SARATOGA SPRINGS – For 40 seconds, most everyone in the crowd of nearly 5,000 people inside the SPAC pavilion and several thousand more seated outside on the lawn kept their eyes closed in an exercise in the expression of gratitude led by Oprah Winfrey.
“Serve the calling of your soul,” the popular former television talk show host instructed. “Use more of YOU, to bring forth the light.”
Winfrey, author and scholar Wes Moore, and journalist and education advocate Ann Rubenstein Tisch were each awarded a doctorate of letters, and the achievements of more than 600 graduates were celebrated during Skidmore College’s 2017 Commencement at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center on Saturday.
Winfrey spoke for nearly 30 minutes and stressed each individual find their way through life’s varied stages by following the instinct of their own truth. Mohau Mazibuko – one of three students enrolled at Skidmore this year who came from Oprah's Leadership Academy for Girls in Africa – was a member of the graduating Class of 2017.
“Every decision I ever made that led me to the right space and place in life, I got there because I relied on my inner voice – the truth of me,” explained Winfrey, urging attendees to develop their spiritual muscle by practicing gratitude – something she said she does every day.
Among the graduating class were Pete Donnelly – who returned to school 25 years after taking a leave of absence to spend full-time as a member of the band The Figgs – and Lulu Simon, whose parents Edie Brickell and Paul Simon joyfully watched the day’s ceremonies from their seats in the front row.
Skidmore College President Philip Glotzbach offered congratulatory remarks to students, noted their graduation gowns were composed of recyclable materials – “symbolic of Skidmore’s commitment to sustainability,” he said – and appointed them “ambassadors for liberal learning” in their future endeavors as they crossed the divide into the real world.
Moore jokingly apologized that his book, “The Other Wes Moore,” was required reading at the college, and Tisch urged graduates to prepare for life’s inevitable challenges by seeking the opportunities wrapped within them. “Learn to re-define failure as part of the process of success,” she said.
Perhaps the day’s most passionate words were spoken by graduating student Abude Al-Asaad. The co-chair of the Senior Gift campaign dutifully thanked teachers and trustees, jokingly welcomed affluent parents now broke because of tuition costs and “people who show up at random such events,” and shared the emotional journey from his upbringing in a Syrian refugee camp to the day’s celebration of his graduation, even as his family was not permitted to enter the country to witness their son’s graduation.