Commencement Remarks 2014, Durham

President Mark W. Huddleston

May 17, 2014

Welcome, and good morning everyone—whether you’re here at Memorial Field with your umbrellas at hand or inside the Whitt!

Thank you for joining us to brighten this otherwise gray day and to celebrate the 144th Commencement of the University of New Hampshire! And most important, congratulations to the Class of 2014!

You know, my British friends have a phrase they use to indicate that one has finished something successfully: To be home and dry.

I think that applies to the Class of 2014: You are on your way home and soon you will be dry! Although I know that most of you soon-to-be graduates walked here today under your own steam, in fact, in a broader sense, not many of you really got to this day and this place unassisted. You all had mothers and fathers and sisters and brothers and aunts and uncles and an array of other loved ones who helped bring you here.

So, I suggest you stand, turn around, face those who surround us, and give a huge cheer to all those special people.

But you know, for the past few years you’ve all had another family, too—and that’s the UNH family. And chief among them are the distinguished and hardworking members of the UNH faculty. Now I know that you sometimes thought the faculty’s main reason for being was to torture you with papers, presentations, and exams. In fact, they are here at this great university because they have dedicated their lives to seeing you and your fellow students grow and mature as scholars and as human beings. So let’s give a big round of applause to the UNH faculty!

And there are other members of that UNH family, too: from the folks who cooked your food in HoCo and cleaned the corridors of Kingsbury to the members of our governing board who ensure that this institution runs with efficiency and integrity, there are thousands of others who helped get you here today. Let’s recognize them with a round of applause as well!

Of course, another person that got at least some of you here today—those of you who might have been tempted just to sleep in, after what I know, from the vantage point of my house located in the center of campus, was a night of some celebration—is our commencement speaker, Jennifer Lee, Class of 1992. Thank YOU for being here, Jennifer. We all are looking forward to hearing from you!

In fact, Jennifer, we contemplated moving our entire ceremony inside to the Whitt – not because of the weather, but because it is the only location on campus that for most of the year is FROZEN. Sorry. Bad joke. I guess when I prepared my remarks I should have just LET IT GO.

Well, before we start the commencement proper, it is important that we review a few of the basic rules of the ceremony.

The first of these rules has to do with so-called “selfies.” As you have probably read, many colleges and universities have, quite sensibly, banned selfies from their commencement ceremonies. Selfies are indecorous, unprofessional, and altogether quite beneath the dignity of UNH Wildcats.
[Selfie of President Huddleston and Jennifer Lee appears on Jumbotron]

OK, so maybe we’ll relax that rule. Take all the selfies you want!
After all, today is all about you—about celebrating YOUR success, YOUR triumph over a myriad of challenges, academic and otherwise.

Because no matter how much help you had getting to this day—and we’ve acknowledged there was a lot of it—ultimately it came down to YOU. YOU putting in the hours in class and in the lab and in the library. YOU juggling the demands of academic work with part-time jobs and family responsibilities. YOU trying to figure out how to wring the most out of what will undoubtedly rank among the four most treasured years of your lives.

I’ve gotten to know many of you over the last four years, and one of the things I’ve come to appreciate is that there are just about as many different paths that you’ve walked, figuratively speaking, to get here today as there are graduates. And they’re all paths that are fascinating in their uniqueness—in the obstacles you’ve overcome and in what you’ve gotten out of UNH. I wish we had time to tell all of your stories.

We don’t, of course.
But I would like to tell two, which I think are both inspiring and, in a way, representative.
The first is the story of Komot Gabriel. Komot, are you out there today? Can you please stand up and wave so that we can see you? Thank you.

Komot is from Manchester, New Hampshire, and he graduates today with honors and with a dual degree in international business and economics.

Actually, Komot has been from Manchester only since 1999. He came to New Hampshire with his family as a refugee from the civil war in Sudan, where he lived until he was 7 years old. For the next two years, until he was nine, Komot lived in a crowded refugee camp in Egypt. Finally, he and his family immigrated and settled in Manchester.

Recently, Komot volunteered to join me at Manchester West High School to encourage students there to attend college. For those of you who don’t know, Manchester West is in one of the state’s most economically distressed school districts. So, I was not surprised when students there asked, “How can my family ever afford to send me to college?”

I let Komot answer that. And his response could not have been more perfect. He said: “I am here to tell you it is possible, because I am doing it.”

Clearly, with Komot, anything is possible.
Congratulations again to you, Komot, and to your entire family!

Then we have Emily Stone. Emily, are you out there? Can you please stand so that we can see you? Thank you!

Emily is from Derry, New Hampshire. And growing up with Type 1 diabetes, she arrived at UNH knowing how challenging life can be for any young person with that condition – let alone a new college student.
But at UNH, Emily entered the Paul College of Business and Economics, and turned her personal challenge into an amazing opportunity.

With the right tools and training and the advice of a faculty mentor, Emily developed a game-based app designed to help girls and boys manage their Type 1 diabetes -- and actually enjoy doing it.
Called Dia-BEAT-it, this gaming and social media tool just last week won the grand prize in the prestigious Holloway Innovation-to-Market competition.

Congratulations, Emily, to you and your family, too!

Komot and Emily are two very special people among 3,000 very special people sitting before us today. You’ve all walked your own paths, overcome your own obstacles and written your own distinctive stories here at UNH. You’re all unique.

But the other thing I’ve gotten to know about UNH students is this: You have some important traits in common. Compared to students I have known at other institutions over nearly 40 years in higher education, you display grit and fortitude in unusual measure. You have a sort of lunch-bucket work ethic. You show up on time and without a sense of entitlement. You are thoughtful and kind. You smile and hold doors open for people. These are things you should know about yourselves—and traits you should continue to cultivate. They will serve you, and others, well for the rest of your lives.

So I say to the Class of 2014—Komot and Emily and all the rest of you—congratulations. We are so proud of you. The world is lucky to have you.

And keep in touch. Your job now, as newly minted alumni, is to help inspire and support the next generation of UNH Wildcats.