UNH Commencement 2012

Commencement Remarks

President Mark W. Huddleston

May 19, 2012

Memorial Field

Good morning, Class of 2012!

I am President Mark Huddleston and I am delighted to extend my own warm welcome to all of you, your families, your friends, and mentors, and to our dedicated and distinguished faculty and staff.  What a day, huh?  If you know a meteorologist, hug one.

Today, we are proud, as Nancy said, to celebrate the 142nd Commencement of the University of New Hampshire!

You will soon hear from our honored guests, and from representatives of our faculty, board of trustees, alumni, and student body. They all are here to recognize you and to celebrate your achievements.

Before we begin, though, I would like to recognize the parents, families, and friends who have worked so very hard to support this Class of 2012. You have made many sacrifices to make this day possible.  [APPLAUSE] (Oh yeah, we’re going to do that in just a second.)  I know that it was not always easy.  

As a parent myself, I think about all the years that you encouraged your children, you made them do their homework, you got them to bed early every night (or you tried to anyway)—so that they would be able to do well in high school and come here to UNH, where they would stay up most of the night… although I’m sure all that noise I heard outside my house on campus in the wee hours was the Class of 2012 coming back late from the library…studying.  Is that right?  I’m sure that’s right.

Today we celebrate the whole UNH family.  And in that spirit, I would like to ask the Class of 2012 please to stand.  Please stand again.  All right, we’re going to give you a round of applause. [APPLAUSE] But now, please turn around and you lead a round of applause for your family and your friends and everybody who got you here. [LEADS APPLAUSE.]  Thanks so much to all of you.  Now you can sit back down…there you go.

You know, it’s obviously not just family and friends that have made this day possible for all of you.  As president of UNH, I am fortunate every day to see our community’s commitment to all of you students.

Our faculty are distinguished scholars and educators – true mentors who share a deep passion for bringing out the best in our students. Whether they are encouraging first-year students who are new to college life, working one-to-one with seniors, or exploring advanced research with our graduate students, their devotion to you and UNH is second to none.   Think about it – on this nice spring day, all of their papers are graded, their exams are done, they could be off fishing or sleeping late, but they are here, sitting in these wings, because they wanted to finish this journey with you.  

So, let’s hear it for the UNH faculty! [LEADS APPLAUSE.]

Some of you may know that UNH presidents have a tradition of taking a walk around campus very early on the morning of Commencement. And it is my opportunity to say thanks to the grounds crew and the folks with hospitality services and all the other people who built this stage and connected the electronics and so forth that made this possible.  So I think it’s also important for you to thank them as well.  We wouldn’t have this great day without them.  So let’s give a round of applause to all those staff too. [APPLAUSE]  

So as I was making my rounds this morning, it was quiet and it was nice and time for me to reflect a little bit, and as I was walking around I was fiddling with my iPhone as I tend to do too often, and it made me think about how much technology has changed the way we do almost everything in the few years even since you’ve been with us at UNH.  Although it seems like it’s been around forever, that iPhone, for instance, was first released, believe it or not, in June of 2007.  That’s unbelievable.  How did we get along without it?  I see a lot of you down there right now playing with yours.  I’m wedded to mine too.  Although not quite as much as the guy – I don’t know if you saw this in the newspaper last week – he had four titanium studs implanted in his left wrist so he could actually attach his iPhone permanently on his arm.  I haven’t gotten quite that bad.

And how about the iPad?  Think about the iPad.  Anybody out there have an iPad?  A lot of you, probably not with you.  As a gadget guy, I can say without hesitation that is probably the single best gizmo I have ever purchased -- I can’t imagine living or working without it.  I read three newspapers every morning on it, I read books on it, I use it in meetings instead of carrying papers around, I take pictures with it, I Skype with it, I watch movies on it (all of which I download legally, by the way, as I’m sure you do) but the iPad has become so ubiquitous we forget that it’s been around only since April 2010, just two years.  That’s amazing.  I’m on my third generation iPad already in two years.  It really is, as Steve Jobs used to say, insanely great.  

