Bruce Rheaume shared his path to UNH Manchester and hopes for his classmates during remarks at UNH Manchester's 31st annual commencement ceremony on Thursday, May 19.
"Step out of your comfort zone; surprise yourself," said Rheaume, a graduate of the biological sciences program. "By doing so, you might discover who you truly are and what you’re capable of doing."
Rheaume delivered the student address at Thursday's proceedings, which were held at the Radisson Hotel in downtown Manchester. Read his full speech below:
Good evening. To Dean Decelle and to the board of trustees, I would like to say thank you for inviting me to speak here tonight; and to President Huddleston and our distinguished guests, I thank you for joining us in our celebration.
But most importantly, to the class of 2016, I would like to say, congratulations! We made it! Tonight we transition from wannabes to college graduates. Many of us are going on to begin careers, some of us are continuing our torture in graduate school, and still others may need some time to realize their next move.
But tonight is a celebration of our achievement as college graduates, and it’s a time to reflect on the paths that have led us to this moment. Like many of my fellow classmates with me tonight, it took slowly-developed and applied life-lessons for me to realize my goals. In getting to this podium tonight — and everything that entailed — I had to apply myself; I had to overcome irrational fears and to step out of my comfort zone; and I couldn’t have done any of this without the help of my family, loved ones, and mentors.
Before I came to UNH Manchester, my idea of college life — which was probably mostly Hollywood-influenced — was the stereotypical party-like atmosphere where the majority of students are pursuing a degree in buzz management; and while I do enjoy drinking beer, I was pleasantly surprised when I arrived here to find that none of this was true. In fact, I found that the majority of the students here are in the same mindset that I am.
Some students already have impressive degrees or jobs, and still others are just coming out of high school, but we all seem to want the same thing: to better ourselves. Our student body is incredibly diverse; from a Navy helicopter pilot, to moms and dads who have to get their kids to school before themselves, to the traditional, straight from high school student — we have it all; and we all have unique stories, but what all of our stories have in common is that they all brought us to this school and to this graduation tonight.
My story is… surprising to most — I’m a licensed plumber… but in a few years I’ll also be a licensed doctor. Now… I know this may not seem right — and it may even make some of you nervous about your next checkup. In fact, the only thread between the two I can think of — aside from maybe urology — is that you wouldn’t want to do much of either job without wearing gloves. It took a big change in my life for me to end up where I am now — under a month away from embarking on an MD/PhD. In order for you to understand my story — what brought me here — I will need to rewind almost fourteen years.
I was not a good student in high school… and I certainly wasn’t the student that teachers would expect to see standing up here tonight. What my teachers knew of me then was that I didn’t listen — I didn’t listen to them, I didn’t listen to my parents, or to anyone else, who, in hindsight, only wanted the best things for me; I knew it all. Among many wise words that fell on deaf ears, the most relevant today is what I had all too frequently read on my report cards or heard from my parents: apply yourself, Bruce. It took me more than ten years to completely understand that message and what I had done by ignoring it. The problem when you only listen to yourself — or to similar minded people — is that it takes way more time to realize the truths of life than it would have had you only listened to those more wise than you.
It took me a long time to realize that I had made a mistake. Don’t get me wrong, my mistake wasn’t that I became a plumber; although I never loved the job, it had many benefits: I got to work with my best friend everyday — my dad, and it was also during my time as a plumber that I had transitioned from a know it all, young boy to a man with valuable skills and a new outlook on life. Working with a blue collar taught me the value of hard work; it taught me that I could build whatever I wanted for myself, but that I would need to put in the effort. The mistake I had made was that I didn’t become who I truly wanted to become — and only because of fear — fear of not succeeding — which, for the record is probably the most absurd thing you could be afraid of. By being afraid to not succeed, you only manifest your fears by not trying.
I decided that I would no longer allow irrational fears to dominate my actions. I applied myself; I stepped out of my comfort zone, and I decided I would go to college to pursue my true passion. Four years ago, as a 28 year old plumber, I sat in a room full of high school students to take the SAT. I wanted to prove to UNH admissions that my grades from a decade ago were in no way reflective of what I was capable of. My grades were terrible in high school, but my SAT score and essay got me conditionally admitted for an Associate’s degree in biology. Again, like many of my colleagues, I began by taking classes full time at night while continuing to work a full time job during the day.
As chance would have it, it was during a night time statistics class at UNHM that I found love — I met the most beautiful, intelligent, and driven girl I know: my girlfriend, Emily. Emily helped me not only realize a passion for medicine, but she helped me study, she read my papers… and speeches, and she was just always there to give me sound advice. We would go on to become known as a “power couple” amongst our friends, as our private competitions drove us to excel in our work, and to both eventually become accepted to competitive graduate programs. In our three plus years together, we have become like family, and Emily’s mom, Donna, has become like a second mom to me. Without anyone asking, and only out of the kindness of her heart, Donna offered Emily and me a place to stay, free of rent, so that I could focus on school and finish in a timely manner. It was because of her help that I was able to finish my bachelor’s degree in four years.
After quitting my job, I found that I had lots of time to take a full class load and to become more proactive in my education. I decided to treat school like I would a job; I got there early every day, and I left late. I continued to take on responsibilities that were out of my comfort zone: I took up tutoring and even teaching; I shadowed a local surgeon; and I began my first of what I hope to be a lifetime of research projects, working with Dr. Kyle MacLea.
Dr. MacLea is a typical UNH faculty member — and by that I mean he’s awesome. I owe it to his mentorship and friendship that I eventually got accepted to the most selective program in medicine. Through working with him, I learned more about microbiology, molecular biology, and genetics than I did with several years in the classroom; I traveled to New Orleans to present my research, and I wrote two publications — again, just another instance of the rewards for listening to the right people.
And my mentor story is not unique; UNH Manchester has some of the best faculty members of the university system — and there are too many of them to name. Much like my story, this college is surprising — many people think of Manchester as a suitcase college, but my story, and many others like mine, are proof of that fallacy. All of us here tonight understand what it means to be a student here. We all shared the UNH Manchester experience together. Many of us here experienced the move from 400 to Pandora. This class understands how deprived future students are; they will never get to experience being served a barbecue quesadilla from Mr. Sunshine, and they may never know there was actually a time when parking wasn’t atrocious.
My parting words of wisdom are these: step out of your comfort zone — surprise yourself — and by doing so, you might discover who you truly are and what you’re capable of doing; be careful who you listen to — those who have gone before you are worth your ear, and it will save you a lot of time in the long run; and finally, humble yourself and give credit where it’s due — you are not the only one responsible for your success — never forget your privileges. Thank you, mom and dad. UNH Manchester has helped me to realize these life lessons, it has opened my heart and my mind — it revived me and turned me into a worthy academic. I couldn’t be prouder to call UNH Manchester my alma mater, and I couldn’t be prouder to say that you are my fellow classmates.
Class of 2016, I bid you farewell, and I wish you all the best of luck in whatever you might pursue!