Mildred García, president of the American Association of State Colleges and Universities, told graduates at Ithaca College’s 124th Commencement ceremony that they have a profound responsibility to use the achievement of their degree to serve as a beacon of hope and opportunity for others. García delivered the main address to some 1,500 graduates at the ceremony on Sunday, May 19.

“Today we celebrate far more than a degree achieved; we honor a dream, your dream, realized,” García said. “I am proud that each of you now joins me and President Collado in being the change we want to see in the world, so that the next generation of diverse students encounters less obstacles and more opportunities, less discrimination and more equal pay, less broken hopes and more broken glass ceilings.”

Ithaca College President Shirley M. Collado awarded García an honorary Doctor of Letters degree, which García dedicated to her parents. She described their journey from Puerto Rico to Brooklyn, noting that they had only an eighth-grade education not from a lack of intelligence but from a lack of equitable access to quality education.

García said her parents coined a phrase that has become the through line for her entire professional career, reciting it first in Spanish and then in English: “The only inheritance a poor family leaves its children is a good education.”

“Together, my parents wielded the power of that profound truth to light a fire under all seven of their children. My parents understood that education, and only education, could propel us beyond the factory walls, beyond the housing projects we moved into, and beyond what we could even imagine.”

She said the phrase also taps into a universal truth about education that transcends socioeconomic status. “It is the great equalizer. And when we… ensure everyone has equitable access to it, all communities are lifted and all children are left with an inheritance that they can bank on and their families can be proud of.”

Collado also awarded honorary Doctor of Letters degrees to educator and journalist Melissa Harris-Perry and City of Ithaca Mayor Svante Myrick, calling it a privilege to honor their life’s work, their accomplishments, and their contributions to our world.

A new tradition to honor a member of the Ithaca College “family” or a valued institutional partner whose contributions better the IC community and our world was begun with the awarding of the inaugural Presidential Medal.

The first medal was presented to Nancy Pringle, retiring executive vice president and senior advisor to the president. Collado said that during Pringle’s 25 years at the college, “You have paved the way for many women in senior levels of the academy, and demonstrated so profoundly what it means to use your expertise for the public good and to lead with integrity and courage.”

Senior Class President Ezeka Allen had the opportunity to address her classmates, saying she was incredibly honored and humbled by the occasion. She thanked the IC faculty and staff for all they have done for students, and echoed García in acknowledging that the graduates would not likely have reached this milestone without support from their families.

“But our journey doesn’t stop here,” said Allen. “My wish for you, Class of 2019, is that you find your own version of success and happiness and chase it, even if you must chase it around the world…Don’t be afraid to take risks, and always try to fail forward so you’re getting a little closer to your goals. Take the lessons you’ve learned at IC and turn them into passions and create the prosperity that matters to you.”

In her own final remarks to the members of the class of 2019, Collado said she was proud of their “tremendous fire, inspiring ideas and sharp intellect.”

“I want you to know that it has been a tremendous personal honor for me to be a part of your lives,” she said. “I know the past years have changed you — and there’s more change to come. When it does, I ask that you let your years here activate a life of purpose; one that anchors you in your truth while connecting you to our shared humanity. We look forward to seeing all that you will accomplish.”