With more than 700 degrees conferred, Binghamton University's fall commencement mixed sadness with humor Sunday.
"This is a very exciting day for all of us," said BU President Lois B. DeFleur. "This is also a time of deep sadness for us."
The melancholy, of course, was for anthropology professor emeritus Richard T. Antoun, who was stabbed to death on campus 10 days prior. A cultural anthropology post-graduate student, Abdulsalam S. Al-Zahrani, is charged with second-degree murder.
Antoun, DeFleur told the crowd of thousands in the Events Center, was well-regarded as a teacher and a friend to both students and colleagues.
"He was a role model for all of us and he will be sorely missed," she said.
A moment of silence was held in his memory.
The nature of the world today, including military conflicts and political tensions, means graduates will have much to face, DeFleur said.
"These challenges really impact all of us and we cannot turn our back on them," she said.
Speaker Geoffrey Canada, who received an honorary degree, also called on students to become involved in fighting the good fight and received a standing ovation. Canada, an author and activist against poverty and violence against children, told students his fight for the rights of the disenfranchised began in the mid-1970s. Recently, he's realized that new individuals need to come forward to continue the fight.
"Come join our team," Canada said.
For too many of the best and the brightest, it's easier to send a check than to work to make a difference, he said.
"Today, self-indulgence is in," Canada said.
While serious notes were on the agenda for bachelor's, master's and doctoral degree recipients early in the ceremony, the ending was filled with laughter provided by undergraduate Anthony Corvino Jr., who was chosen to speak for fellow bachelor's degree recipients.
Corvino championed the "average" individuals out there, who aren't often in the limelight, unlike their genius fellow students. The political science major thanked his "average" mom for always sending him a package of Swedish Fish and Sour Patch Kids on Halloween, and he proclaimed his opinion that Wikipedia is the greatest innovation ever. He then urged fellow graduates to thank those who helped them get to this point in their life.
He also told his compatriots that while they may be "average," that doesn't mean they can't have an effect on the world and others.
"You aren't given opportunity," Corvino said. "You fight for it."