CANTON — Dozens of black hats spun in the air against a bright blue sky amid cheers and applause at St. Lawrence University's 150th commencement Sunday.
In many ways, it was a typical college graduation with speakers offering memories and advice to this year's more than 500 graduates. But it was the first commencement over which William L. Fox presided as president, though he walked across the same stage as a graduate in 1975.
And Justice Sonia Sotomayor, the nation's first Hispanic to sit on the Supreme Court, was one of the honorary degree recipients. She received an honorary Doctor of Laws degree at the same time that her niece, Kiley A. Sotomayor, received a bachelor of science degree in psychology.
“I have a sense of disbelief that a baby I saw a few days after her birth is graduating today. Images of her life have been in my mind all week,” Justice Sotomayor said, empathizing with the bittersweet feelings of families of the other graduates. “Share the joy that your family and friends feel today.”
Beyond having family members in the audience looking on, several graduates shared their moment in more concrete ways.
In addition to Kiley Sotomayor enjoying a hug from her aunt after receiving her degree from Mr. Fox, several other students received their degrees from family members who work at the college.
John F. Manning III received his bachelor's degree at the same time as his grandfather, Platt Wheeler. Mr. Wheeler is a member of the SLU class of 1944, but was unable to walk at his graduation because he was away fighting in World War II.
One of the other honorary degree candidates, the Rev. Peter J. Gomes, wished the graduates success, happiness and endurance as they leave academia for the “outside world.”
“I wish you have, from time to time, glorious failures from which you can learn extra things and throughout them, you will endure,” he said. “And remember, it's not ‘who' you know, it's ‘whom.'”
Of this year's graduates, many are planning to go to graduate school, while others have jobs waiting for them in cities such as New York and Washington, D.C. Others plan to join the Marines or the Peace Corps.
“It's kind of surreal,” said Miosotis Mercedes, who is headed to Korea to teach English for a year. “Mostly, I'm getting a bit sad that I'm leaving St. Lawrence. It's definitely become a part of my life.”
After her return from Korea, she hopes to find a job teaching Spanish.
Others have less definite plans. Eric A.J. Wolcott, an environmental studies major from New Hampshire, hasn't figured out what he's going to do now that he's done with school, other than move out of his apartment in Canton.
“It feels real good to be done — living the dream!” he said.