University of Vermont

Academic Ceremonies - May Commencement

Greeting: David A. Daigle,
Vice Chair of the University of Vermont Board of Trustees

David DaiglePresident Sullivan, distinguished members of the platform party, special guests, family, friends, faculty, staff, and especially members of the class of 2014, on behalf of the UVM Board of Trustees, I welcome you to this celebration!

Red Rocks; Church Street; sunsets over Lake Champlain; powder days at Stowe; hiking on Camel’s Hump. Cherish these memories; they will anchor you to this special place for the rest of your life.

Something else will anchor you to UVM – the memories of one or more gifted teachers, coaches or administrators that have altered the course of your life for the better. As you leave this institution, take the time to thank them; they have devoted their lives to having a positive impact on yours.

Likewise thank your family members who helped you achieve the goals that you celebrate today. For the dads in the audience, I thought you might appreciate these words by Mark Twain, which may indicate how far your children have come:

When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But, when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years.

You embark into a world characterized by an uninterrupted flow of information that you can access anywhere, at any time. Much of this information is negative; you may have heard the line “if it bleeds, it leads”. It can be overwhelming and disheartening. Positive news is often crowded out by negative news. In his annual foundation letter for the Gates Foundation, Bill Gates summed it up like this: “Countries are getting richer, but it’s hard to capture that on video. Health is improving, but there’s no press conference for children who did not die of Malaria.”

But here is an interesting thought. Two professors at Wharton who study marketing and media did research using 7,000 New York Times articles. They wanted to identify which traits were associated with a story going viral online. Among other things, they concluded the following: “While common wisdom suggests that people tend to pass along negative news more than positive news, our results indicate that positive news is actually more viral.”

So here is a positive story to tweet, if you can fit it in. You live in a world of knowledge, prosperity and peace unlike that experienced by any previous generation. Just in the past half-century, the transformation has been dramatic. Across a broad swath of socioeconomic markers, from per capita income to infant mortality to educational attainment, the world has never been in a better place, and the developing world is closing the gap on the developed world. This is profoundly positive.

This transformation has been accompanied by, if not led by, an increasing focus on education. Fifty years ago, economists like Gary Becker, who sadly passed away earlier this month, began promoting the idea of education as an investment in human capital, an investment that might yield meaningful returns.

Coincidentally or not, something changed. Fifty years ago, the average adult in an advanced economy had seven years of formal education; today he or she has studied for eleven years. For the average adult in a developing economy, years of formal education have more than doubled, from three to seven. Imagine, with the tools we have now, the incredible gains that lay ahead for education. You are the next generation of human capital.

So go ahead, be an optimist about your future. Be an optimist about your ability to create, to discover, and to achieve. The sailing will not always be smooth, and the winds will constantly shift, but your success will be absolutely dependent upon your attitude, outlook, and passion. After all, this achievement is more of a beginning than an end, a ticket to explore. Enjoy the journey and reach every step of the way.

Come back to Burlington, visit friends, and stay in touch with UVM.

Congratulations and best wishes.

Last modified May 22 2014 12:07 PM