University of Vermont

Academic Ceremonies - Convocation

Convocation Address - Class of 2022
President Tom Sullivan

Welcome Class of 2022! Welcome to the University of Vermont!

We are thrilled to stand with you on this 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 has many reputations: as a Public Ivy; a world-class research university; a land-grant institution with a focus on liberal education and with a mission to promote and advance the public good, including public leadership in advancing equity, inclusion, diversity broadly defined, and social justice.

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. They are our teacher-scholars.

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, and have an active part in that project. Others, as budding bioengineers or medical doctors, might be part of the faculty and student teams creating living Band Aids that deliver medicines directly to internal tissues. Or you might be out on Lake Champlain on our Rubenstein School research boat, working with a team 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 with which you have little prior knowledge, 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 to all.

Open your mind by actively listening to others and letting others speak, whether you agree or disagree. 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. Importantly, our country is built on the foundational principles of freedom of expression and freedom of association, and our University community vigorously upholds these principles. We try to listen to and learn from one another. We believe in a diversity of viewpoints on campus. We don’t shout people down here! We answer speech with better, 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 for each of us to practice it.

And with the privilege of free speech comes great responsibility. Words and actions are powerful. 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 2022—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 2,500 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. You come from 43 states and 24 countries of citizenship. Twenty-two percent of you are from Vermont and 78 percent are from other states; 12 percent of you are in the first generation of your family to attend college. A very impressive profile for our Class of 2022!

As you can see, you are 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. A couple of examples: Discovery Hall, the first of the new three-building STEM Complex, provides innovative labs and classrooms for chemistry, computer science, mathematics and statistics, physics, and engineering. Innovation Hall, another critical part of the new STEM Complex, will open next year, in the Spring of 2019. Over 35 percent of our students major in STEM fields and over 90 percent of you will take classes in the STEM disciplines during your time here at UVM. The Cohen Hall for the Integrative Creative Arts will allow us to integrate the creative arts throughout campus. And, of course, the new Central Campus Residence Hall in the heart of campus, which opened its doors last year to 700 students, offers a living and learning environment to encourage and support your academic success and maturity in your first year.

In short, 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. UVM, for example, is on the leading edge of brain research for young adults in your age range, among lots of other rich research being undertaken here on campus. 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 also!

Now, let me share with you a few essential practices that 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. In short, 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. Identify a few student clubs that grab your interest, and get involved. Explore volunteer opportunities on campus and in the wider community. Check out the Student Government Association events for non-alcohol- and drug-free socializing and celebration. Visit often the Career + Experience Hub in the Davis Center to find opportunities to turn your passions and academic interests into career-building advantages, like internships, job-shadowing, summer jobs, and campus jobs.

Tonight, in advance of your classes tomorrow, we introduce you to our University’s Common Ground values. We strive to live by them here in our community. They demonstrate UVM’s distinctiveness among universities.

  • First: Respect. It is about admiration felt toward another person, and politeness arising from this.

  • Second: Integrity. Meaning honesty, soundness.                                                                  

  • Third: Innovation. Creative ways of thinking. Not being fixed in only one way to achieve or think.

  • Fourth: Openness. Unprejudiced thinking. The willingness to consider new ideas.

  • Fifth: Justice. This is fair and just treatment for all. Giving to and sharing proper consideration of a concern or decision.

  • Finally: Responsibility. To take care of one’s duty. Accounting for your actions. Engaging in rational conduct. And trustworthy in fulfilling one’s obligations.

To paraphrase the famous writer and author William Butler Yeats, “Education is not just the filling of a pail with facts and data and bits and pieces of information, but the lighting of the fire of curiosity, imagination, and passion.”

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, passion, and success here. Finally, we will see you all graduate on the College Green in four short years, in May 2022—celebrating and honoring you, then, as the UVM graduating Class of 2022!

In closing, thank you for joining our UVM family! You are ready for the great journey that begins this weekend! You are ready to launch your own pathway to success at UVM and beyond, after you graduate, on the Green in May 2022. Each of you belongs here at the University of Vermont, regardless of your pathway that brought you to UVM!

My best wishes, always.

Last modified August 28 2018 03:05 PM