University of Vermont

Academic Ceremonies - Commencement

Opening Reflection
John M. Hughes
Professor of Geology

John M Hughes

A University has many constituents, and each year on a day such as this all those constituencies gather to celebrate the highest day in the academic year; at the University of Vermont that has now been done 207 times. Allow me to recognize and thank those constituencies today, including the Trustees, the members of the Senior Administration, the University Staff, who worked behind the scenes to make all this happen today, the alumni, and, especially important today, the parents, families, and friends, who are so proud to witness today’s events, and rightly so.

But at the core of any University are the two constituencies around which everything revolves; those who teach, and those who are taught. These two groups are the very reason that our University, or any College or University, even exists. The University Universe revolves around those two constituencies. Let me specifically address those two groups today.

To the students: Four years ago, as Provost, I addressed you at your convocation, your first gathering as a class as a whole. Undoubtedly you remember my words virtually ver batim, so I need not repeat them. But over the past four years since we last spoke, I hope we have challenged you, prepared you, and pushed you hard, very, very hard, for you have a tremendous task ahead of you. I just concluded teaching a course in Physical Geology, an introductory course that outlined, I hope in great detail, the challenges that distinguished, indeed brilliant, Earth scientists have determined that we, as Earth citizens, face in the very near future, both in physical and social systems. We simply cannot be soft any longer. Difficult choices loom, and they are indeed choices, and we as Earth citizens must make the correct ones, not the easy ones. The correct choice is almost always the most difficult one. We need the brightest, most dedicated, hard-working and passionate scientists, educators, business leaders, engineers, mathematicians, politicians, agricultural scientists, artists, writers, humanists, nurses, physicians and military leaders, as we face the difficult choices of the near future. Each one of you must prepare to make the sacrifices that the wise choices will require. It won’t be easy, as the Earth System is moving quickly; as noted by Irwin Miller, "By the time you are in mid-career, your experience will have been gained in a world that no longer exists." I hope each of you will make wise choices, and I wish you Godspeed in doing so. I am not proud of every aspect of the world we are handing off to you, and I hope you do better when you hand it off to Susan and my grandchildren.

And now, to the faculty. Ours is a strange job. We only succeed when we send those who are most close to us away after four years. We come to know a group of bright young women and men, we work with them, we push them, I hope very hard, and today we send the latest group of them away. We worked with them in large classrooms, in laboratories, in the field, in studios, in performance venues, and one-on-one as individuals pursuing their own research such as Rebecca, Bridget and Glenn did this year. But today, they begin their post-UVM life, and we send them off; it is bittersweet to do so, but we have certified them as being ready. But in only a few months, the cycle begins again, and we will welcome the class of 2015; I hope you look forward to it as much as I do.

Thank you, and on behalf of the faculty I extend heartfelt best wishes to all of today’s graduates and their families.

Last modified June 24 2011 02:25 PM

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