University of Vermont

Academic Ceremonies - Convocation

Convocation 2013 President's Address

E. Thomas Sullivan, Professor of Political Science and President of the University of Vermont

Thomas SullivanWelcome to the University of Vermont Class of 2017!

  • Tonight, we gather together in celebration of your entrance into this exceptional University community. 
  • The University of Vermont is a Public Ivy known for its
  • distinctive community of independent thinkers,
  • its engaged learners,
  • and distinguished scholars in this vibrant, beautiful natural setting.

Our Tradition continues as we emphasize Liberal education, the Environment, Healthcare, and Public Leadership and Service. 

  • The integration of humanities, arts, & sciences in our curriculum promotes broad and deep learning of the “nature and meaning of life.”
  • Our strengths are in
    1. developing effective “problem-solving skills”
    2. and ethical engagement in our global society.
  • Our graduates are known for our leadership and public service.

This is a distinctive University community with 222 years of traditions that advances

    1. equality,
    2. fairness,
    3. diversity, and
    4. inclusiveness,
    5. each of which are embodied in the University’s Common Ground values.
  • As you may know, in the 1870s, UVM was the first University to admit women and African-Americans into the Phi Beta Kappa Honor Society. 
  • This was also the first university or college in the U.S. to include a statement of religious toleration in its original charter.
  • You are now members of this unique community and heirs of its proud traditions.
  • As new students at UVM, you have an opportunity and a responsibility to
    1. learn from these values,
    2. foster them,
    3. and to serve as leaders on campus.

As a premier teaching and research University, we are leaders in the discovery of new knowledge and scholarship.

  • We offer unique opportunities for undergraduate research and collaborations with faculty.
  • Our world-class faculty regularly win national awards and fellowships such as the Guggenheim and the Fulbright.
  • They secure significant grants from the National Science Foundation and National Institutes of Heath.
  •  Over 300 students participated in our Student Research Conference this past academic year.
  • UVM is a distinctive learning environment with many opportunities to engage in your coursework through inspired classroom teaching
  •  and through research with nationally recognized faculty.

As you prepare to attend your first classes tomorrow and to join your fellow students and our distinguished faculty, I want to congratulate you on making a significant investment in your future.

  • According to a 2013 Pew study of recent college graduates, the evidence clearly shows that, even during the Recession, college graduates have the strongest employment advantage by a wide margin.
  • As the Brookings Institution in D.C. has found, the return on investment for your college degree is equivalent to over 15% a year.
    • This is more than double the average return of stock market investments since 1950.

Of course, the most important investments you will make also will provide the most rewarding returns.  They include:

  • the investments you make at UVM in your intellectual, cultural, and social growth
  • developing the skills that will make you a strong, effective leader in a competitive global society.
  • Our graduates stand out as leaders.
  • To be sure, you will not be the same person when you graduate in 2017.
  • I urge you to invest fully in your relationships at UVM and to take advantages of all the opportunities present to you here.
  • College is a financial investment, but more importantly, it is an investment in “learning” to create
    • the kind of goals you want to set for yourself,
    • the kind of life you want to live,
    • and the kind of person you want to be.

I urge you to immerse yourself completely in the unique college experience UVM offers and take advantage of all aspects of college life here.

    • For example, take a broad range of courses.  Try disciplines outside of your comfort zone.
      • This is the best time in your life to explore your interests and to discover new realms of knowledge that will inspire you.
    • Get the most out of your classes.
      • Go to your professor’s office hours!
      • Join study groups to meet others who share your interests.
      • Your professors, your graduate teaching assistants, and your peers will become the foundation of your future social and professional networks.
      • Go to every class!
        • You will remember more of the material if you attend class.
        • Ultimately, if you put more into it, you will have a better learning experience, create a stronger professional network, and gain more from your investment in higher education

I urge you to join activities of all sorts on campus:

  • from attending Burack Lectures, poetry readings, or the Lane Series of performing arts.
  • to participating in intramural sports, students government, interest groups, and community volunteering.
    • UVM has more than 150 student organizations.
    • Our students are well-known for their engagement in community service and for their dedication to the environment and social responsibility.
    • Studies clearly show that the more engaged you are in campus activities, the more you will succeed academically...
        • And the more you are likely to graduate on time with your class in four years.
    • Remember that time is your biggest investment here – use it well!

With so much to do, adjusting to college life and excelling in your classes can be challenging.

  • Remember you already have a strong support network around you: peers, faculty, and student academic support such as the Writing Center.
  • You will find that you cannot get the same results here with the same level of effort that you put forth in high school.
    • More is required in college!
  • If you don’t excel at first, don’t give up. 
  • You may need to seek help and you may need to study more, but we know you have the ability to achieve success.
    • We admitted you because we believe in your abilities!
    • This is the story of our over 100,000 alumni – real success


  • As a student-centered University, we are here to help you!
    • Lean on us if you need to!

Your faculty will stretch your minds, inspire your curiosity, and push you intellectually farther than you have ever gone before!

  • This is what college should be about as you explore the “nature and meaning of life at UVM.

Our University community is an extended family with branches reaching across the globe.  As UVM students you will enjoy lifelong membership in this family.

  • There are two kinds of family:
    • the family in which you are born and
    • the family you choose as you create strong bonds with friends, colleagues, neighbors, and members of your community.
  • As you begin your journey at UVM, you are already forging relationships with people who will become your extended family.
  • You will develop rewarding life-long relationships here with your friends and faculty mentors.
  • These foundational relationships will shape your lives forever.
  • To this day, I remain close friends with my roommates from college.
  • I urge you to be open to new experiences and people from different places, different cultures, and different ideas. 
  • As with any relationship, the more energy and time you invest, the more benefits you will receive and the more you will learn.

Richard Broadhead, distinguished literary critic and president of Duke University, writes:

  • “The things we do half-heartedly leave little mark on us.  The things we do whole-heartedly transform us and enlarge our powers.”
  • I encourage you to “engage whole-heartedly” with your UVM family, your courses, your faculty, and your student activities.
  • Let’s together to make this an even better University for you and for the generations work of students who will come to UVM after you have graduated.

I look forward to seeing you on campus and in the neighborhood.

  • I live on campus too with my wife Leslie and our puppy Sully.
  • I also look forward to watching you graduate in 4 years on the UVM Green as a member of the Class of 2017.

Again, welcome to UVM!  This is a great University that promotes excellence and quality at every opportunity.

  • You have chosen well!
  • Enjoy this special University and beautiful Burlington, Vermont to the fullest, intellectually and culturally.
  • If you do, you will not be disappointed, and opportunities will open for you throughout your career.
  • All my best!

As prepared for delivery on August 26, 2013.

Last modified September 13 2013 02:33 PM