University of Vermont

Academic Ceremonies - Convocation

Convocation Address - Class of 2021
President Tom Sullivan

Welcome Class of 2021! Welcome to the University of Vermont!

We are thrilled to stand with you on this beautiful summer evening and invite you over the threshold into this exciting new phase of your lives! Our University—now your University—is one of the most dynamic public universities in the country. UVM is highly regarded as a Public Ivy, a world-class research university with a focus on the liberal arts.

What does this mean for you? This means that you have chosen—and you have been chosen—to pursue your undergraduate education at a university where you will be able to engage your deepest interests side by side with your professors. You will learn from professors actively engaged in research and creative arts at the leading edge of their fields. Professors whose research, writing, and creative activities bring a special excitement and expertise to their teaching.

For example, some of you in the College of Education and Social Services will be working with professors testing new methods of accommodating learning disabilities in the classroom. Others may be working with the faculty member researching the next great book on Henry Thoreau. Still others, budding bioengineers and medical students, might be part of the faculty and student teams creating living band aids to deliver medicines directly to internal tissues. Or you might be out on Lake Champlain on the Rubenstein School’s research boat investigating ways to clean up the Lake’s ecology.

The possibilities for what you will do are limited only by your curiosity, your ambition, and your drive!

So how do you make the most out of this experience? If I could give you one directive, one clue to help guide you on your path of discovery and creation, I would offer this advice: open your mind. Be curious! And here’s what I mean by that.

Open your mind to subjects that you might want to taste, to sample, to fields you want to explore. Try some classes that interest you, in subjects that you have little prior knowledge of, to find out if you’ve got passions that you don’t even know exist yet.

Open your mind as a citizen—as a member of our community, and as a citizen of our country and our world. Listen to and read viewpoints that differ from yours. Seek out new experiences. Engage with people across the spectrum of life experiences, identities, and viewpoints, being respectful of each.

Open your mind by actively listening to others and letting others speak, whether you agree or disagree with them. Opening your mind to all sides of a topic better positions you to successfully advocate for your views and your developing sense of what you think and feel is right. Our country is built on the foundational principles of free expression and freedom of association, and our University community vigorously upholds these principles. We don’t shout people down here. We answer speech with better speech, more persuasive speech, we answer debate with debate, and we model the best that an educated citizen can be. This is the time to learn engaged citizenship, and to practice it yourself.

With the privilege of free speech comes great responsibility. Words and actions are powerful. They have meaning! Choose them wisely and thoughtfully, with respect and civility. Learn to critically think and to express yourself in ways that earn you credibility and respect as you interact with others.

We, at UVM, look for a special kind of student—and let me tell you—each one of you certainly fits that claim! By almost any measure, you—our Class of 2021—is academically the most prepared and selective class in UVM’s very long history. From nearly 23,000 applicants, you have been selected to your class of 2,640 incoming Catamounts. You have the highest average GPA and SAT scores achieved by a UVM class. You also are one of our most diverse classes, both domestically and internationally. You come from 47 states and 25 countries of citizenship. Twenty-two percent of you are from Vermont and 78 percent are from other states; 14 percent of you are in the first generation of your family to attend college. A very impressive profile for our Class of 2021!

Each of you is joining a vibrant academic community here at UVM. We have been hard at work over the past few years building a 21st-century campus to support your collaboration, creativity, and academic success. Discovery Hall, for example, the first of the two new buildings in the STEM Complex, provides innovative research labs and teaching classrooms for chemistry, computer science, mathematics and statistics, physics, and engineering. Over 35 percent of our students major in STEM fields and over 90 percent of you will take classes in the STEM disciplines. Also, the Taft School renovation will allow us to integrate the creative arts on campus. And, of course, the new Residence Hall in the heart of campus, which opened its doors to 700 of you for the first time this week, offers a living and learning environment to encourage and support your academic success and personal maturity in your first year.

Your success, this year and across the span of the next four years, is our highest priority for you. We can provide state-of-the-art facilities and fantastic opportunities to collaborate across disciplines and with our faculty—who represent the best teacher-scholars—but ultimately choosing the path to your success lies with you. Among all of the rich research being undertaken here on campus, UVM is on the leading edge of brain research for young adults in your age range. Our Wellness Environment program is the national model for inspiring college students to utilize fitness, mindfulness, nutrition, and interpersonal resources to support vibrant brain and body health, which we all know is key to performing at the top of your game in academics, in athletics, and—yes—in life!

A few essential practices will give you a big lift toward succeeding in college. Carving out adequate time to study, asking for help when you need it, and balancing your studies with exercise, restful sleep, and nutritious food are all key to thriving and succeeding in college.

On the other side of the spectrum, not eating well, not getting enough sleep, abusing alcohol and taking drugs, not seeking help when you need it, and overcommitting or not managing your time well—all of these will create roadblocks preventing you from making the most of your four years and graduating on time, with your mind and heart on fire for all you have learned and all you want to do in the world.

The pathway to your success at UVM begins with committing to these essential practices and to engaging in this community: in your studies and your creative and research pursuits, with your classmates, and through student activities, team clubs, volunteering, and service learning. Your student success at UVM is directly linked to your engagement and involvement on campus—in the intellectual, cultural, and recreational life on campus! Right now, as you stand at the threshold of this exciting beginning, I ask you to commit to engaging in the academic and cultural opportunities that most call to you at UVM.

As the famous writer and author William Butler Yeats wrote, “Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of the fire.” My promise to you is that we at UVM will continue lighting the fire of excitement during your discovery, growth, and learning at UVM. I promise you, no matter your prior experience or the pathway that brought you to UVM, or your temporary anxieties, concerns, or fears as you start classes, if you engage you will grow, thrive, and find your own fire and passion here. We will see you all graduate on the College Green in four short years, in May 2021—celebrating and honoring you, then, as the UVM graduating Class of 2021!

In closing, thank you for joining our great UVM family! You are ready for the great journey that begins this weekend! You belong here at the University of Vermont!

My best wishes!

Tom Sullivan

Last modified August 28 2017 10:02 AM