Commencement Remarks 2013 - President's Welcome

May 18, 2013

Welcome, and good morning everyone!

Thank you for joining us to celebrate the 143rd Commencement of the University of New Hampshire!

I began this beautiful day by taking a walk across our equally beautiful campus early this morning. This is a tradition for UNH presidents, and it’s one I revere, partly because it’s a great way to thank our staff and volunteers, who are out here very, very early—and have been for days in advance—to make sure your day is perfect.  I also cherish this opportunity because it gives me some quiet time to reflect on what commencement means and on those we recognize today.

And that would be you, the Class of 2013. Let’s give them one more round of applause by way of welcome! 

Now, I’d like to ask our graduates to show their appreciation to those who have stood by you throughout your time at UNH: Your parents, your grandparents, your sisters and brothers and all your loved ones. Time for you to stand up for them.  Turn around and give them a hand! 

I’d also like to ask our guests to join with our graduates in recognizing the University of New Hampshire faculty. These dedicated and distinguished men and women—renowned scholars, researchers and mentors—share a deep commitment to bringing out the very best in our students. Thank you! 

Of course, central as they are, our faculty can’t do it alone.  They are part of a larger warm and hardworking UNH community: This includes our trustees, our staff, our alumni and the many volunteers who put their hearts and souls into making this day possible. And it also includes our honored commencement guests, who join the UNH family today. Thank you!

We are all immensely proud of the Class of 2013. You’ve worked hard to get here and you, too, should be proud of your accomplishments.

But as the name of this affair, commencement, indicates, this is just the beginning for you.  I know that when you leave here today, you will be stepping into a future where your stars will burn even brighter.

Why am I confident about that?  After all, it’s a tough old world out there.  The job market is still crummy.  The headlines in the morning newspapers often make you want to crawl back into bed and pull the covers over your head.

But I know you.  I have watched you closely these last four years.  You’re up for it.

Although you can be a bit loud and boisterous on occasion—I know, I live across the street from Stoke—University of New Hampshire students are good people.  You’re hard working and reliable.  You don’t carry a sense of entitlement.  Many of you have worked multiple jobs, including while you were in school, to get to this day.  You are grounded, and care about your community.  You have good values.

That’s really what matters. Ultimately, success in life, regardless of the obstacles, is about strength of character.  It is about who you are at your core.

Someone once said that character is revealed in what you do when no one is watching.  I think that’s true.

Another test of character is what you do when you really don’t have time to think about it.

Which way do you run when the bomb goes off?  

That’s a classic first responder question, and I pose it here largely metaphorically.

But not just metaphorically.  

I was moved to learn that when the bombs went off at the Boston Marathon, our UNH director of athletic training, Jon Dana, along with two UNH students, Brandon Hall and Ashlei Brock, who were working as race volunteers at the finish line, stayed there, in the midst of that horror, in the smoke and confusion and carnage, and lent aid.  That was character:  Doing the right thing in the face of tremendous adversity, without even thinking about it.

In January, a UNH student exercising at the Hamel Rec Center went into cardiac arrest.  Seven other UNH students who just happened to be there—Chris Agresti, Danielle Bauer, Samantha Miller, Melissa Powers, Lynn Resendes, Connor Slein and Madeline Whitcomb—didn't hesitate.  They ran toward the bomb, metaphorically speaking, grabbed a nearby AED—an Automated External Defibrillator—and, thankfully, resuscitated the young man. In the face of adversity, character.

A little bit later this spring we had another character-testing incident. A hot water pipe burst outside Hunter Hall, causing near-boiling water and steam to accumulate inside the front lobby. Several students were seriously burned as they sought to exit. I was again deeply moved to hear how their quad-mates ran in, carried them to safety, and tended to their injuries.  Jennifer Allen, Brando Schwarzer, Joseph Sweeney, Meghan Golde, Julie O'Hearn, Seth Murray, Ryan Feeney, Anthony Pierce, John Wallace. A serious, unexpected challenge.  Serious character.

And finally let me tell again a story that you've probably already heard, because it has been all over the national media. But it is worth telling again.  It is the story of Cameron Lyle.

Cameron is the UNH track athlete who learned that a routine swab of his cheek—one that he and many other people on campus, athletes and non-athletes alike, had done two years ago—led the good folks at the national bone marrow registry to his doorstep. They told him that he was a perfect match for a 28-year old man—a stranger—with lymphoblastic leukemia desperately in need of a bone marrow transplant.  

A one in a million hit. The only snag? Cameron would have to give up the remainder of his senior season this year to be a donor.  A kid who can bench 325 lbs wouldn’t be able to lift anything heavier than a bag of groceries for weeks, much less try to throw a shot.

The moving part of the story for me is not that Cameron decided to be that donor and to save that life.  

The moving part is that he genuinely doesn't understand why anyone would be surprised by his decision.

A very serious and wholly unexpected challenge. Unhesitating humanity and extraordinary character—and humility—in response.

These acts of heroism...and that is really what they all were...arose from events that are exceedingly rare. An act of terrorism in a major American city.  Acute medical emergencies.  A highly unlikely match of donor and recipient.

But the character that propelled those heroic acts is not rare at the University of New Hampshire.  

We have many others who constitutionally run toward the explosion. We have other bone marrow donors and first responders.

In fact, I believe that any one of you, faced with the same challenging circumstances, would have done the very same things.

It is who you are. It is why you will succeed. The world is so lucky to have you.  

We are proud of you. All of you.

Keep in touch. Come back as alumni, as mentors to new generations of students and as lifelong friends to the UNH community.
Meanwhile, congratulations from all of us!

I would now like to introduce Richard (Dick) Galway, Chair of the University System of New Hampshire Board of Trustees, who will say a few words.