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 SullivanGood Morning! Congratulations to our graduates, to their families, and friends, whose support made this celebration possible.

Today, we graduate eight ROTC seniors who will be commissioned as second lieutenants. We extend deep appreciation to the seventeen veterans, who are graduating today, for their service to our country.

To our graduates in the Class of 2014, you are an incredibly talented group of graduates! Among your ranks are award-winners from every College, School, and Department. Many of you have won competitive national awards and scholarships such as the Truman, the Udall, the Gilman, and the Goldwater. And seven of you have received prestigious Fulbright Scholarships to study abroad. Many of you furthered your education by choosing to write a thesis, to study abroad, or to complete a professional internship. And, a great number of you enhanced your college experience through volunteering and public service. We are very proud of your accomplishments!

As we gather to celebrate your many accomplishments and the beginning of your careers and life after college, I want to share with you the importance of 3 essential qualities that will determine and shape your success: your determination, your resilience, and your perseverance.

In truth, you already have begun your “careers” here at the University of Vermont. The work you have done in the course of earning your undergraduate degree already has given you an excellent foundation for a professional life. You have deepened your analytical skills. You have honed your problem-solving and communication skills as you grasped the deeper complexities in your fields of study. You have learned how to motivate yourself and how to work collaboratively with others. Your careers are well-grounded by these skills and the knowledge you have achieved in: your classes, your internships, and independent projects. And, you already have met some of the people, including our faculty, who will become essential advisors, mentors, and supporters in your developing professional network.

You are ready! And, of course, Commencement means the Beginning! Some of the most important skills you have obtained at UVM are how to learn from failure, how to meet challenges through teamwork, how to quickly acquire new skills, and how to persevere in the face of difficulty and opposition. That invaluable combination of determination, resilience, and perseverance is true grit. If you continue to develop your grit, you will succeed! Grit is gold in any profession or business. Success does not come without it!

In short, determination and focus are key. As you know from your course work, you must redouble your efforts to learn from what doesn’t work. From so many walks of life, we know that failures are crucial for giving us insight that nurtures understanding and growth.

Another core component of grit is the resilience of learning to adapt and rapidly gain new skills. Learning how to learn quickly and to learn in a collective way is increasingly important as we grapple with speed of technology. New York Times Columnist Thomas L. Friedman in his recent article “How to get a job at Google,” writes: “In an age when innovation is increasingly a group endeavor, [the world] cares about a lot of soft skills - leadership, humility, collaboration, adaptability and loving to learn and re-learn.” Friedman also quotes Laszlo Bock, Senior Vice President of HR at Google, “For every job, though, the No. 1 thing we look for is general cognitive ability, and it’s not I.Q. It’s learning ability. It’s the ability to process on the fly. It’s the ability to pull together disparate bits of information.” Resilience, in essence, is constantly learning to stay competitive in a changing world.

And, of course, grit means never “giving up.” I want to share a story with you about a very important UVM alumnus who exemplifies perseverance: Andrew Harris. As some of you may know, Andrew Harris was the first African American to graduate from the University of Vermont. He was denied admission at Union College and Middlebury College, we are told, on account of his race; Harris, however, kept trying. He didn’t give up. He didn’t just take the easy road. He earned his degree at UVM in “1838”. Only one year after his graduation, he delivered an address to nearly five thousand “abolitionists” in New York City. During his brief life, he achieved greatness in his oratory, which he used effectively to protest slavery in the South and racism in the North. Harris used his talent and his UVM education to fight for a just cause.

Before I conclude, I want to leave you with the words of Theodore Roosevelt in one of his most famous speeches before he became President, “It is far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure, than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy much nor suffer much, because they live in the gray twilight that knows not victory nor defeat.”

Today we celebrate: the determination, the resilience, and the perseverance that brought you here. Remember that with your talent, your excellent UVM education as your foundation, your passion, and your true grit, you too can achieve a life well-lived. But this will not happen if you take the easy path.

We hope you will use your gifts, your significant advantages, your determination, resilience, and perseverance “to win glorious triumphs,” as President Roosevelt observed. We will follow your careers with pride. We are delighted that you are now lifelong members of the UVM Family. Please do stay connected and be in touch. Congratulations to the Class of 2014!

As prepared for delivery on May 18, 2014

Last modified May 22 2014 03:17 PM