UNH Commencement

Mark W. Huddleston

University of New Hampshire
Commencement remarks
May 22, 2010

Good morning, and welcome to the University of New Hampshire’s 140th commencement ceremony. That’s a real milestone—140 commencements. This may seem quite puzzling to those of you looking at the seal behind me, on which the dates 1893 and 1923 are displayed, in addition to our founding year—1866—as the New Hampshire College of Agriculture and the Mechanic Arts.

That institution held its first commencement in 1870, awarding three bachelor of philosophy degrees to a class of three male students. From those humble beginnings, the University of New Hampshire has gone on to produce some 140,000 graduates, whose ranks include CEOs and other captains of industry, Olympic and professional athletes, Pulitzer Prize and Academy Award winners, political figures, and even a pair of astronauts. I believe we happen to have one of those astronauts here with us today. It’s been a good 140 years, and a milestone worth taking a moment to recognize.

In case you couldn’t tell, I’m a guy who likes numbers. And when I start thinking about numbers like the ones I just mentioned—140 thousand graduates over 140 years, making their mark on the world in dozens of disparate spheres. The question I find myself asking is, “what’s the common factor here?” I’ll let one of you who isn’t ready to hang up her or his academic hat just yet work out the literal, mathematical answer to that, but on a figurative level, I think the most robust possibility is that all of them have shared the streak of entrepreneurialism that runs as wide through this campus as the green lawns and the love of ice hockey. Entrepreneurialism. A spirit of enterprise. A refusal to set limits on who they are or what they can do

Today there are 2,200 of you from 35 states and 17 countries here in your recycled gowns and mortarboards, on the very cusp of your transformation from UNH students to UNH graduates. While it may be some comfort to recognize what excellent, distinguished company you are about to join, it is no secret that you are commencing at a challenging time. To commence means, of course, to begin as well as to end, and so I would like to take a moment now to provide you with as simple and straightforward a piece of guidance as I can muster as you begin the next phase of your journey, be it in the workforce, in graduate school, or back in the basement room in your parents’ house you mutually swore would never again represent your permanent address:

Be entrepreneurial. See the possibilities and not the limits. Create. Build. Make.

The question you’re probably asking at this point is, “That’s all well and good, but how do I begin to ‘be entrepreneurial’?” Not for nothing did you sit through all those hours of Beginning Logic and A History of Critical Thought. The answer to that question is: you’ve already been doing it.

Here at the end of my third year in Durham, I have amassed quite a collection of examples that illustrate how pervasive the entrepreneurial spirit I mentioned a minute ago remains on this campus today. There are the examples we might all think of right off the bat: ‘business’ being the first place most people go when they hear the word ‘entrepreneur.’ There are the WSBE students who earn prestigious internships, and students from across the University who present market-ready business plans at the annual Holloway Prize competition. This year’s pool of Holloway finalists included several teams of engineering and business students as well as grad students and undergraduates working together, and the winners were a duo from WSBE and the College of Engineering and Physical Sciences.

But entrepreneurialism at UNH doesn’t end with the business and engineering disciplines: in the spring, students from the College of Health and Human Services and Liberal Arts played leadership roles in Prevention Innovations’ “Know Your Power” initiative, a very visible and extensively researched social marketing campaign. In that most quintessential of New Hampshire examples, every year finds students from the College of Life Sciences and Agriculture and the Thompson School working in those colleges’ Cooperative Real Education in Agricultural Management program (also appropriately known as CREAM), operating and managing an active dairy farm. Don’t tell me it doesn’t take a spirit of enterprise to be up at 3:30 in the morning—an hour when many college students are just heading to bed—milking cows, mucking out stalls, and determining distribution channels for the 100,000 gallons of milk produced by your herd.

These are just a few of the dozens of examples I could reference. Whether you have presented at the undergraduate research conference, pitted your skills against students across the country in a competition to build a better moon buggy, or given up your spring break in Daytona Beach to take part in the Alternative Break Challenge, you have been testing yourself and your limits, finding new ways to solve problems, learning that there are times the reward comes in the journey itself, and not necessarily the destination.

You don’t just have to take my word for it. As you know, today’s keynote speaker is Bert Jacobs, co-founder of Life is good. Bert’s official title is co-founder and Chief Executive Optimist, and that seems like a fine title for someone who started with $78 in the bank and turned it into a $100 million company! I can’t promise that Bert will teach you how to do the same thing, but I imagine his message will be a heartening one at a time we all need the occasional reminder that, indeed, life is good.

He’ll be sharing that message with you in just a bit; for now, I’d like to leave you with the words of another entrepreneur, or at least the architect of one of the most enterprising characters known to literature, Tom Sawyer. Mark Twain once said:

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn't do than by the ones you did.  So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor.  Catch the trade winds in your sails.  Explore.  Dream.  Discover.”

That’s advice I couldn’t agree with more. Thank you for giving us all a reason to celebrate this day, and congratulations.