The temperature was high May 19 but that didn’t melt the enthusiasm of the nearly 7,000 students at Stony Brook University as they anticipated the moment they could turn their tassels and throw their graduation caps in the air.
The milestone event was chock-full of memorable moments including honorary degree recipients, Michael J. Fox — actor and advocate for a cure for Parkinson’s disease — and Jonathan Oringer — Shutterstock founder and a Stony Brook alumnus — clad in traditional caps and gowns, joining the students. Fox, who was diagnosed with Parkinson’s in 1991, received an honorary Doctor of Fine Arts degree for his acting career as well as establishing the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research. The university honored Oringer with a Doctor of Science degree for creating Shutterstock, the first worldwide subscription-based service for acquiring images, as well as his other contributions to the tech industry.
The first degrees awarded were to Oringer and Fox. Stony Brook University President Samuel L. Stanley Jr. introduced Oringer, a 1996 graduate of the university, as one who has “personified technologic innovation.”
As Fox approached the podium to deliver his speech, someone yelled, “Marty McFly.” The actor cleverly responded with a line from his 1985 movie, “Back to the Future.”
“You’re just too darn loud,” he said.
The actor said before that day he didn’t hold a degree from college or high school. He said he respects the university for its dedication to the sciences and its research.
Described by Stanley as a “fierce warrior in the fight to cure Parkinson’s disease,” Fox said he’s optimistic about the future.
“When I look out at the sea of red, I am filled with hope for you represent endless possibilities,” Fox said. “Among you may be the first human to walk on Mars, the engineer who will revolutionize the world’s energy technology, the next great investigative journalist who exposes political corruption, or the scientist who discovers a cure for Parkinson’s.”
U.S. Sen. and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D), also addressed the graduates and their families. Schumer advised the graduates to always take risks in life even when feeling uncertainty. He said to always “go for it.”
“The key is not to fear the unknown,” Schumer said. “Embrace it, relish it, soak up every possibility it has to offer.”
Among the nearly 7,000 graduates, ranging in age from 19 to 65 years old, in attendance, 42 states and 71 countries were represented. The degrees awarded included 4,292 bachelor’s, 1,999 master’s and 449 doctoral degrees.