2013 Commencement Distinguished Speaker Remarks

Dr. Cornelius B. Murphy Jr., one of three honorary degree recipients, spoke during this year's commencement ceremony. Murphy is retiring as president of the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry.

Dr. Murphy Speech

I want to thank President Meg O’Connell, Chairman of the Board of Trustees, Allen Naples, the Trustees and the Onondaga Community College Faculty and staff for this wonderful honor.

The College of Environmental Science has a great relationship with Onondaga Community College and we have the privilege to admit 25-30 graduates of OCC every year to continue their studies. We consider ESF to be part of the OCC education pipeline and OCC as a very important partner in achieving our mission.

As I was preparing for this celebration, I couldn’t help but reflect upon my graduation many years ago and the opportunities that the academic experience helped frame for me. The experience helped establish the foundation, but other life experiences taught me lessons that I could never have learned in the lecture hall.

I would like to share some of these lessons with you our graduates. The first is embodied in the words of Sophocles,

“Heaven never helps the man or woman who will not act.”

Life creates many opportunities, but it is up to all of us to evaluate them, make a decision and move forward. Each one of these opportunities change us as individuals and prepare us for the next challenge. We need to be engaged. A passive approach to life’s opportunities will not work. We need to embrace opportunity and constantly move forward.

The second lesson learned is that we all need mentors upon which we can count on for advice and counsel. I have been blessed to have had many mentors in my life but my first was my Dad, Dr. Cornelius B. Murphy, an organic chemist that taught at Holy Cross College and worked for companies like American Cyanamid, GE and Xerox as a research chemist.

I learned to love science at the kitchen table; a small single stack fuel cell that powered a 4 watt light bulb; a prototype of those that fueled the Apollo Mission; a personal detector used to save lives of many soldiers in Vietnam during the Tet Offensive. Science wasn’t taught in the college laboratory it was taught at the kitchen table.

But my first mentor taught me best to respect people. It doesn’t matter if a person is a CEO, custodian or a parking attendant, they contribute in their own way, and they deserve your respect. You will likely not go very far in life if you don’t respect others, because without the shared respect with others, you will never be able to have a truly honest dialogue or engage others to follow you or your vision.

The last piece of advice is to find someone that you love and want to care for and that will love and care for you. 

Success means nothing unless there is someone to share it with.

Failure will mean everything unless there is someone that can put the ups and downs of life into proper perspective; someone who will continue to ground you in your values and help pick you up to take on the next challenge.

As I was finishing up my graduate studies, that person was Joanne Corrigan, and now my wife. Joanne, you are most responsible for my success and I love you.

I have to give a lot of talks. Most of them are technical in nature or are public policy based.

The joy about this talk is that I have shared with you what is important to me and has created success and fulfillment in my life.

My wish for you is to have much success and joy in your lives.

Go forth and make your family and friends proud.