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05-16-1999

Mary O. Donohue Commencement Address

Thank you so much. It is indeed one of the greatest honors of my career to be with you this morning to receive this degree. Thank you to Denny Brown, Donald Clark and everyone associated with Clarkson University for making this possible for me this morning.

I was asked to speak to you briefly-- just for a few minutes-- about a personal experience that has been significant in my life and that I hope will be meaningful in your lives today. I am looking at you all this morning-- you look so bright-eyed, not nearly as bleary-eyed as I looked a little over 30 years ago when I was graduating from the College of New Rochelle on a morning in May in 1968. I had many hopes and dreams and I know how exhilarated I felt on that morning and what a mixture of feelings I felt on that morning.

I had come from and grown up in a very close-knit, old-fashioned, Irish-Catholic family in upstate New York, similar to many of you graduating here this morning. My mother and father raised myself and my four siblings-- I have an older sister and three brothers, I was one of the younger children in the family-- but they always raised us with the theme of individual responsibility, and the power of the individual. That forged our adulthood-- all five of us who grew up in our family-- with strength, discipline, a committed work ethic, and an emphasis on traditional values. The power of the individual was always stressed. It was the principle that has guided myself and my family through our lives-- a principle that has helped me reach my goals and dreams.

And if Governor Pataki were here with us this morning, he would reflect and tell you about having had the same upbringing in New York state.

It was once said, and I quote, "We hope for the best and if we get it, we hope fore something better." A good quote, for the most part. It was certainly a quote and a thought that has kept me afloat and striving throughout my life. I want you all to keep that same thought in your minds. But at the same time to remember your blessings and to respect your commitments. A delicate, but very critical balance in life.

After I graduated from the College of New Rochelle, I came home, was married, started teaching, and expected that my life was set in a pattern that would remain that way for the rest of my life-- what happened? Life happened. Many changes happened in my life, as I'm sure they will happen in your lives.About 12 years later, I was expecting my first child, and had no thought, at that point-- this is in the late '70s-- of ever attending law school. I had dreams of doing that, but never concrete thoughts. I was the daughter of a lawyer and judge, the sister of a lawyer, and then the wife of a lawyer, but who me? And that's a pivotal difference that I see between where I was as a graduate and a young mother and wife, as opposed to where you are here today. But the same theme resonates, the power of the individual.

There had been something gnawing in me all of my life, and wanting to go to law school. And I hit my early 30s and said, "the power of my own belief in myself is going to get me through that." And I made a decision that was not a popular decision with just about everyone but myself at the time, that I was going to go to law school. And it was that conviction that, particularly being a parent-- the most important job I'll ever have-- that I had to make the decision that was right in my mind and not in anyone else's mind.

And even though we are different generations here today, it's still the same theme: the inspiration of yourself and of others in making the choices that are right for you, respecting the choices that are right for other people, but never ever letting other people make your decisions about what's right for you.

I knew that my daughter had to believe in me as a person, and my doing what I believe was right. And my biggest message to you this morning, from someone who has never for a minute regretted that decision and who's now the mother of a daughter graduating from college, who now says to me, when I say how much she is ahead of me-- the next generation--, "But, mom, look at you." That was the message I always hoped that I would hear from her. It took 20 years to hear it, but the courage of my convictions and my choice as an individual have come through for me regardless of whether someone else might approve of them or not.

So as you begin-- and I am closing-- the next phase of your lives, keep in mind that you will-- you know it already, and it's going to happen again and again-- you'll come across stumbling blocks or new opportunities that are far from the plans that you have here this morning. You may be forced to make decisions that will scare you, as many of mine have scared me when I made them. And my advice to you, graduates, is be bold. Every minute in what you stand for as an individual, what you believe in, always maintain the highest faith in yourself beyond all others, and in your own individual, very unique abilities. And let your own individual dream be your only limitation. Go for it and best of luck as you do.

[News directors and editors: For more information, contact Michael P. Griffin, director of News & Digital Content Services, at 315-268-6716 or mgriffin@clarkson.edu.]

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