For the second year in a row, Commencement arrived with a side of clouds and the threat of rain.
Thankfully, the rain held off until the very end. But as the first incoming class to weather the storm of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Class of 2023 certainly knows a thing or two about resiliency.
“In the face of adversity, we have become resourceful and adaptable, finding new ways to navigate a rapidly changing economic landscape. It’s pretty incredible that we persevered through a period where time seemingly stood still for months, to be grasping onto what time we had left these last few weeks,” said Kylie Breen ’23, a marketing communication/advertising major who delivered the undergraduate address.
President Steven R. DiSalvo echoed those very sentiments in his own message to the Class of 2023.
“There have been challenges, some unprecedented. In a sense, the rug was pulled out from under us just six months in,” said DiSalvo, who joined Endicott in 2019 alongside the graduating class.
“While you were making your way through orientation, making some of your first friends here, I was trying to figure out the best way to one of those three beaches on campus,” he joked.
Having a sense of humor, along with the capacity to adapt, are crucial, DiSalvo noted.
“Sometimes life gets in the way,” he said. “You see, sometimes life presents you challenges that allow you to rise to the occasion, on the wings of others, and opens new doors in new places. Don’t get me wrong, it’s good to have a clear path. Just be ready to adapt to new directions when life offers you an opportunity to grow into the leaders I know each of you will be.”
During the Hempstead Stadium ceremony, Provost Sara Quay presented the Founder’s Medallion, which recognizes the graduating senior with the highest cumulative GPA, to psychology and criminal justice major Caitlyn Sievers.
Meanwhile, the President’s Award went to math major Katie Watts. The award, presented by President DiSalvo, recognizes a graduating student who, by their engagement academically and socially, has made a significant impact on the College.
Endicott’s 83rd Commencement was the capstone to a week of campus events for seniors, as well as the baccalaureate, nurse pinning, and doctoral hooding ceremonies held on May 19.
While the spotlight was on the Class of 2023, Dean of the School of Visual and Performing Arts Mark Towner—who earlier this semester announced his retirement at the end of the 2023 calendar year—was recognized with an honorary Doctor of Fine Arts for his transformational work in growing the School of Visual and Performing Arts over 25 years at the College.
“Interest in the visual and performing arts continues to grow, which also contributes to the breadth and depth of the college’s mission: To inspire leadership through transformational learning,” said DiSalvo. “Next year we will welcome the largest incoming class of Visual and Performing Arts students in the history of the College—twice the size of last year’s class. Dean Towner leaves a legacy for colleagues and students alike built upon trust, admiration, and great hope for the future.”
A shoemaker with soul
The highlight of the day was undoubtedly the address from Kenneth Cole, this year’s Commencement speaker.
Cole, a renowned fashion designer and social activist, told the Class of 2023 that despite living in a world of “institutionalized uncertainty” graduates must “be a moral and ethical force for good.”
“We are at a pivotal moment in time and are in dire need of responsible and moral guidelines as well as ethical leadership that can only be created by determined cultural and ethical crusaders,” he said. “The world is in disarray and in need of repair. Arguably both our democracy and humanity are at stake, and our planet, and our collective health—both physical and mental—as well.”
Cole is no stranger to taking big steps to tackle social issues. After launching Kenneth Cole Productions in 1982, Cole described his personal struggle to “make selling stuff nobody needed meaningful.”
In the mid-80s, Cole became invested in speaking about what no one else would: the HIV/AIDS epidemic.
“It was killing people—predominantly IV drug users and young gay men—at an alarming rate, many of them in my industry,” Cole told the crowd. “It made me realize that it would be great to be known for our shoes, but even better to be known for our soul.”
In 1985, Cole launched his company’s first HIV/AIDS public service campaign.
“I found that I was no longer just running a company with style, but also a company with a conscience and a purpose,” he said.
Throughout his career, Cole has campaigned for and been an outspoken activist for voting rights, AIDS awareness and research, gender equality, gun safety, and homelessness. His thought-provoking ads have often pushed the boundaries of fashion and social activism and, in 2017, he received the Council of Fashion Designers of America’s Swarovski Award for Positive Change.
Cole, who was awarded an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree from DiSalvo in recognition of his decades of social impact work—and for his many contributions to the fields of business and philanthropy—encouraged the Class of 2023 to “be the community builders we all need.”
“You are uniquely positioned to lead the change needed in the world that you are entering, which will offer unprecedented opportunities for those who are prepared and have the courage to do so,” he said. “Don’t disconnect from what makes you you. Have the courage and discipline to be the brand you want to friend, like, post, pin, share, snap, tweet, and retweet.”
Watch a recorded livestream of the full ceremony.