Laura Baudo Sillerman '68 knows a successful commencement speaker when she hears one. She also knows when a keynote address falls flat with a graduating class.
"The best two I ever heard were Kermit the Frog and Billy Joel," she said. "My husband (Robert F X Sillerman) was the Chancellor of the Southampton college campus of Long Island University and I attended (commencement ceremonies for) 11 consecutive years. Those were the two that really resonated with the students."
Sillerman gets her chance to impart some words of wisdom as the keynote speaker at Marietta College's 170th annual Commencement on May 19 in the Recreation Center that bears her name and that of classmate Robert R. Dyson '68. She says she was asked in the past to speak to Marietta's graduates, but didn't feel the time was right until now.
"I said no in the past only because I didn't think I was the level of speaker that was appropriate," she said. Now Sillerman feels ready to speak at Marietta's Commencement, and has even penned an early talk called "Anything is Possible." But she noted, as any poet would do, she has tucked it away and will revisit it in the spring to see if her words still echo the message she hopes to deliver.
Marietta's President, Dr. Jean A. Scott, is pleased Sillerman has decided to address the graduates in May. "I am delighted that Laura Baudo Sillerman has agreed to be our 2007 Commencement speaker and to receive her honorary doctorate at that time. Those of us who have had the pleasure of hearing Laura speak know that her words reflect deep wisdom, life experience, and heart. She is a thoughtful adviser and friend to me and an extraordinarily generous supporter of Marietta College and its students. I am confident that our graduates and their guests will be moved and inspired by Laura's words."
Sillerman has long supported her alma mater through her generous contributionsâ€”two $5 million grants through her Tomorrow Foundation since 2000. The first donation was for the construction of the Dyson Baudo Recreation Center, while the second gift, also in conjunction with a $5 million gift from Dyson, formed the lead donation for the new library slated to open in January 2009. Sillerman added that she has considered the example established by John G. McCoy '35, a long-time benefactor of the College, as a guiding light for those who have followed.
She also inspires the College community when she visits campus for Homecoming and other events. However, she said this would be an entirely new experience. "This is going to be an enormously different type of visit to Marietta. When I have visited in the past it was to renew friendships. Now I feel an enormous responsibility to leave the graduating class with something memorable."