University of Vermont

217th Commencement Ceremonies - May 19 and 20, 2018

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

E Thomas SullivanCongratulations to our graduates, their parents and families here today, and to our UVM faculty, staff, and alumni who are with us on this beautiful morning.

This is an exciting, threshold moment for our graduates!

Graduates, you are no doubt feeling lots of emotions: excitement for being at this moment, relief for being done with papers and finals, giddy for celebrating with your friends, bittersweet for thinking of your class dispersing—even though you haven’t quite left yet—and questions about the future in front of you.

Some of you may know exactly what your next move is, while others of you are embarking on that exploration.

One thing I know holds true for all of you: You are entering a world in which rapid change is the norm—a world undergoing significant shifts technologically, economically, and politically in the ways we engage with one another.

I also know that your learning here at UVM, and the values we share as a community, are investments that equip you with well-honed tools to be creative, responsive, and successful in the future that awaits you.

Remember “Move-In Day” back in August 2013?

Amid all of the excitement, meeting your floormates and getting your stuff in, you were probably swarmed with people offering to help—students in their club t-shirts, teams of staff and administrators. I met some of you on Move-In Day as my wife, Leslie, and I traveled from one residence hall to another.

That Move-In Day in 2013 I hope you experienced the warmth and genuine hospitality for which our UVM community is known.

In pursuing your degree at this Public Ivy, a university centered in the liberal arts, you have built a well-stocked 21st-century emotional and intellectual toolkit: from critical thinking and reasoning to broad, out-of-the box explorations; from quantitative analysis and systems thinking to esthetic and artistic appreciation; from honing your writing and speaking abilities to deepening your creative collaboration skills; and in practicing the values articulated in the Our Common Ground pledge.

Through your curiosities, diligence, and your investment in this educational journey, you are ready to step up as creative, responsible, global citizens and leaders.

We know that every era has its uncertainties and disruptions, but the world that you are graduating into is fundamentally more dynamic in pace and in scope than at any time in human history.

We’re on the brink of what many consider to be a fourth Industrial Revolution. Our original production technologies of steam and electricity gave rise to the technology of the third Industrial Revolution: electronics and IT.

Now, the fourth Industrial Revolution—the digital information revolution—is upon us. IT and electronics are blurring the boundaries between the physical and digital. Think of the recent introductions of self-driving vehicles, 3-D printed prosthetics, and robots that are replacing people in many industries.

Artificial intelligence is driving this change, and it’s happening at a pace that is quickening faster than we realize. We all are feeling this acceleration of information and knowledge.

With this rapid pace of change in technology, in industry, in our climate and our communities—chances are high that five years from now very little will look as it does today.

Two fundamental questions need asking now: How is this information and production revolution shaping you, and humanity in general? And how do you want to affect and shape this digital-transformative future?

These are the high-stakes issues of our time. No matter what your expertise or interest, they will engage every one of you!

The broad liberal education you have experienced at UVM, grounded in the humanities and the arts, has exposed you to a range of understanding and knowledge that will support and help you navigate the challenges and opportunities you will face. This well-rounded education will assist you in gaining a truer understanding of the nuances and complexities of life—given the digital transformation that is upon us and the pace by which we receive new information daily.

As you chart your course, it is your ability to think broadly, your intellectual curiosity, your careful reflection, and your coherent reasoning that will illuminate the meaning, nature, and purpose of your life.

I hope you will bring a humanist’s mind to shape this future as the fourth Industrial Revolution unfolds. I hope you will create a society that appreciates the importance of the moral, analytical, empirical, and the aesthetic in life, as Louis Menand, the Professor of English and pragmatist of modern thought, reminds us.

I hope you will create a society that values the human—with all of its diversity—as much as the technological. And I hope you will create a society that employs our existing and emerging digital tools for the advancement and betterment of humankind.

In short, it is your study and understanding of the role humanities plays that will develop your whole being as an individual, including your self and your soul.

In essence, the question we ask you today is one asked by theologian Harold Kusher: What kind of a person do you want to be?

It may be cliché to say that “the future belongs to you” but in this case, as you step over the threshold today, it truly does.

In conclusion, I want to quote the very wise Dr. Seuss in this optimistic message for you all:

Today is your day.
You're off to Great Places!
You're off and away!

Your mountain is waiting.
So...get on your way!”

All of our very best to each of you! Come back often to your UVM family!

Last modified June 06 2017 12:50 PM