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Gillian Zucker ’90, president of business operations for the NBA’s LA Clippers, gave the address at Hamilton’s 210th commencement on Sunday, May 22, in the Margaret Bundy Scott Field House.

Other commencement speakers included Joel Adade ’22, recipient of the James Soper Merrill Prize, awarded to the member of the graduating class “who, in character and influence, has typified the highest ideals of the College,” as selected by the faculty, and class speaker Misaki (Maya) Funada ’22, chosen by her classmates.

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Zucker was awarded an honorary degree, along with former LaGuardia Community College president Gail Mellow and Elaine Weiss, author of the critically acclaimed The Woman’s Hour: The Great Fight to Win the Vote and a 1973 graduate of Kirkland College, the women’s college that merged with Hamilton in 1978.

The Class of 2022 valedictorian was Sana Salimi, an economics major from Hartsdale, N.Y., and James Argo, an economics major from New Milford, N.J., was salutatorian.

In her remarks, Zucker compared her time at Hamilton with that of this year’s graduates, who were sophomores when the COVID-19 pandemic began. When she was a student, she fell in love with a class on Eastern Asian theology. “I don’t know that the material would have resonated if I were sitting in my parents’ basement listening to lectures on Zoom,” Zucker said. “Your resilience — the way you refused to be denied your Hamilton experience — it is an inspiration.”

Zucker recalled that when her class received their diplomas 22 years ago, they came with a typo which was later corrected. “I kept mine [with the error],” she said. “I thought the typo was funny and more than a little symbolic. Hamilton, after all, teaches us to embrace imperfections. No class has overcome as many of them as yours.      

“The power of a liberal arts education is sometimes hard to see. What in God’s name can you do with that degree in sociology, literature, anthropology? Over time, as a double major in creative writing and religion, I’ve flipped the question: What can’t you do with it,” Zucker said. “On the one hand, we are a society of specialists, cautioned to stay in our chosen lane, where we’ve been educated and trained. Yet we also change jobs more than ever, careening from one lane to the next, forced to adapt and excel, no matter the major we chose at 19.”

Zucker called Hamilton’s motto, Know Thyself, a subject “more useful than any single vocation, because we are meant to transcend vocation.” She used a basketball metaphor, noting that fans don’t buy tickets to see just the great shooters or the players grabbing rebounds. “You buy a ticket for the players who can do everything. The superstars … They’re not necessarily the best at any one skill. They’re the best at the most,” she said. 

Zucker explained how she discovered an appreciation for sports when she was at Hamilton. She played broomball, attended hockey games, and joined the swimming & diving team. She said she didn’t leave the team with records or banners, but with an increased understanding of herself. “I loved the commitment and determination sports demanded, and I craved the camaraderie of a team,” she said. That led her to an internship with the Utica Devils of the American Hockey League and eventually to work for several minor league baseball teams and NASCAR before joining the Clippers in 2014.

But her success didn’t come without some false starts. After graduation, Zucker moved to New York City and looked for a job unsuccessfully for two-and-a-half months. She found the name of Neal Pilson ’60, president of CBS Sports, in the Hamilton alumni directory and wrote him a letter asking for advice. He was in the middle of negotiating NFL broadcast rights so his assistant asked Zucker for a fax number. He sent a list of five sports PR agencies. “Use my name,” was scrawled across the top of the fax. “There were no sweeter words for a 21-year-old to hear,” Zucker recalled. “Use my name. The second agency on the list hired me.”

Throughout her career, Zucker has amassed many fond memories, “but none stays with you like the Hamilton Continentals.” She referenced the cane that graduates receive at Commencement, calling it an appropriate emblem. “Hamilton is there when you need something to lean on, and more accurately, someone. For me, it was Neal Pilson,” she said.

Zucker ended with a story about a prank while she was a student. She and three girlfriends were invited to “hunt snipe” in Root Glen with two Hamilton boys, who were inspired by an episode of the popular TV show Cheers. Having seen the show, Zucker went along with the prank, knowing there is no such thing as snipe. The group went to the glen wearing helmets, carrying pillowcases, and banged on tree trunks, hoping the creatures would tumble from the branches. Zucker said her friends were mortified, “but I admired them, the excitement and optimism in their eyes as they boldly charged into the glen and assailed those trees.

