INSIDE BINGHAMTON UNIVERSITY
Sedaris offers laughter, life lessons to graduates
By : Eric Coker
Education is a continuing process in life, humorist and writer David Sedaris stressed to graduates at the University’s fall commencement on Dec. 14.
“What some people don’t seem to understand is that you keep on learning,” Sedaris said. “One subject leads to another and 10 years from now, there’s no telling what you might be interested in. Maybe you major in American history and wind up opening a tanning salon or inventing an artificial heart that’s also an MP3 player.”
More than 400 bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees were awarded in the ceremony at the Events Center. The ceremony also featured comments from President Lois B. DeFleur, doctoral candidate Caroline Tushabe and bachelor’s candidate Michelle Adamski.
Sedaris, who was born in Binghamton and received an honorary doctorate, used his own educational odyssey to make his point to graduates in a 17-minute speech that drew constant laughter from the audience.
Sedaris attended Western Carolina and Kent State before dropping out. Seven years later, he was accepted to the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.
Even though he went to college for art, the creative writing courses he took there helped him eventually become a best-selling author whose personal stories are heard on NPR.
“It’s been 20 years since my college graduation and I can’t remember the last time I picked up a paintbrush,” he said. “This doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate painting; on the contrary, I’ve never appreciated it more. I’m secure with the knowledge that by not painting I have made the world a better place.
“If I can become successful, anyone can,” he said. “Ask my dad or my high school teachers. They’ll all say the same thing: ‘Him? Make something of himself? No way.’ Thus, I stand before you as an example.”
Sedaris also joked about something that will affect many of the graduates: student loans.
“The good thing about student loans is you have a while before you have to start paying them back,” he said. “I don’t recall how many months they give you, but it’s just enough time to forget everything you learned in college.
“Then a letter arrives in the mail and you’re informed that your loan has been sold. … That was when I first heard the name Fannie Mae. ‘Don’t they make candy?’ I asked. Now everybody has heard of them. The name is synonymous with sorrow and catastrophe. But back in the late ’80s, who knew?”
DeFleur welcomed the graduates and guests by touting Binghamton students’ readiness to be part of a global world.
She emphasized some of the doctoral students’ research, as well as the graduates’ “strong commitment to help others,” such as raising money for cancer awareness or helping the victims of Hurricane Katrina.
“One of the reasons so many employers come to Binghamton is because they know that our students are so outstanding, whether it’s in their service, academic fields, leadership, the ability to work as a team or because of the broad, diverse community we have here,” she said. “Our students gain a deep understanding of social and cultural issues.”
An example of the campus community’s diversity came with Tushabe’s speech.
Tushabe, a doctoral candidate in Philosophy, Interpretation and Culture, is a native of Uganda who taught in several disciplines at Binghamton. She is now an assistant professor in women’s studies at the University of California-Riverside.
“At Binghamton, I had the opportunity to engage in critical thinking, political practices and met caring professors who challenged and mentored me,” she said. “I’m grateful for the ways in which Binghamton University has prepared me for political and social challenges.”
Adamski, a bachelor’s degree candidate in Philosophy, Politics and Law, recalled some of the events of the last four years with her fellow graduates and said the group has a chance to make an impact in the world.
“We have been transformed by our time at Binghamton and have the potential to use the knowledge and strength we have acquired to make a significant difference,” she said.
Watch Commencement Coverage