Academic Ceremonies - December Commencement
E. Thomas Sullivan
Professor of Political Science and President of the University of Vermont
Congratulations to all of our graduates today! You are a very talented group of students.
We are delighted to celebrate your achievements here today with your families and friends.
Eleven of you have qualified to be Phi Beta Kappa, and among your ranks are award-winners from every college, school, and department. Many of you furthered your education by choosing to write a thesis, to study abroad, or to complete a professional internship. We are incredibly proud of your accomplishments!
At the University of Vermont, our educational mission is to prepare students to be dedicated and accountable Global Leaders. As graduates of UVM, you are now well-equipped to become highly effective leaders. You have nurtured your independent-mindedness with a broad liberal education with both quantitative and qualitative analytical skills. In addition, here you have honed your critical thinking, your communication skills, and your problem-solving abilities. In an age of rapid technological change and shifting global economies, you are ready to enter the complex and challenging workforce landscape. As Thomas L. Friedman writes, “In such an age, the greatest survival skill you can have is the ability to learn how to learn.” That is what your broad liberal education at UVM has taught you.
There is a growing momentum in the young leaders of today - your generation is increasingly being called the “First Global Generation” instead of the “Millennials.” Your generation is truly multicultural. You study, socialize, and work with people from diverse backgrounds. You are also more likely to study, work, and live abroad. More than 283,000 American students studied abroad in 2011-12 according to a report released last month by the International Institute of Education. This is 3 times the number it was 2 decades ago. At UVM a significant portion of our students study abroad: 25% in the Class of 2013. Former Governor of Vermont Howard Dean, who spoke about the First Globals on campus last month, asserted that your generation is motivated to make significant change in the world. And you are more likely to ignite and implement change.First Globals are known for having a strong commitment to social and economic justice because social networks connect you to others across socio-economic, national, religious, and ethnic groups. You have increased ability to make your voices heard through technology and social media. While previous studies suggested that your generation is narcissistic, erratic in professional life, and selfish, new data shows that the opposite is true. A recent New York Times article cited a number of new studies that support the view that your generation believes success is having a meaningful career. Data from the National Society of High School Scholars shows that your generation seeks meaning in the form of giving back and helping others. Franklin Gilliam, Dean of UCLA's Luskin School of Public Affairs, asserts, "[You] understand this idea of a shared fate, or a linked fate. That somehow, what happens to somebody in Mumbai may have an effect on [you] in West Los Angeles," or I would add, