2015 HAMILTON COLLEGE HONORARY DEGREE
Presented to Bill Harley ’77
On this day, as our students graduate into the adult world, we honor a 1977 Hamilton alumnus with “the heart of a child.”
You are the author of more than a dozen books and hundreds of songs, including “Grownups Are Strange,” which from your admittedly slightly off-center point of view offers a message for today’s graduates:
Well grownups are strange, that’s a fact,
But you got to go forward, you can’t go back
Grownups are weird, yes that’s true,
Someday that’s gonna happen to you
A storyteller who uses language and music to explore what you call “the great question of how … free individuals live in community with each other,” you are a two-time Grammy Award winner, having on one occasion beaten Gwyneth Paltrow — “Well, I guess it’s not a beauty contest!” you quipped backstage — and on another lost to the Muppets.
Your work is witty and playful, while also poignant and thoughtful, a combination intended equally for children and their “caretakers.” On receiving a Lifetime Achievement Award you said, “Many of you here know that people who choose to work with children often have their work devalued by those who think adult work is more important and of more substance. … [W]hat happens to a child,” you added, “determines what happens to the world.”
Your life’s work, which began while you were a student on this hill, is a search for what people hold in common. “As an artist, and a student of the humanities,” you said, “it’s my job to try and make my audience look at the world in a different way.”
For bringing greater tolerance to our world and helping us to see the humor in everyday life, we honor you today.
Joan Hinde Stewart
May 24, 2015