150th Commencement, May 14, 2011
'Follow Your Dreams': Remarks by Honorary Degree Recipient Augustine Silveira Jr.
Distinguished Teaching Professor, Emeritus, Chemistry Department, SUNY Oswego

I am very pleased and honored to share this special morning with you and I congratulate you on your graduation day. I am honored to accept this award on behalf of all my former students at SUNY Oswego who have partnered with me in the lab and in the classroom. It speaks volumes about the caliber of my students and their accomplishments. It is also a special morning for me because people from this college and city will always be first in my heart. My wife Beverly and I feel very fortunate to have a large family of my former students, faculty, staff and administrators at Oswego and friends in the surrounding communities.

Gus Silveira.During my 37-year tenure at Oswego, I had the privilege and pleasure of teaching thousands of students. Many of them are now research chemists, doctors, presidents of colleges, corporate leaders, and professors and teachers. What an impressive group of individuals they are, all making substantial contributions to society! I have no doubt that in the near future, many of YOU will also be making equally impressive contributions to society. How lucky I have been to have had a job in which I experienced the same joy during my last lecture at Oswego as I did when I gave my first lecture as a graduate teaching assistant 54 years ago. Teaching is such a rewarding profession; every year you are extending your family and vicariously enjoying your students’ successes and trying to help when things are not going well. I hope some of you will consider teaching as a career.

In appreciation of what your teachers and educational institutions have done for you, I hope you will assist them in various ways to make Oswego an even better place for future students. Many of my former students have contributed thousands of dollars for annual scholarships and a Distinguished Lectureship in my name for the benefit of students at SUNY Oswego. It is not important that this was done in my name. What is important is that these Oswego students want to give back and to assist the university in preparing future students to become critical and independent thinkers who will make sound judgments and decisions as citizens, consumers and lifelong learners in an ever-changing world.

Whatever you decide to do in preparing for life’s tasks, I urge you not to make the mistake of defining your own worth as a human being only in terms of a job or profession. Seek your place in the world by following your own dreams, while at the same time, cultivating inner strength and a set of values and ethics that will guide you through life. This inner strength comes, in part, from a belief in yourself, a belief that will enable you to feel comfortable with your ability to cope with new experiences and new friends.

Our youngest daughter, Karen, was a math/fine arts major, who determined on returning from a semester studying art in Florence, Italy, that she enjoyed math but “art was the love of her life.” However, she was worried about getting a job and making a livelihood in art as compared to math. We told her to “follow your dreams”—which she did—and she is now a Vice President at Tiffany in New York City.

Dr. Robert Grulich, former Vice President of Research at Bristol Myers Squibb, an Oswego native and my former student, recently spoke to SUNY Oswego graduates after receiving an honorary doctorate. The centerpiece of his talk was “People Are Important” and they should be central in dealing with life’s work. Your lives and careers will be largely determined by the way you are able to work with people and cope with the world of change, of criticism and of cynicism.

I would encourage you to set high expectations for yourself. Believe in yourself and do not be afraid to fail. In many instances, those so-called failures are the first steps to success. The great comedienne and actress, Carol Burnett, at a recent college commencement, stated two things in terms of her personal goals, which I believe, bear repeating. They are: To be “untouched by success and untroubled by failure.” In working with my students over 40 years, many of our research experiments failed in terms of molecules not doing what I thought they would do. More often than not, when my students and I determined what the molecules did do, it was more exciting to the students and me than our original expectation.

Rotary International, of which I have been a member for 46 years and which, I might add, gives many students international scholarships to study in the United States and abroad, has a motto “Give Service to Others.” Nothing will give us greater fulfillment than making the purpose of our lives serving and helping others. Albert Einstein, one of my early heroes, expressed my thoughts about service so beautifully: “A thousand times every day I remind myself that my inner and outer life depends on the labors of others, living and dead, and that I must exert myself in order to give in the same measures as I have received and am still receiving.”

In closing, I would like to see each of you make a strong, positive commitment to yourself and to society, using your mind and talents to make choices which will enable you to develop the fullness of your potential. You are entering a new chapter in your lives, and I would be surprised if you did not have some degree of apprehension. This is a common feeling, to be expected at this stage of life. Be optimistic about your ability to be successful. Expect to be successful for you all have the ability; you just need the commitment to a goal.

On your journey into the future, you will touch many lives in your families, schools, churches and professions. May each one say that they are much better off because you stopped by.

Again, congratulations to all of you. Don’t forget to “FOLLOW YOUR DREAMS.” Good luck and God speed.

(Posted: May 12, 2011)

Tags: silveira, honorary, chemistry