University of Vermont

Academic Ceremonies - May Commencement

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

E. Thomas Sullivan

Good morning! Welcome to the class of 2013, and a special thank you today for all of the parents and family who are here to support this wonderful graduating class.

We are also honored today to have three very special people with us, former presidents of this great university, and I'd like to introduce them at this time and have them stand to receive our appreciation. The first is Dr.Lattie Coor, who has joined us after leaving 24 years ago, one of the great presidents of this university. We had on Thursday the honor of dedicating a building in his name. Lattie, please.

And Dr.Dan Fogel, who was my predecessor, I know Dan is here, professor of English, Dan Fogel, thank you.

And Dr.John Bramley, who was the interim president, John, I believe you're here this morning. Thank you.

This is truly a gifted class. Among you are award winners from every college and school and department. A number of you have also won prestigious national awards, including the Fulbright, the Truman Award, the Goldwater Scholarship. Many of you furthered your education by finishing that senior thesis, participating in that capstone research project, studying abroad, or completing that important internship or Co‑Op. Over 70 of you wrote theses in the College of Arts and Sciences alone, and over 300 of you participated in the very important Student Research Conference held at the university.

UVM students are known for their high public service. And many of you have donated time to help organizations like Adaptive Sports or have worked to promote the health of our environment. Further, 26 percent of this class has taken very important service learning courses during your four years here at the university.

E Thomas Sullivan

You are an accomplished class, and your efforts also show that you have determination and optimism to move forward after today. When you enrolled at UVM in August of 2009, the country was in the depths of a great recession. You faced an uncertain economy, an uncertain job market, and yet you persevered. It is never easy to earn a college degree, and it certainly is more difficult during these financial times.

Many of you have made many sacrifices, as have your parents and friends. You've worked hard inside the classroom and outside. And many of you have juggled jobs in addition to your coursework. Indeed, in 2009 one half of our full‑time students were part‑time employed, and over 80 percent of our part‑time students were working, as well. In spite of those financial conditions, you worked hard, and you learned skills necessary to ensure that you will succeed in life.

And that diploma that you receive today is a significant achievement demonstrating that success. It also promises great things for your future. Many of today's headlines unfortunately ask: Is the college degree worth the cost?

And the answer is a clear yes. Two weeks ago, on May 3, 2013, the United States Department of Labor issued data that yet again proves the strong worth of the degree you receive today. The fastest‑growing job rate in this country since the great recession began is for college graduates. The unemployment rate today in this country is the lowest for college graduates at less than 4 percent. And all of the net increases in jobs that have occurred in this country are going to college graduates.

On average, full‑time workers with a college degree today– this is your class – will earn 80 percent more in a lifetime with that college degree. The Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C. recently found that the return on investment for a college degree is over 15 percent annually – more than double the average return of the investment in the stock market since 1950.

In short, the data proved that the degree you received from the University of Vermont today will serve you well. Your degree is significant not only because of the financial return on investment, but also, more importantly, because of the personal and the intellectual growth, the awareness of your civic responsibility, and all that has come in the last four years from attendance at this great University.

You have proven beyond a doubt that you have the skills to succeed in today's challenging and global world. Your undergraduate degree will always be a credit to you, a credit to your perseverance, a credit to your ingenuity, a credit to your adaptability, your strong work ethic and your resilience. The degree you are awarded today will remain an important accolade on your resume for the rest of your life. As UVM's reputation continues to grow, the value of your degree will continue to increase throughout your career.

As Tony Wagner, the co-director of the challenged leadership group at Harvard University's Graduate School of Education recently wrote, "the capacity to innovate – the ability to solve problems creatively or to bring new possibilities to life – and the skills like critical thinking, communication, and collaboration, are far more important” – excuse me, faculty – than perhaps that one piece of information that you learned in an academic classroom.

As graduates of the University of Vermont, you exemplify the young people that Wagner believes will take the necessary risks in life to create those new opportunities for your own future, for your own success. For example, while earning your degree here, you have honed your critical thinking skills, across the curriculum.

You have learned to speak and write well in the professional languages of your studied fields. These communication skills will help you adapt and quickly master the special skills that you will need in your jobs throughout your career. The diversity of your classes and the body of knowledge that you have mastered in those classes have prepared you to be a problem-solver and an effective communicator. This university helped you to develop that motivation and that independent‑minded disposition that will make you successful in life here after.

As Malcolm Gladwell wrote in his wonderful book Outliers, "personal explanations of success don't work. People don't rise from nothing. It is only by asking where you are from that we can unravel the logic behind who succeeds and who doesn't.” Wherever you grew up, UVM is now part of your intellectual heritage. This university is now where you are from.

Where you have come from shapes, as all of our speakers today will tell you, who you are and who you will become throughout life. The UVM degree that you receive today will add great value to your resume and your future.

In closing, as motivated problem solvers and now well‑rounded critical, curious thinkers, you leave an idealistic yet rigorous public ivy today, but you're ready to go into the world and make your mark. Above all, be confident knowing that you now have what it takes to succeed and, we hope, to be happy.

I am reminded of that aphorism of Winston Churchill, who once said about the relationship between confidence and optimism, "a pessimist sees difficulty in every opportunity. The optimist sees opportunities in every difficulty." If what you begin in life doesn't quite work out or it doesn't quite seem right for you, you've got the courage, the skills, and the judgment to change and move forward.

Today, we celebrate the ambition and the curiosity that brought you here to this great University. And today, we affirm that with your motivation – and please don't forget your passion – your grit, and your resilience, you will succeed. This is just the beginning of what will certainly be a life well-lived.

Congratulations to all of you, graduates and family. Have a great, great, day!

Last modified June 04 2013 11:47 AM