Harry J. Cynkus Convocation Speech
Harry Cynkus, '71
August 25, 2008
Good morning. I can't tell you how exciting it is for me to be here, and proud to have this opportunity as an alumnus and member of the board of Trustees to welcome you, the largest incoming class of freshman in this school's history to Utica College. Welcome, Class of 2012.
When first approached about giving this address I was told I would be a natural, that I had a lot in common with today's students. What immediately came to mind was how nervous we would both be, I have this convocation address to give (They obviously lost the grades from my public speaking class) and you're probably a little nervous about starting classes. One other thing we have in common is we both want this to be over as quickly as possible.
In the 41 years since I sat where you are today I've worked hard, building on the knowledge, experiences, and connections I made while here at Utica College. Thinking back to when I sat listening to the opening remarks I never imagined that someday I would be addressing the incoming freshmen class or have the opportunity to give back to this fine Institution by serving as a Trustee. I'm not sure what the staff in admissions saw in me to give me the opportunity to attend but UC has a long tradition of identifying potential.
I was born and raised here in Utica. I didn't come from a privileged background. My father was an immigrant from Poland and passed away when I was very young. My Mom who never went to college valued education. It was never an option not to go, only where. I hadn't worked very hard in high school and my grades reflected it. In fact I had to repeat two classes the summer of my junior year. I graduated with a c+ average. With my grades and limited funds I didn't have many options. I applied at one school, Utica College, and I remain grateful, I was accepted.
Since I have attended there have been many physical changes to the campus, many of the buildings here today, weren't here in 1967. I noticed the sign at the front of the Campus has changed as well. It use to read Utica College of Syracuse University. Today it reads Founded By. I think the sign needs changing again; it should read Utica ... College of Opportunity. One thing that hasn't changed, this is and has always been a school of opportunity. The heart, the soul, the vibrancy of this school is stronger than ever.
My orientation was in the Strebel Auditorium. I can't tell you who gave the convocation speech or much anything that was said...... but one thing. I remember very clearly being asked too look at the person sitting on my right and the person on my left and being told of the three of you, one won't be graduating from Utica College. I immediately felt sorry for my two friends as I knew I would graduate. The admissions office can identify potential but can't measure desire.
It's unfortunate but the statistics today aren't much different but it's all up to you. I encourage you to get off to a fast start, immediately get engaged, and be involved. Don't be afraid to ask for help if needed and explore the abundance of opportunities this school has to offer.
As you've probably already glanced at the people sitting next to you, instead, I want everyone, except the people in the last row, to very quickly turn around and shake the hand of the person behind you, and tell each other your names. We'll get to the reason shortly.
What I want to talk about is "Six Degrees of Connection: You, Utica College, and Our Place in a Global Community". When first given the topic I immediately flashed to the old game of Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon, are you familiar with it?
For those who may not be the goal is to link any actor to Kevin Bacon through no more than six connections, where two actors are connected if they have appeared in a movie together. The concept predates Kevin Bacon, and actually was first referred to as the "small world problem". Stanley Milgram, a social psychologist, conducted the "small-world experiment" while at Harvard University, examining the average path length for social networks of people in the United States. The research was considered groundbreaking in that it suggested human society is a small work type network characterized by short path lengths. What his experiments suggested was that if you are one step away from every person you know, and two steps away from each person who is known by one of the people they know, then everyone is an average of six "steps" away from each person on Earth.
Interestingly in doing some research for today's talk I read of a 2007 study of Planetary-Scale Views on a Large Instant-Messaging Network By Jure Leskovec and Eric Horvitz where this has been scientifically verified. They investigated on a planetary-scale the oft-cited report that people are separated by "six degrees of separation" by examining a data set of instant Microsoft Messenger messages composed of 30 billion conversations among 240 million people and found the average path length among Microsoft Messenger users to be 6.6. Wow!
Just imagine the possibilities, you're not just separated by six degrees, you can be CONNECTED to anyone by six degrees! Today your universe of every person you know may be limited but here at Utica College you have an opportunity to expand it greatly. A couple of minutes ago I asked you to introduce yourself to the person sitting behind you. Who is that person, who do they know? Take the time to stop and chat with that person the next time you see them, you never know what path that may take you.
