About the Speaker:
Well-loved and held in high esteem by students and his colleagues alike, he was asked to deliver the address at the 2012 Senior Investiture service.
dr. carl girelli
Thank you, Dr. Stephens, for the gracious introduction. Warm greetings to you imminent graduates, supportive families, faculty and staff colleagues, and administrators. I am learning so much about my own regalia as prepare for and participate in this event. First, the color of the lining of my hood, as best I can tell from Wikipedia, which Dr. Coggin refers to as "the source of all knowledge" means that I am a dentist. I am not, I assure you, a dentist. Second, it has become apparent to me why I was asked to address this particular gathering. Given my penchant for speaking "off the cuff," someone decided I ought to dress in and speak about a garment that has no cuffs whatsoever. Thus, my comments are prepared, and not extemporaneous, and will therefore be brief. Finally, I did the math and discovered that my academic regalia remains after all these years, my most expensive outfit, worthy of great care and pampering, about which more later.
I have been called upon today, if I understand my charge correctly, to provide a retrospective of my years and of your years here at Catawba College.
After twenty four wonderful years here at Catawba College, I have finally learned enough to seek a new challenge up the road a ways. After four years (more or less) you have, in a much shorter space of time, accomplished the same thing. Congratulations. You are ready to venture out. It is my fondest desire that you and I will do Catawba College proud - you to honor your alma mater, and I to honor the community that has nurtured me and most truly given me a liberal education.
Most typically on the occasion of investiture, the College enlists a Catawba graduate who serves on the faculty to look back for a few minutes in anticipation of the next two, very much forward looking days. The list of colleagues who have addressed the community for this event is both humbling and very dear to me. I cannot begin to enumerate them and have any hope of retaining my composure.
Investiture, then. This is one of many traditions that I encountered here at Catawba College. At its root, what we are about this evening is simple enough. To don regalia, almost literally, to "put on robes." In fact, when I first encountered this tradition a quarter of a century ago, I took to calling it "getdressediture." I suggest that you NOT get in the habit of calling it "getdressetiture."
This evening is ceremony in the purest sense. The caps, gowns, and hoods we wear on these occasions are reserved and revered just to this purpose. They represent our participation in a tradition of education that is centuries old. These vestments communicate to all who participate that you have valued wisdom, sought knowledge, and overcome obstacles. In fact for some of you my grammar class was one of those obstacles. Well done, all of you.
So, then, retrospection, looking back. It should come as no surprise to anyone that I'm reminded at this juncture of a bit of family folklore. No, I will not be talking about tunas or cardinals today. To look back in earnest I am transported to an even earlier generation, that of my mother's youth in Providence Rhode Island. In those days, my mother had a kid brother Joey, we'll call him Uncle Joey. Joey was the baby of the family, as am I. The youngest always seem to have the way paved for them, and this apparently was the case for Uncle Joey. My mother recounts an episode that was apparently standard operating procedure as Uncle Joey cruised through his dating years and courted the heartthrob who would become and remains until this day his beloved wife, my Aunt Betty. By the way, I am not making these names up. For those of you who have heard me speak of my cousin Paulie, Joey and Betty are his parents.
In any event, Uncle Joey's standard refrain when he wanted to borrow grandpa's car for a date was, and I quote "We're gonna go pahk by the rivah and reminisce about the futah." In translation that's "Park by the river, and reminisce about the future." A likely story. For those of you astute observers of language , this apparent contradiction in terms, "reminisce about the future" may be jarring.
I submit that reminiscing about the future is the very sort of oxymoronic genius we would expect from the likes of Yogi Berra, who gave us "It's déjà vu all over again", also apropos of this event. Uncle Joey is in good company.
So to reminisce a bit. Twenty four years ago, Dr. Charlie McAllister, then a fairly young fella himself , conducted my interview tour of the Catawba College Campus. As we leaned on the construction fence surrounding a then brand new, almost completed Ketner Hall, Charlie praised Catawba with such conviction that I knew if the professorship were offered, I absolutely had to take it. It was, and I did. The rest is history.
