Dartmouth graduates told now is their time
Dartmouth College graduate Michelle Aguila wears a flower tucked behind her ear at the Dartmouth College Commencement Exercises in Hanover Sunday morning. (Meghan Pierce/Union Leader)
HANOVER - Educational innovator Geoffrey Canada told Dartmouth College graduates in his commencement address that it was now their turn to advocate for the next generation.
Dartmouth's Commencement Exercises bestowed 1,059 graduates with diplomas.
Receiving honorary degrees were Canada; oncologist, biotech leader and chancellor of the University of California-San Francisco Susan Desmond-Hellman; former IBM chairman and CEO, philanthropist and alumnus Louis V. Gerstner Jr.; dancer, choreographer and Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater artistic director emerita Judith Jamison; attorney, civic leader and alumnus William H. King Jr.; Canadian filmmaker, singer and social activist Alanis Obomsawin; and engineer, scientist and former director of the National Science Foundation Subra Suresh.
Canada is the president and CEO of Harlem Children's Zone, Inc. The nonprofit provides educational opportunities and resources to children from underprivileged areas of New York City's Harlem neighborhood.
As a child growing up in the 1950s and '60s, Canada said he wanted to be like the people of his mother's generation, the Greatest Generation.
"Countries don't become great by themselves, it takes sacrifice," he said.
But he said his generation fell short and there is still much to be done.
"Growing up in the south Bronx, I could see what happens to people when they are desperately poor," he said.
Canada said he was also greatly affected by civil rights hero Rosa Parks and the assassinations of several men he looked up to, President John F. Kennedy, Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr.
"With these men and women as my role models you can see why I worked so hard to make this world a better place," Canada said.
Canada said there have been huge strides in civil rights and in women's and gay rights, but ultimately his generation has failed to leave the world in a better place than the previous generation, he said.
Canada said his generation is leaving a huge debt for the next generation and added there are 46 million families in this country on food stamps.
"Children who are poor in this country still cannot get a good education," he said.
"I wish I could stand before you and say we are leaving you a better county than our parents left us," Canada told the graduates.
Though abolitionist and suffragette Susan B. Anthony lived to see the slaves set free, she died 14 years before women were given the right to vote, Canada said.
"The work of making this a better country is started by someone, but left for someone else to complete," he said. "My time is coming to an end; others will have to pick up this work."
Canada said he made a promise to the children of this country to make the world a better place, and that now it is time for the next generation to take up that promise either through volunteerism, working in the nonprofit sector like himself, or through philanthropy, adding "I tried raising money from poor people. It didn't work out so well."
"Everybody must do their part. You are going to have to carry on my work," he said.
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