Presiding Bishop Michael Curry speaks at his alma mater’s pandemic-delayed commencement

Posted Jun 7, 2021

[Episcopal News Service] Presiding Bishop Michael Curry, a 1975 graduate of Hobart and William Smith Colleges in Geneva, New York, returned to his alma mater on June 6 to deliver an in-person commencement speech that had been delayed a year because of the pandemic.

Last year’s graduating class of 2020 returned to the campus to hear Curry speak for about 20 minutes about the graduates’ responsibility to leave a mark on the world in their lives after college. “The Lord didn’t put us here just to consume the oxygen,” Curry said, quoting an adage he recalled his father telling him as a child.

Curry also invoked the murder last year of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and the ensuing protests against racial injustice. He said he saw something from young protesters that he had not seen before, “a rising up of a generation of young people. And more than that, they were the most multiethnic, multiracial, pluralistic, rainbow children of God that America has ever seen.”

“And they — you — rose up and called on America: America, be America. Stand up for liberty and justice. America, be America: one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice, not just for some, but justice for all.” These purpose-driven young people “showed us hope again” and “reminded us of faith again,” Curry said.

And like the Greatest Generation, Curry told the Classes of 2020 that they are “formed and forged in a crucible of hardship. … Part of your most important formation as human beings has happened in the crucible not of a Great Depression, but of a great pandemic.”

Born in Chicago, Illinois, in 1953, Curry attended public schools in Buffalo, New York, and earned a Bachelor of Arts in 1975 from Hobart and William Smith Colleges and a Master of Divinity in 1978 from the Berkeley Divinity School at Yale. He was elected The Episcopal Church’s 27th presiding bishop in 2015, becoming the first Black bishop elected to that role, after previously serving as bishop of the Diocese of North Carolina.

During the June 6 ceremony, Curry was awarded an honorary doctorate from Hobart and William Smith in recognition of a life and career defined by an “energetic, inspirational ministry of love that has touched the lives of millions of people around the world,” President Joyce P. Jacobsen said while conferring the degree.

A total of 464 bachelor’s degrees and eight master’s degrees were conferred in 2020 to members of Hobart College’s 195th graduating class and William Smith College’s 109th graduating class. Of those, 308 returned to campus for the commencement and Curry’s speech, according to a campus press release.