates of Syracuse University, as well as a mini beer pong display made from mini Solo cups.

Once the procession reached its ends, the mace scepter of the university had been presented, and the color guard was in place, Hendricks Chapel dean Tiffany Steinwert officially invoked the commencement.

“Beyond this hill of Onondaga, the world waits in baited breath,” Steinwert stated, leading the entire Carrier Dome in prayer.

Visual and Performing Arts graduate Angky Budiarjono performed a powerful rendition of the national anthem, inciting incredible cheer amongst the audience.

Chancellor Kent Syverud greeted the Class of 2015 with words of encouragement.

“Each of you are graduating also got here of people who have faith in you,” Syverud said before highlighting the unique and individual backgrounds of all students attending Syracuse University, all united by this one factor.

“We’ll miss you, we’re proud of you, we have faith in you, you will always find your way,” he said.

SUNY-ESF President Quentin Wheeler suggested that the future is wide open for graduates.

“There are no rules, no owner’s manual -- only opportunities and your choice whether to accept them,” Wheeler said.

SU Scholar Matt Fernandes offered some reassurances to graduates unsure of what may be next professionally.

“We find ways to face uncertainty with courage,” Fernandes said.

Keynote speaker Mary Karr, an award-winning poet, memoirist and SU English professor, began her commencement address with two Mother’s Day poems, remarking on the daily struggles mothers face as well as her own experiences as the mother of a 16 year-old son. Her speech was candid and conversational, filled with personal accounts, humor, and lessons learned during her years at SU.

“A university is a city of ideas, and we are grateful that you became citizens,” Karr said.

Also, Karr encouraged graduates to feed their curiosity and grow.

“If you can get curious about what scares or infuriates you, then you will find that you are way less scared,” she said.

“May you leave us more curious and more openhearted about your fellow citizens than when you first got here.”

Along with Karr, SU conferred honorary degrees to NBC sports journalist Bob Costas (‘74), F.O.C.U.S founder and executive director of Charlotte Holstein, University of Massachusetts-Amherst professor emerita Sonia Nieto, and SU Board of Trustees chairman Richard L. Thompson (G’67).

“I felt that Commencement was bittersweet,” School of Information Studies graduate Anthony Herbert said. “It truly shows that we made it, and we’re growing up.”

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