Commencement Address: Salutatorian Reuben Slater (May 18, 2019)

Reuben Slater ’19 gives the Student Address at the Saturday Undergraduate Commencement Ceremony, May 18, 2019

Thank you, and hello to all. I want to recognize President Donald Christian, Provost Arnold, Dean Laura Barrett, the world’s greatest professors, family, friends and, of course, fellow graduates of the State University of New York at New Paltz Classes of 2018 and 2019.

It really is an honor to be up here talking to you all. First and foremost, today is our day, so please give it up for yourselves! It’s impossible for me to express in a couple of minutes how grateful I am for all of my experiences over the last four years here, nor do I believe that my experiences represent the whole of SUNY New Paltz.

Yet, this is exactly where our great school derives its strength. SUNY New Paltz cannot be boiled down to a cliché, pigeonholed into providing “one type of college experience.” As students, we brought with us all of our unique histories, contributed to our communities in independent ways and gathered here today with a multitude of lessons learned. We will carry these experiences with us forever. Where much of our world is organized in terms of mimesis – modeled off of what we know — SUNY New Paltz exists in a state of constant recreation and emergence, thanks to everyone here.

Thus, as a student of history and anthropology, I did what I knew best in preparation for this speech. I went out among our fellow graduates to uncover their diverse experiences and lessons learned at SUNY New Paltz. In the name of brevity, I’d like to read and quote you five of them.

  • “New Paltz is a unique community of people that has consistently uplifted and inspired me and those around me. It is a place where people can unapologetically be themselves, explore their identities and discover creative passions.”
  • “New Paltz has made me into a well-rounded, independent thinker, capable of taking the next step in my life through the people and environment that I have been surrounded with during my time here.”
  • “Having an opportunity to attend an institution like SUNY New Paltz has been the greatest blessing; I have learned more about myself in these four years, and I am thankful to have met the lovely, compassionate people that gravitate here.”
  • “New Paltz, to me, is a place of growth. Every pocket of this town pulls you in with welcome arms and encourages you to expand not only what you know but who you are as a person.”
  • “New Paltz is a home away from home, a place where I feel completely safe to be myself and where I let myself grow not only as a student but as a person.”

While I do not have any profound wisdom to share with all of you, I hope these quotes helped convey how special a place SUNY New Paltz is and provide a chance for you to reflect on your time here. Time spent doing all kinds of amazing things. I have met artists, activists, scientists, and visionaries here. People who go above and beyond the minimum, always striving to push the limits in their respective fields.

All of these quotes reflect what I truly love and value about the College. We are a community who support and bring out the best in each other. If there exists a New Paltz ethos then this is it. Perhaps this small, personal example can serve as a microcosm of what I mean.

Last summer, I had the privilege to serve as the crew chief of the archaeological field school on Historic Huguenot Street – a national historical landmark district located here in New Paltz. To be honest, I was incredibly nervous about this role. In the days leading up to the start of the session, anxious thoughts plagued my mind. What if I wasn’t ready for such a task? Did I really know enough about archaeology to help teach others?

Yet, all of this went away when I started working with the students. Seeing the smiles on their faces when they removed that first bit of topsoil. The excitement that ran through everyone when they found their first projectile point. The level of dedication they brought to the excavation. All of these things, from the simplest show of appreciation when I checked their paperwork, to seeing the formation of a community that we built from the ground up that summer, gave me the confidence in myself to be the best crew chief I could. So, a big thank you to those field school students!

My experience over the summer is one that I believe many of us graduating have experienced here. What makes this place special is its emergent nature. At SUNY New Paltz, every day is a chance to learn something new, try something new, and truly explore the horizons before you. There I was on Huguenot Street undertaking an effort to uncover the past, while uncovering who I am in the present and how I could apply this present self to the future. All of this would not have been possible without the community around me. So, if I have one thing to say it would be this. Keep with you this spirit, support each other, challenge each other, be thankful for each other and, most importantly, love each other.

Congratulations to the SUNY New Paltz classes of 2018 and 2019!!