For Immediate Release — May 14, 2005


Mary E. McCrank

Media Relations Officer

(585) 245-5516


Students Receive Send-off From Retiring Physics Professor David Meisel

and SUNY Regent Emeritus Walter Cooper

GENESEO, N.Y. – Intermittent rays of sunshine pierced the hovering storm clouds for 2 1/2 hours while more than one thousand graduates of the State University of New York at Geneseo received their diplomas during the college’s 139th commencement ceremony on May 14.

Approximately 1,200 individuals received bachelor’s degrees during the exercises, and approximately 30 graduate students received master’s degrees. The ceremony was attended by about 9,000 people, including the graduates and their families and friends. The ceremony was broadcast live on the World Wide Web.

Geneseo Distinguished Professor of Physics David D. Meisel, who is retiring after a 35-year career with the college, delivered the commencement address.

In addition, SUNY Regent Emeritus Walter Cooper received an honorary degree from SUNY. Aminy I. Audi, a member of the SUNY board of trustees, conferred the Doctor of Humane Letters degree on Cooper, who was honored in recognition of his highly regarded service as a steward of public service, as an accomplished scientist and acknowledged leader in education.

In 1956, Cooper became the first African-American to earn the Ph.D. in physical chemistry from the University of Rochester. He went on to have a successful career at Eastman Kodak Co., retiring in 1986 as manager of the office of technical communications and the holder of three patents. From 1988-1997, he served as a Regent of the State of New York for the Seventh Judicial District. He has served Action for a Better Community, the Anti-Poverty Program, the Urban League of Rochester, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the New York State Advisory Committee of the United States Civil Rights Commission. In 1967, he used his expertise as a research chemist and his access to the African-American community to educate the community and politicians about pediatric lead poisoning. In 1973, he helped found the Urban-Suburban Pupil Transfer Program in the Rochester city schools, and since 1999 he has developed and supported major educational reforms at the historically troubled Benjamin Franklin High School. He also was a founding member of the Rochester Area Foundation and is past chairman of the U.S. Small Business Administration’s National Advisory Council for Black Business and Economic Development.

Meisel’s speech title was "The Answer is 42," taken from "The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy," which states 42 is the answer to life, the universe and everything. A prominent astronomer since he investigated Comet Kohoutek shortly before his arrival at Geneseo in 1970, Meisel specializes in searching for interstellar micrometeors. In 2001, he was promoted to the highest rank in the SUNY system–SUNY Distinguished Professor.

"One of the main goals of your college career has been to define who you are and how you fit into the big picture. This quest, however, will not end with receiving a diploma. It will continue throughout life. Sometimes the quest will take a very jagged path, sometimes a very straight one. But I can promise you that four, oh, even two, years from now, you will not be the same person you are today," Meisel told the graduates. "Living is a matter of personal evolution, nothing stays the same, all things change whether you’re aware of it or not. That is all part of living in a dynamic world. But years from now you will regard these last four years as some of the best in your life, at least I hope so."

Meisel talked about the late Douglas Adams, who created "A Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy" as a BBC radio play and later penned it into a book, upon which the new film is based. The plot is a saga of a few human survivors after the senseless destruction of the Earth who question the meaning of life and become upset when a computer tells them the answer is 42.

"In our modern world, many people want quick answers to all of life’s questions without really checking them for truthfulness, even though some of the answers are really silly. Busy people can’t be bothered. To them whatever it says on the Internet is true," said Meisel. "But for the past four years, we, the faculty and staff at Geneseo, have tried to show you how to ask good questions and find proper and non-trivial answers. We hope you have learned this process instinctively, because the fate of the modern world depends on how well its people can recognize truth against falsehood.

"My generation has failed to eliminate the age old problems of war and hunger because we have yielded to the demands for quick answers to complicated problems. Some people in my generation (and we all know who they are) when confronted with a situation that gives an answer they don’t like, won’t go back and ask the question differently. They cheat and simply change the answer to something they want to hear. But you don’t have to be like that. Thus I throw down a challenge to you. My generation has given you a world that is now far from the best of all possible ones. It is up to you to turn things around and leave the Earth a far better place than you receive it."

Other highlights of the ceremony included remarks by senior orator Michael Chin of Utica, N.Y., and SUNY Geneseo President Christopher C. Dahl.

During his address, Chin recalled he and his classmates were in their first few weeks of college when the September 11th terrorist attacks occurred.

"I watched history play out, not only on TV or the newspapers but with my classmates and with my neighbors in Jones Hall," said Chin. "The attacks were undeniably tragic. Similarly undeniable, though, was the impact of the attacks on the modern world and the long-range effects that day has had and will have on history.

"As a result of the tragedy came a unique time for study at Geneseo," he said, adding his professors incorporated the events surrounding 9/11 into classes from a variety of disciplines, from sociological theory to Western humanities to Shakespeare.

Dahl told the students he, too, graduated during a tumultuous time in the nation’s history – after the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy. Like the aftermath of those events, society today is struggling to understand the 9/11 tragedy.

"As a nation and as a college community, we’re still seeking to understand the meaning of those events and the changes in our world that they have wrought. I do not have special wisdom on this subject, but I can tell you today that you now enter a world even more complicated and troubled than the world I entered into as a new graduate in 1968," said Dahl. "Our troops are still fighting an unpopular war in Iraq. We have lost our traditional innocence as a nation and much of our sense as Americans living in a secure world, far from the dangerous disputes of Europe or Asia or the Middle East."

Also during commencement, the Richard Roark Award was presented to Charlotte McCorkel of Port Washington, N.Y., for her excellence in academics and service to the community.

In addition, several awards were presented to students during the New Alumni Convocation on Friday. The Student Association President’s Cup was presented to Philip Perrin of Cuba, N.Y., for his exemplary service, dedication and leadership to the Student Association and its organizations. The Alumni Student Leadership Award was presented to Sean Gavin of Chatham, N.Y., for his exemplary leadership in college activities directed at advancing the quality of student life at Geneseo and promoting greater awareness for lifelong associations with the college. The Edward ’73 and Elaine ’73 Pettinella Senior Leadership Awards were presented to Kathryn Foradori of Oswego, N.Y., Devin Van Riper of Delmar, N.Y, and Lindsey Bauer of West Seneca, N.Y. Foradori and Van Riper, students in the Jones School of Business, will receive $2,500 apiece. Bauer, a student in the Shear School of Education, will receive $5,000.

At commencement, seniors Kate Pistey of Hyde Park, N.Y., and David Rose of Farmington, N.Y., presented the college with a senior class gift of $16,680, a portion of which will fund five $250 student scholarships, a new study area in Milne Library and a new statue of Minerva that will stand in the lobby of Milne.

The Geneseo Brass Ensemble provided music at commencement.

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