How a Keuka education reaches around the world

John Christensen
Commencement Speaker Gen. Peter Pace, former president Dr. William L. Boyle, Jr, and Keuka College President Joseph Burke pose for photos before the processional.

The 103rd commencement of Keuka College was conducted under rare conditions for this spring; a warm and sunny day.

Gathered under the avenue of trees, proud parents, family, and friends watched the cap and gown clad graduates process from Ball Hall to the steps of Norton Chapel, escorted by the college faculty and administration. Prior to the bachelors and masters degrees being awarded, three honorary doctorates were awarded to people whose lives have touched and been touched by Keuka.

• Fifty-year employee and friend to the college, George Slocum was recognized for his long devotion, energy, and helpful good nature which has been invaluable to students and faculty alike. (See related story on page A8).

Slocum began his time with the college during the Kennedy administration, and has witnessed the greatest changes and events in Keuka’s history, including the visit of Dr. Martin Luther King, the changeover to co-education, and the recent doubling of the student population. Slocum also has the distinction of being an alumni parent and grandparent.

• The late Marion Cutler was a 1952 graduate of Keuka, but in many ways, never left the college at all. She remained a loyal alumna and friend all through her years of teaching English in New Jersey.

Marion knew the value of education. In her words, conveyed by her classmate, Rose Salzberger, who accepted the honor on her behalf, Cutler said her life began at Keuka College, which instilled in her a life-long passion for teaching and learning.

After retirement she continued to teach by authoring books, articles and stories. She took up the clarinet in her 60s and excelled. She knitted caps and booties for pre-mature infants at a local hospital. And she was a patron to the college, giving generously to initiatives such as the Keuka Fund and Save Ball Hall.

Sadly, her life ended in March of this year, but as Ms. Salzberger said, Cutler was devoted to Keuka College, and Keuka has loved her back with deep emotion and affection.

• One of the indirect recipients of a Keuka College education, former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff U. S. Marine Corps Gen. Peter Pace (retired) was a student of Miss Cutler’s in eighth and ninth grade, and her friend ever after. The impact Miss Cutler had upon Pace’s young character cannot be underestimated. Pace, who described himself as one who “Never let a promising career get in the way of a good joke,” got his sense of self-control from Miss Cutler. Rather than the A he expected for his schoolwork in her class, she gave him a D for his constant cutting-up saying, “Conduct is part of your grade in life.” Those words and Miss Cutler’s image have stayed with him ever since.

Pace’s message to the new graduates built upon that theme of choosing your conduct.

Professionally, he advised them to treat those under them as they would want to be treated by those over them, to make sure they can be proud of what their company does and who their bosses are, to grow where they are planted and embrace even the unpleasant jobs thrust upon them, to make decisions because,

“That is where the big bucks are.” He said that if the decision is yours, explain what you’re going to do and why. If the decision is your boss’s, advise them “Here’s what I think you should do and why.”

More personally, he emphasized setting their moral compass by relating the death of 21-year-old Lance Corporal Guido Marinaro in his company in Vietnam from a sniper hiding in a village.

He died in Pace’s arms, and in fury, Pace called in an artillery strike upon the village. It was the silent look from the young corporal’s platoon leader that convinced him he was doing the wrong thing. He called off the strike and swept the village with patrols, finding only frightened women and children. It is not a specific education, but the ability to think, and it is not a specific moral challenge but the setting of that moral compass that makes all the difference. Money does not make violating that setting okay.

Pace praised the value of courage to stand up to say why you see things differently, and advised them how do so without being confrontational.

He said to take care of those in your charge, to know that how you act affects all those around you, to take time to know them personally, and to tell them where your decisions are going.

Finally, Pace asked the graduates to make a difference the way Miss Cutler had made a difference to thousands of young minds.

He accepted the honor in the name of the millions of service men and women who make days like that possible, with the question he asks himself: “Have I helped people? Have I used my authority to help people?” and expressed his confidence that if they ask themselves that same question, then these newest Keuka graduates will indeed help people just as Miss Cutler helped him and so many others.