Hartwick Class of 2019 Urged to “Think Like a Scientist” at Commencement

May 18, 2019

Saturday, May 18 marked the turning of a page for the members of the Hartwick College Class of 2019. Their parents, families, friends, and College faculty and staff gathered under a gala tent on Elmore Field to celebrate as they made the transition from students to alumni in the culmination of their time on Oyaron Hill.

Thousands convened high above the City of Oneonta to celebrate the students’ accomplishments, to watch them receive their degrees, and to take part in the momentous occasion.

After the Broome County Celtic Pipes and Drums led the celebratory march of graduates, faculty, and staff into the flag-festooned tent, the celebration began like all such Hartwick gatherings. Dr. Margaret L. Drugovich P’12, Hartwick College president, held aloft the Hartwick Bell and declared with an enthusiastic ring, “The company of scholars is assembled, let the ceremonies begin!”

Following a rendition of The Star Spangled Banner by the Hartwick College Women’s Choir, Student Senate President Joseph R. Nolan ’19 and Francis D. Landrey P’06, chair of the Hartwick Board of Trustees, extended their congratulations to the graduates.

“On this hill, many of us took another step towards our dream,” Nolan said to his classmates. “As we graduate, we will continue to climb the stairs to success and make our dreams a reality.”

“To the Class of 2019, enjoy this day,” Landrey said. “You have studied hard. You have been inspired not only by your professors, but also by your fellow students who have accompanied you on your Hartwick journey. Cherish and maintain those friendships as you move on beyond Oyaron Hill. Remain engaged not only with your fellow hikers of Oyaron Hill, but with our larger community, by employing the critical thinking skills you have attained in the furtherance of the greater good of our society.”

Hartwick Faculty Chair and Professor of History Dr. Cherilyn Lacy presented Joseph Ziegler III ’19 with the Abraham L. Kellogg Oratorical Prize. Faculty deemed Ziegler the best orator among those seniors who gave speeches during Honors Convocation.

After a performance of JoAnne Harris’ The Lighthouse by the Hartwick College Wind Ensemble, Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Dr. Michael Tannenbaum P’14 took the podium to announce the Margaret B. Bunn Award for Excellence in Teaching.

“This is a day for honoring those students who have completed their courses of study on Oyaron Hill,” he said, “but to honor students is also to honor their teachers.”

The annual award is presented to the faculty member judged by students who graduated five years prior to have been the most outstanding teacher with whom they studied. The 2019 Bunn Award recipient, Tannenbaum said, is Associate Professor of Biology Dr. Eric Cooper.

Cooper earned an AB in biology and psychology at Cornell, and Ph.D in immunology from Harvard. After serving as an instructor and post-doctoral researcher at Johns Hopkins, he came to Hartwick as an assistant professor of biology in 2011. In 2017, he was granted tenure and promoted to associate professor.

Currently he teaches courses on biology, immunology, and molecular biology of the cell. His use of research as a teaching tool, Tannenbaum said, results in Cooper often being besieged with requests by students to mentor their senior thesis projects.

“Whether in teaching or research, Eric has high expectation of students, but his gentle, caring, and supportive demeanor encourages them to meet his challenges,” Tannenbaum said.

Retaking the podium, Drugovich spoke of William (Bill) K. Davis ’49, before presenting him with an Honorary Doctor of Laws degree. Davis graduated from cum laude from Hartwick with a degree in business administration, and went on to become a fixture in the Oneonta business community.

“Today the Hartwick College community honors your steadfast belief in the transformative power of liberal arts education, and celebrates, your 70 years of service to our college and our community,” Drugovich said.

Over more than 50 years, Davis has served Hartwick College. He was a trustee for 16 years, and helped lead both the alumni association and Hartwick College Citizens Board. For his work, he was presented the President’s Medal and the Alumni Board’s Meritorious Service Award, named the Citizens Board’s Outstanding Citizen, and became a trustee emeritus.

“Your devotion to this community has powered the widespread admiration and trust that you have earned,” she said, noting his many business accolades and tenures on local boards and chambers of commerce.

Drugovich then spoke of Sarah (Sally) Griffiths Herbert ’88, who was presented an Honorary Doctor of Letters degree.

Griffiths Herbert earned a bachelor’s degree in anthropology from Hartwick, and graduating with departmental distinction and a minor in biology. She worked as a field archaeologist for the Office of Public Archeology at Boston University. She and her husband, Tim, went into business together — first as the owners of Ski Whaleback, Ltd. ski resort, now as owners of Ring Brook Farm, both in New Hampshire.