I also tweet with my iPad, as somebody just noted in the audience.  In fact, I considered Tweeting my Commencement remarks this morning and sharing them live on Facebook, as I’m told that would be the only way to get the attention of some of you.  But I decided to leave the tweeting this morning to FakePrezHuddleston. FakePrez, are you out there?  Raise your non-Tweeting arm if you are!  There he is, over there… Tom, best wishes to you.  It’s been real – well, not really real, but it’s been great interacting with you.

Anyway, like it or not, these devices have changed the way we do almost everything in just a few short years you have been at UNH.  As such, they’re examples of what a lot of people call “disruptive innovation.”

If you look that term up in Wikipedia—a source I’m sure none of you have ever used for a research paper —you’ll see that it says, “A disruptive innovation is an innovation that helps create a new market and value network, and eventually goes on to disrupt an existing market and value network, displacing an earlier technology.”

That’s a bit dry I suppose but it’s actually a good description of what disruptive innovation is about. Throughout our lives, we all experience disruptive innovations that change, sometimes even improve, what we do in ways that most people don’t expect, or imagine. Cell phones and iPads are two examples. So are the Internet, television, even automobiles.

Each of these innovations changed the way we live, work, think, and access information—and even how we relate with one another.

Believe it or not, UNH itself was, in its time, a disruptive innovation (also one I like to think of, to quote Steve Jobs again, that was insanely great).

UNH was a product of something called the Land Grant Act of 1862. The act’s chief architect, U.S. Senator Justin Smith Morrill of Vermont, had a vision for creating land-grant colleges in each state to give farmers and laborers access to higher education. By focusing initially on agriculture and engineering, these schools would also drive the research that revolutionized America’s economy in the 19th and 20th centuries, essentially creating the abundance that we enjoy today.    

Prior to the Morrill Land Grant Act, access to higher education was reserved principally for the wealthy—and it was almost entirely detached from the needs of society. But with the Act’s passage, public higher education was suddenly a reality and so was a super-charged American economy.

Can you imagine what New Hampshire—what America—would be like today without our public universities and colleges? Can you imagine an America where education was available still only to the privileged few? Or, a UNH that wasn’t available to first-generation college students, who make up one-third of our student body?

Can you imagine an economy without research that our public universities produce—research that turns the dreams of entrepreneurs into thriving industries, research that improves our public schools, that protects our children, that improves our healthcare, that builds safer bridges and gives us cleaner water, research that feeds the world, and explores the universe?  Well, that’s what land grant colleges like UNH have done, and frankly I worry about a time when we edge closer to a point where it won’t really take imagination to see those things.

Indeed, were he alive today, Senator Morrill would be aghast to see how cuts in public funding for higher education are denying access to working families, saddling students with crippling debt, and threatening America’s competitive edge in the 21st century by eroding our research and development capacity.  

But let’s not end on that note today.  This is a sunny, beautiful day.  You’ve got beautiful, sunny faces, and clearly looking out across this field, all is not lost.  In your faces we can see the promise of the future and the reflection of Justin Morrill.   In you in this class of 2012, we can see what an investment in public higher education can produce.  So as we share in the joy of this wonderful occasion, let’s think about what he did, let’s think about as we leave here re-dedicating ourselves to fulfilling his promise.   

So I thank you, Class of 2012, for joining us here at UNH, for working hard, for challenging yourselves and others —and for offering your talents, passion, and skills as you move on from Durham. I know that throughout your lives, you will never forget both the gift of Justin Morrill and also the things you learned here that will make you be disruptive innovators for the public good.

And just as you’re set to leave, I would urge you to come back, soon, to return, as many alumni do, as mentors to new generations and as lifelong friends to the UNH community.  Don’t be strangers.  We are forever Wildcats, and we welcome you into the rich culture and traditions of our alumni networks in every discipline throughout the world.  Thank you, congratulations, my warmest wishes to each and every one of you.

Now, I would now like to introduce Mr. Ed Dupont, Chair of the University System of New Hampshire Board of Trustees, who will say a few words to you as well.

-end-