POUGHKEEPSIE – Small Class Sizes. Incredible opportunities after graduation. A chance to create and partially teach your own course. An Ivy League reputation. These are just some of the reasons Kyle Tam is proud to have selected Vasaar College as his home for the past four years.
Sunday, Tam joined an elite class of 39,816 Alumnus, as one of 630 graduates from the class of 2016 as he was awarded his degree at the 152nd Commencement Ceremony, held at the college’s Outdoor Amphitheater. This year’s class had a lengthy list of credentials, including; 63 students elected to Phi Beta Kappa for overall academic achievement, 28 graduates elected to the Sigma Xi national honor society for the sciences and 127 awarded general honors. Additionally, the Vassar class of 2016 had two recipients for the Fulbright Teaching Award, one for the Fulbright U.S. Student Program Grant, and two for the Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship among several other outside honors. In addition to the rich academic experience that accompanies a Vassar education, the opportunities alloted for personal and social growth are what many of the students are quick to cite as their most cherished memories.
“One of my most memorable times at Vassar was when I had the chance to study abroad in Uganda for six months; it was amazing to do two internships, one on human rights, and the other for YARID (Young African Refugees for Integral Development), which was about actual refugees giving back,” recalled Tam, a 2012 Poughkeepsie High School graduate. “It showed me how important it is to always give back to your community, take care of it, and give it the love it deserves.” Tam added, “I found it very valuable, as it is something everyone in Poughkeepsie can do for their own community.”
Tam was further grateful for his club experience right on campus. As an officer for the Caribbean Student Alliance, he mined priceless lessons not found in any classroom.
“It was just great to have a place to talk about my Caribbean identity as a Jamaican-American,\” said Tam.
It’s that community minded spirit embedded in Tam that was at the epicenter of the Commencement Address Speaker, Sherrilyn Ifill. A 1984 graduate of Vassar College, Ifill is a highly in demand speaker, who became the fifth Vassar graduate to speak at the school’s commencement, joining such names as actresses Meryl Streep and Lisa Kudrow, journalist Chip Reid and physicist Sau Lan Wu. Ifill, the President and Director-Counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, spoke on a range of very real, disturbing and powerful issues still at work in today’s society.
“Segregation powerfully harms black children and powerfully harms white children, and this is still true,” affirmed Ifill, who is also a civil rights attorney. “Today our nation remains deeply segregated, by race and by wealth, perhaps especially in New York City where many of you will live; this separation is threatening our future as a great nation.
In addition to the pressing concern of segregation, Ifill also delivered a potent message on diversity and how it can be enhanced right at Vassar, right now.
“As an institution Vassar trustees, faculty and staff, you will have to model for students the value of diversity and inclusion, not cosmetic diversity, but real diversity, and ensure that your campus is a place where students with different backgrounds, ideas and experiences can learn the critical skills of problem solving. leading and working in a diverse environment.”
The dire need to protest and vote, to have love in your life, and perhaps most of all, to be guided by passion (the title of her speech) in everything, were further elegantly weaved into Ifill’s remarks.
According to the Commencement Speaker, once the graduation celebrations end, that life’s energy should ignite and continue to burn with a vengeance, touching all that is important.
“It will be time for you to turn your attention to creating your life of passion,” concluded Ifill. “Passion for your family, for your work, but I hope passion for our democracy and the role you must play in keeping it vibrant and strong.”