Her commitment to her alma mater is virtually unparalleled. A former College trustee, she has made generous contributions to a multiple aspects of the Hartwick experience, including academics (through endowed scholarships), athletic and educational facilities.

“Your true north is your integrity and loyalty,” Drugovich told Griffiths Herbert. “Your devotion to what is most human – fidelity in friendship, investing in the growth of others, thoughtful, future-focused generosity – speaks to your profound depth. You have said, ‘All I want to do is make a difference.’ You have, you do, and you will, indeed, make a difference.”

Baritone Dylan Youngs ’19, accompanied by Fideliz Campbell ’12 on piano, offered a beautiful arrangement of Francesco Tosti’s Chanson de l’adieu (Song of Farewell) before Drugovich introduced Dr. Christopher P. Belnap ’03, who would address the Class of 2019 on the occasion of their graduation.

Belnap graduated from Hartwick magna cum laude with degrees in both biology and geology, and he also earned the designation of John Christopher Hartwick Scholar. He went on to earn his Ph.D. in microbiology from the University of California at Berkeley, and focused his studies on the characterization of complex microbial communities.

Belnap later joined a bioenergy firm where he gained experience in microbial research, then became lead scientist for Taxon Biosciences, which was eventually acquired by DuPont Pioneer. Today, he serves as chief executive officer of Resilient Biotics, a San Francisco-based firm he co-founded in 2016.

He thanked his mother for her lifelong support, and counseled the new graduates to be proud of themselves and their accomplishments.

“So what happens now?” he asked, and offered his thoughts on what it means to achieve success, using the ups and downs of his career as examples.

“I gradually came to understand from these early experiences that I needed to trust in myself and my abilities,” he said. “Don’t let someone else’s absurd expectations diminish your accomplishments, or your potential to accomplish great things.”

In closing, he urged the Hartwick College Class of 2019 to “be a good scientist.” No matter what field they enter, Belnap said, the newest graduates “should engage in thoughtful evaluation of the world around you.” In the face of social media ubiquity and news and information overload, “thoughtful evaluation, like that of a scientist, is most needed.”

“Embrace uncertainty in your worldview and refine your hypotheses. Think like a scientist, and make the world a better place,” he said.

At the conclusion of his remarks, Brittany Bertola ’19 (clarinet) and Matthew Mackenzie ’19 (marimba) performed Astor Piazolla’s Bordel 1900.

Tannenbaum then presented the Class of 2019 to the crowd. In the central moment of the ceremony, the graduates were bestowed the Hartwick undergraduate hood, and greeted by Drugovich, much to the delight of their assembled friends and family.

Once each graduate had been individually recognized, Colonel Michael Doherty ’73, Hartwick College Alumni Association Board of Directors President, welcomed the new alumni to the 18,000-strong body. Each graduate was presented with a replica of the Hartwick Bell by the alumni association. A tradition which, Doherty said, provides a lifelong connection to Oyaron Hill.

“On behalf of the Hartwick College Alumni Association’s Board of Directors and Hartwick’s 18,000 alumni, I congratulate you on your success,” he said.

Over the years, Doherty noted, Hartwick has produced a host of alumni well known in their careers, careers which were not necessarily their fields of study while a student. He then named several well-known alumni examples, reminding the new graduates, “This is possible because the education we received here allowed us to be versatile enough to enter into multiple career fields over the course of our lives. There is really no limit to what you can do with a Hartwick education as your foundation.”

As he led the class in a ceremonial ringing of their replica bells, the tent filled with the joyous noise of the new alumni and their proud families.

“Members of the Class of 2019, you have heard the bell ring,” Drugovich said in her closing remarks. “You now leave Hartwick an educated person. You may have traveled across the world. You may have done a remarkable thing or two. You have probably learned more than you expected, and perhaps you’ve learned more than you thought was possible.

“It is my hope that what you have learned best is how to learn from others. This moment also belongs to those who cared for and nurtured you on your journey,” she continued, leading the class in thanking both their families and their faculty and staff, noting that all helped the graduates achieve this important milestone.

The ceremony closed with a rendition of the Alma Mater, Oyaron, Hill of Dreams, performed by Youngs and the Hartwick College Wind Ensemble. The graduates left the expansive tent behind the celebratory march of the Broome County Celtic Pipes and Drums, proceeding into the waiting arms of their proud families, toward their bright futures as Hartwick College alumni.