Spending the next four years here at Utica College you have an extraordinary opportunity to explode your universe. There are students on this campus from 26 different states and from 46 different countries. What about our faculty, an incredible resource. I understand we have 128 full-time faculty, 106 have earned their PH.D. or the highest degree in their field. Think of the network path's that they have built and are available to you. Take the time get to know your fellow students, the faculty, and the administration. Take the opportunity that Utica College offers to expand your universe. Utica College is truly, a Global community.
Having the podium gives me an opportunity to also share with you some insights on my years at Utica College. Walking across campus this morning seeing the statue dedicated to the memory of Wayne Palmer, enjoying once again Henry Dispirito's statue The Pioneer in front of Strebel, sitting in the Virgil Crisafulli lounge, all bring back a rush of memories. Today these may just be names to you but they were people I met, admired and influenced me, some of my connections to the Utica College Global community. Wayne Palmer was my math professor. Wayne was odd...but a likeable and very bright person. For so many alumni he was the reason they understood math. He simply helped them "get it." Henry Dispirito, Utica College's own sculptor in residence. I wonder how much of my appreciation for sculpture is the result of watching him turn stone into art while I should have been studying. The most influential though is the late Dr. Virgil Crisafulli, the much loved, much revered Dr. Cris, a professor who in giving me the lowest grade I attained at Utica College, had a great influence on my life.
It was my freshman year; I took the Principals of Economics, with Dr. Cris. I needed to finish strong with an A on the final. I studied hard to ace the final and after taking the exam I was confident that I had. I remember getting my grades, opening the envelope to see that I missed making dean's list that semester because I got a C in Economics. I was crushed, I didn't understand it. It had to be a mistake. I came up to campus, found Dr. Criss and told him I didn't understand my grade. "How could I have gotten a C, I know I aced the final. What happened?" He thought about it for a minute, said he didn't have the grades with him but remembered how surprised he was by how well I had done on the final. "So how come I got a C?" I asked. He paused and said something that has been with me ever since, ..."you were a C student all year, so you got a C". That course..., that C..., that comment..., it changed my life. If you want to be successful, you have to work at it, all of the time.
There are two other of my professors I would like to acknowledge. First, Dr. William Blanchfield, who just retired last year and unfortunately couldn't be here today. I took the remainder of my Economics course with Dr. Blanchfield. He reinforced the lesson I learned from Dr. Criss the first day of his class. I remember him stating that he didn't believe in grading on any curve, if everyone earned an A, he would give everyone an A, and if everyone deserved to fail, so be it. You got what you earned.
The other professor I would like to acknowledge is Randy Huta, Associate Professor Emeritus of Accounting. You could always identify Randy going down the halls, as his back was covered with chalk from leaning against the board. My freshman year I was counting on an easy A in my first accounting course. I had taken a year of bookkeeping my senior year in high school and figured I had a leg up going in. However, Randy covered everything I had learned... in the first week of his class! Get those track shoes on, you will need them.
We started this morning with the tolling of the bell atop Bell Hall signaling the beginning of the academic year. You may be interested in knowing, that 600 pound, century old, antique bronze bell, was donated to the College by Randy Huta. Randy, if you wouldn't mind standing and be acknowledged. Thank you for all you helped me achieve and all you've done for Utica College.
Over the course of the next several years you will have the opportunity to make your own memories. I hope they will be as rich and rewarding as mine. Take that first step, you're here today, get excited, get involved, and enjoy yourself.
I look forward to watching your progress the next several years here at Utica College and beyond. If I can ever be of any help, consider me one step away. If you see me around campus, don't be afraid to stop, say hello and introduce your self.
Give some thought about Six Degrees of Connection: You, Utica College and our Place in a Global Community. You all have such a wonderful opportunity ahead of you. You're surrounded by an incredible array of diverse and talented people. You're here because Utica College saw that same potential in you that they saw in me. Albert Einstein said "The value of a college education is not the learning of many facts but the training of the mind to think" May your next few years here be impacted by our ability to stimulate your imagination and creativity. Put your track shoes on, work hard and make your own mark on this global community.
Thank you very much.