“I hope our class would have attacked the last three years as you did, undaunted and undeterred, laughing and learning in the face of harsh reality,” Zucker said. “Take that sniping spirit with you as you step beyond Harding Road, confronted by new and different challenges. Take Hamilton with you. And when you need it – because at some point we all need it – use your cane. Use our name.”

Joel Adade '22
James Soper Merrill Prize recipient Joel Adade ’22. Photo: Nancy L. Ford

Joel Adade, recipient of the James Soper Merrill Prize, and a Posse Foundation scholar from Worcester, Mass., reflected on his path to and through Hamilton. Adade said he initially did not want to do Posse, which is a Merit-based scholarship that seeks to place leaders in a cohort of support through their undergraduate studies. He instead hoped to attend college through the Questbridge full-ride scholarship, but learned he was not chosen to advance in the organization’s match process.

“In one email, a plan that I had been carefully working on for over a year came to an end,” said Adade. But he soon learned that he had advanced to the second round of Posse interviews. “I waited until the evening before the interview to rank my school preferences, and had only placed Hamilton as number one because its open curriculum closely resembled an institution I fell in love with during my freshman year of high school,” Adade recalled.  “By December 2018, I was a part of a Posse, going to a college I had never heard of, but comforted by my belief that I was being led to where I needed to be.”

Adade talked about finding his community at Hamilton. “I became a part of a community that believed in our shared responsibility to sustain a space for Black and Latinx students on campus,” he said. “My fellow Posse members and friends … and fellow BLSU E-board and I shared a common responsibility to our communities. We believed that every bit of time and energy we poured into our people was worth it.

“Thank you all for loving me to a place where I can confidently say this. I am smart. I am strong. I am a fierce lover who draws strength from investing in the ones I love. I am deserving of the good things in my life and when I am blinded by the many ups and downs of life, I will ground myself in the many lessons I have learned this past four years and know that I am right where I need to be and that, somehow, I will be okay,” Adade concluded.

Maya Funada '22
Class speaker Misaki “Maya” Funada ’22.
Photo: Nancy L. Ford

Misaki “Maya” Funada, an anthropology major from Tokyo, Japan, was selected by their peers to serve as the 2022 class speaker. In preparing for their remarks, they sent a poll to her classmates asking: What is the most rewarding change you have experienced at Hamilton, and, what is the most disappointing change you wish had or hadn’t happened? Her survey revealed their biggest disappointment was the pandemic. “But, surprisingly, many of you praised our resilient and curious responses during COVID as our most positive change,” they said.

 “For example, some of us took Zoom classes at 6 a.m. on the West Coast, or 3 a.m. in East Asia, but eventually we all learned to show up to class in pajamas from bed,” they said. “Under the strict regulations for indoor socializing, we all learned to hang out with our friends outdoors, even in the 30-degree temperatures. 

“You see, Hamilton students don’t just give up,” Funada added. “Instead, we use our resilient curiosity to envision how to conquer persisting challenges. As we juggled our school work with household responsibilities or mental health struggles [that] intensified during the pandemic, our friendships and mentorships shaped this deeply caring environment.”

commencement '22
Commencement in the Margaret Bundy Scott Field House. Photo: Nancy L. Ford

Funada cited examples of how Hamilton students “applied the liberal arts principles of critical thinking and effective communication,” in topics ranging from diversity on campus and divestment of fossil fuels, to reproductive rights and digital harassment.

“After all these years at Hamilton, we still might not have compelling answers to these uncomfortable yet necessary questions,” Funada said. “And most likely, we will keep finding unexpected and more complex questions in the real world. But this community has given us every tool and every reason to bravely venture into discomfort. 

“Beyond this Hamilton bubble, we may not know how to initiate change at first. But with the resilient curiosity that we have mastered together, our questions only mean we don’t know yet,” they concluded. 

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