UNH Commencement 2008

Mark Huddleston

President, University of New Hampshire
May 24, 2008
Memorial Field
Durham, New Hampshire

Good morning and welcome to the University of New Hampshire's 138th commencement ceremony.

What a beautiful day to be outside in Durham, New Hampshire. Although this is my first graduation here, I have been told that not every UNH ceremony has been blessed with such sunshine. That's just not right. As far as I'm concerned, we are going to start a new UNH tradition, beginning with the class of 2008: clement weather for commencement.

While commencement may seem like the end of the educational road, it really isn't.  As Einstein once said, "Intellectual growth should commence at birth and cease only at death." You have been learning since the day you were born and you will continue to learn long after you leave here today. May I say to each and every one of you, it has been a privilege to have you as fellow learners at UNH.

Commencement is always a bittersweet day for graduates, friends, families and for those of us on the faculty and staff.  We're all proud of what you've accomplished and are eager to celebrate it.  But we are also all sad to see you go.  Well, maybe not "all." There may be a few parents out there who see commencement mainly as the end of tuition payments, although their unbridled joy today has to be balanced against a few other parents who see today in terms of a lost guest room.

Whatever the case, in recognition of all the support and sacrifices that families and friends have made, I would ask all graduates to take a moment, stand and give a rousing ovation to everyone who helped you to get to this point.

By the way, among those standing and applauding just now were: 2,023 undergraduates and 475 graduate students who earned their degrees from 221 different programs. They hail from 38 states (as far away as Alaska) and 13 foreign countries from Morocco to Thailand to Sweden. I suspect that our students from Sweden felt right at home in Durham last February; I'm not sure about the ones from Morocco and Thailand.

Our youngest graduate, by the way, is 20, and our oldest is 60.

Because I believe that David Letterman finished second in the balloting to Michael Brown as a commencement speaker, I didn't want to disappoint anyone and thought I'd lead with a list of the Top Ten Reasons Why We Know You're Ready to Graduate From UNH Today.  But then, because I didn't want to encroach too much on Michael's speaking time, I decided to pare it to the Top Five Reasons Why We Know You're Ready to Graduate from UNH.

Here we go:

Number 5.  Engineering students have run out of new functions to use on their graphing calculators.

Number 4.  Students on the "five-year plan" have developed an algebraic formula demonstrating that seven returnable bottles equal one nutritious Ramen noodle dinner.

Number 3. English majors taking their biology final defined microtome as "an itsy bitsy book."

Number 2. Mick Jagger and Arnold Schwarzenegger both studied economics and look how they turned out.vAnd the Number 1 reason why you're ready to graduate today: While we know how much you really enjoyed your three years as a sophomore, tomorrow begins a new journey, a journey where you wake up at 6 a.m. instead of going to bed.

Now you see why I chose a career in academia as opposed to stand-up.  In making that decision, I heeded some advice you might wish to keep in mind as you begin your post-graduate journey, from the great American philosopher Jerry Seinfeld: "Sometimes the road less traveled …is less traveled for a reason."

Now please allow me to reflect in a more serious manner.  All of you graduates, no matter where you come from, no matter how old you are, no matter your major, are about to enter a world that is at once fascinating and enticing, but complicated and often troubled.  It is a world that needs your help—not only in the respective professions for which you are now so well prepared—but in your neighborhoods and in neighborhoods far beyond our own borders.

That is the message you will hear from today from Michael Brown, our commencement speaker. Michael is, of course, the founder of City Year, the organization that for 20 years has so effectively brought together those in need and those willing and able to help.

City Year's motto is: "Give a year. Change the world."  That's a great message, one that I'd be happy to see emblazoned on our own stationery here at UNH. It's a message that also resonates with one of the best bits of advice I've ever heard dispensed in a commencement address, which came from Tom Brokaw, the former NBC news anchor. Brokaw stood before an audience like this and said: "You are educated. Your certification is in your degree. You may think of [that degree] as the ticket to the good life. Let me ask you to think of [it instead] as your ticket to change the world."

Even if you can't give a year, think about how you might give a week, or a day, or even the occasional afternoon.  Someone, somewhere, needs your help.  Get your ticket punched today and change the world.