Four years ago, more or less, you arrived on campus to find a brand new Abernethy village. I'm sure you also recall that if you stayed in a Residence hall your first year it was most definitely NOT Abernethy Village. But you persevered, and many of you have come through those residence facilities that were brand new when you arrived.
Not long before you arrived (and I am compressing history just a bit here) the Chapel in which we are now gathered was not air conditioned. This was true and accepted as routine for decades. Ceremonies in the early fall and late spring could be fairly sweltering ordeals. Academic Regalia, while it does allow a certain refreshing up-draft, can inspire every bit as much perspiration as admiration. On one of those occasions, I asked a senior colleague on the faculty (one who has recently retired) where he got his regalia dry-cleaned after such an ordeal. His response — "Ahh! I don't." For twenty four years, I have heeded that sage advice, so you'll be glad I am not sitting beside you.
When I arrived in 1988, the Hedrick administration building was already old, having been completed in the 1920's. I remember sitting alone and confused in admin. room 218 at 8 am one winter morning in my first year here wondering where my comp class had run off to. That was when I learned that two inches of snow is, by local standards, a blizzard. It was out the window of room 218 admin that fours years later I looked to see my four year old son Anthony tooling by behind the admin. building in his red power wheels jeep with sister Amanda in the passenger seat.
And years later, it was in the same room that a group of fellow faculty gathered and decided that yours, the class of 2012, would be the last class to experience First Year Seminar II, Consiliense, a course that had been a labor of love for so many of the faculty in the room.
Ultimately, it was in admin room 218 that I was conducting a meeting to prepare students for the Costa Rica trip just one year ago, when I received the phone call telling that I had to rush home to Connecticut to say goodbye to my father. I suppose the point is, we can experience a lot of life in fairly small, intense space. Similarly, you have just experienced a lot of life in a brief, intense, space of time.
You have slain dragons of self-doubt, come to grips with who you are, and found the courage to strive to be your best self in a world where mediocrity or worse are more the rule than the exception. You have met friends who will be with you for decades and probably made some mistakes that you now know never to repeat. And in the process you earned about 120 credits, fulfilled general education requirements, major and maybe minor requirements and kept your GPA north of trouble. All before many of you even get to the real world. Many of this year's graduates have done all this AND maintained a life in that real world.
When I arrived here, there was no nature preserve or lake Baranski behind the chapel. When you arrived there WAS a fountain in front of the student center. Go figure.
When I arrived there were no co-ed dorms and the student handbook, which we then called the "Tom-Tom," strictly forbade sunbathing within view of Innes Street. Now, as you and I depart, almost all the residence halls are co-ed, and, many of you are sporting a front lawn tan, and the traffic is finally moving more slowly on Innes Street.
Back in the day, the only faculty member who had a computer was Dr. Paul Baker, who was also our computer science department. By the time you began your studies here, the faculty and staff were outraged if you did not check your Catawba email account every day.
In many respects, we have come a long way in the many years I have been here. Similarly, you have made enormous strides in the relatively short time you have been here.
I cannot for the life of me remember my first day on campus, many of the intervening days, yes, but not the first. Maybe you do. It might have been one Monday evening at 6:00 pm, the first night of the first block of the evening program. You figured out where to park, but you had no idea if you were supposed to call the professor Dr., or Mr, or Doug.
Or maybe it was an August Saturday morning at the orientation welcoming assembly in Keppel Auditorium where you cringed at your dad's lame attempt to be cool, then felt baffled when the professors thought he really WAS cool.
I would urge you to lock that image of your first encounter with Catawba College and as many other recollections as you can in your memory. You may well go to graduate school, return to your alma mater as a professor, and need those memories to share as a speaker at investiture. I'm comforted by that prospect.
As you shift your focus from the retrospect of this evening, to the new beginnings embodied in the word "commencement" please keep in mind that your four year's, my 24 years, and Catawba College's over 160 years stand behind you.
So let me encourage you in this way, every now and again, give yourselves time for reflection and summation in the midst of an accelerating pace of life. Every once in a while, like my uncle Joey, slow down, and go pahk the rivah and reminisce about the futah.
May these days ahead bring joy to you and the families that have supported you, and may the years ahead bring you prosperity of every sort and the wisdom and magnanimity to share that prosperity.
Thank you and Godspeed.