University of Vermont

Ceremonial Events - Commencement

SGA Remarks

Greeting: Seth E. Bowden, President of the Student Government Association

Welcome faculty, staff, Board members, family, friends and, most importantly, University of Vermont graduating seniors. Until this morning I wasn’t really sure what I should be saying up here, and to be perfectly honest, I’m not sure that I yet have the words or the perspective necessary to adequately capture such an important moment in all of our lives. When we leave our respective college ceremonies this afternoon we will no longer be undergraduates – we will be UVM alumni. But what does that really mean? Bill Cosby once joked that graduating college seniors should be given a week to just sit down and cry; to have a cathartic period of time where they can realize they now have to engage in public life. But having spent the last week celebrating with many of you our departure from this campus, I’m fairly certain most of you didn’t spend much of last night thinking about your future.

When you finally walk, you will have earned society’s single most important determiner in judging future income, social wellbeing, and job placement. Yet, I’m sure that your thoughts lie more with the friends you have made during your time in these halls than the public value of your degree. And this speaks to the quality of individual UVM has helped you to become. UVM fosters students and citizens of hope, intellect, and authenticity – and every one of you can now count yourself among those ranks. This day marks the end of your tenure with this institution, but it means so much more than just pageantry.

From the very beginning, everyone in this room knew what it took to succeed at university: the specific college requirements, the exact number of credits that were necessary to graduate, and which intro class you could take senior year that didn’t take attendance or have a final. But success from here on out gets a little more interesting. It will be defined through our own eyes rather than through those of our professors. There is no four-point scale or extra-credit opportunities; there is neither a rubric for success, nor a Spark Notes for life. But what this day symbolizes and celebrates is the culmination of our undergraduate training – not just in the world of academia but in all of the other facets in which we have grown over the past four, or a victory-lap five, years. Perhaps Gary Bolding summarized the gravity of this day best when he wrote: “Your families are extremely proud of you. You can't imagine the sense of relief they are experiencing. This would be a most opportune time to ask for money.”

Next week, perhaps next month or year, everyone in this room will be doing something completely different to what you have experienced in the past: Medical students will be applying for residency, Engineers will be exploring contracted work, and my fellow Political Science majors will… probably still be living in their parents basement. But what will remain the same are the memories you were a part of, the friends that you made, and the Professors and lecturers who helped shape your character.

After graduating high school, UVM was the only university to which I applied, though it was mostly because my family had just relocated here from New Zealand. Lured in by the deceptively warm tour of campus and the amazing location, I figured that I’d give it a whirl and just transfer out if it didn’t work. But there was something about those cinderblock riot-proof dorms and the comfort of having to wear flip-flops in the showers that just made this place feel right. After four years of experiences, I know that this couldn’t have been a better choice. Every semester I have seen friends around me change and grow in remarkable ways – and it’s the atmosphere of this campus that has shaped our personalities. I was waiting to deliver a speech about a year ago when I ran into the director of my former dormitory. We were reminiscing about the past couple of years, looking out over the new UVM class when he said: “you know, it still amazes me how much people can change.” To which I just sort of nodded before realizing that he was looking at me. It would be fair to say that had you met me as a first year student, you might have found it hard to believe that I would be speaking on this stage – but at that moment I realized the people who make UVM the institution that it is have helped all of us to find our way. The athletes, the library social scene, the protestors, the protestors of the protests – all of these groups plus so many more have influenced who we are more than anything else, and it’s all a part of what drew every one of us to UVM.

Where we go from here will be entirely up to us, and I’m sure that this is the most terrifying thought in your mind. However, Nelson Mandela put it beautifully when he stated: “I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers fear.” You have spent the last few years of your life getting ready for this very moment; to leave behind what you know and to take on new challenges. And from everything I’ve seen, I think we are all prepared to do just that.

Congratulations, University of Vermont class of 2007.

Cheers.

Last modified May 28 2007 06:12 AM

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