University of Vermont

Academic Ceremonies - May Commencement

Robert F. Cioffi, Class of 1990,
Chair of the University of Vermont Board of Trustees

Robert Cioffi

President Sullivan, Distinguished Members of the Platform Party, special guests, family, friends, faculty, staff, and most especially members of the Class of 2013, on behalf of the UVM Board of Trustees, I welcome you to this very special ceremony! It is my great privilege to be with you on this glorious day in this remarkable setting on the hill in Burlington, Vermont. Look around you and take it all in. This beautiful green and the people here today will have an important place in your memory for the rest of your lives.

Much to the relief of many at the University, this is my fourth and final year as Board Chair, and therefore, these will be my final commencement remarks. I promise that I will keep them to less than 90 minutes…

Today, I am going to try to dispense with the usual clichés and moldy tidbits of advice that our graduates will instantly forget or ignore. Instead, I want to share a few observations with you that are seldom heard at commencement ceremonies. And I will admit to borrowing liberally from a recent Wall Street Journal article by Charles Wheelan titled: “10 Things Your Commencement Speaker Won’t Tell You.” I don’t have 10, but I do have a few:

  1. Number 1: Your time spent downtown with friends was well spent. You heard me right. The same goes for the clubs you joined, the intramurals you participated in, and the hanging out you did with your buddies. Research shows that one of the most important causal factors associated with long term happiness and well-being is your meaningful connections with other human beings and no, this does not include Facebook and Twitter. Look around you and you will see people you will be close friends with decades from now.

  2. Number 2: Help stop the Little League Arms Race. As a parent of young kids, I am begging you. Things in life that should be a journey have unfortunately become races. If you don’t make the travel soccer team, get in to the right school, or win the championship then you are told that you will forever be behind. I am here to tell you: That’s not reality. Life should be about enjoying the journey, and playing baseball because it’s fun. I hope that you especially remember this if you don’t land that dream job in your first try, remember that the job that you do get may be the one that opens the door to that dream job down the road. Help stop the Little League Arms Race!!

  3. Number 3: We are all on borrowed time. None of us can take anything for granted, not even tomorrow. I would argue that we would all be better off if every day, we considered whether or not we would lead our lives the way we are if we knew tomorrow, we were going to be hit by the proverbial bus. And the important corollary: Does this path lead to a life you will be happy with and proud of in 10 or 20 years if you don't get hit by that bus.

  4. Number 4: Don’t try to be great. This is not an endorsement of mediocrity. But being great involves many things that are outside our control, like luck, timing, and genetics. The less you think about being great, the more likely it is to happen. And as Charles Wheelan writes, “And if it doesn’t, there is absolutely nothing wrong with being solid.”

  5. And finally, Number 5: Be Passionate. This one is all mine. Being passionate about something is the route to success and fulfillment, even if yours doesn’t make you the best on the planet at what you are passionate about. But it might. Your passion may come from a source that you least expect, so be open to it. Odds are you don’t know today, what your lifelong passion will be but stay on the lookout for it because you never know when and where you will find it. Read the biographies of our Honorary Degree recipients in your programs for some examples of what I am talking about.

And here’s the biggest tip of all, as you move on from UVM, keep the person you are now with you always. Sleep late once in a while. Have cereal for dinner. Come back and stroll Church Street just for the heck of it and sit on the Williams fire escape or at the Boathouse for one more sunset. Stay close to your friends, who are all around you today. Life will take you many, many places, but if you keep this place in your life you’ll be better for it.

Congratulations and Go Cats Go!!!

Last modified June 04 2013 10:56 AM

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