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Honors Convocation – Keynote Speech

Honors Convocation

May 10, 2013

Keynote Speech

 

Dr. Hankin, administrators, faculty, parents and guests, welcome.

Honored students – congratulations!

You have worked hard, shown superior intelligence, and superior drive.

You have taken advantage of the opportunities presented and successfully met the academic challenges. Your achievements are a tribute to WCC’s philosophy of giving each student the chance to realize his or her full potential.

Since time began, virtually every society has excluded some individuals from the political, economic, and social fields. Some were denied a fair opportunity because of their class, ethnic background, religion, gender, and other “accidents of birth.”

WCC has always followed a policy of equal opportunity – a philosophy I strongly believe in.  But why follow such a policy?

There are two reasons.

First, because it is fair and just for the individual. This is in accord with the principles found in the Declaration of Independence and in the U.S. Constitution. It is demanded by democratic theory – it is the right thing to do, the moral thing to do.

But there is a second reason – reason that we sometimes forget – another justification for judging every student, every person by individual merit.

I fully understood this second reason when I first read a book written by the great intellectual W.E.B Du Bois.   Du Bois was the first African-American to earn a doctorate.  In 1903 he wrote The Souls of Black Folk in which he tells us about his travels down south. He spoke with many young blacks who showed superior intelligence and drive.

He called those born with special capacities “the talented tenth.” But their God-given talents would never be fully realized because they were excluded from education. Du Bois wrote that this was a tragedy for those individuals, but also a tragedy for society. Who knows how many scientists, business people, doctors, and teachers society lost because it excluded people simply on the basis of color.

Think what a loss it would be if professional sports didn’t allow someone to join the team simply because they look different, are of the wrong class, of the wrong religion, or wrong culture. Think of the loss to many less-developed countries because they still discriminate against individuals because of some accident of birth. Indeed, many economists and political scientists believe that this is the principal reason for the lack of economic development.

WCC has always followed this philosophy of equal opportunity benefiting thousands of students and our society. There is one person in particular who deserves credit for implementing and maintaining this philosophy – none other than our college president Dr. Joseph N. Hankin.

So the second reason why we want to give everyone an equal chance to fully develop is so that we can identify and develop the precious talents of our most precious resource – the human resource.

But wait. There is another side to this coin. In return for giving you the opportunity to shine, we ask you for something. Yes, by all means use your superior gifts to be academically and professionally successful. Get rich, earn lots of income, and accumulate lots of wealth. Enjoy all the comforts of life.

But, please, whenever you can, support the policy that helped bring you to where you are today. Don’t exclude anyone simply because of an accident of birth, or because they were born with a physical or mental challenge. Not only will you be doing the right thing, but you will also be helping society.

I apologize if I sound like I’m lecturing…or preaching – it’s the emotion that comes from the passion of my convictions.  I, like you, am a beneficiary of the philosophy of equal opportunity. I was born in the middle of World War II to a very poor family in southern Italy. My grandfather was a shepherd and my parents never went beyond the 5th grade. I came to this country at the age of six (couldn’t speak a word of English). But thanks to my educational experiences, my military experience, and my career at WCC, I was given the opportunity to maximize my full potential.

You are WCC’s best and brightest – you are our talented tenth. We are totally confident that you will be among the best wherever you continue your studies and whatever career you choose.

Again, congratulations, God bless you, and God bless America!

Frank J. Fato, Ph.D.

Professor of Political Science

SUNY Westchester Community College

Valhalla, NY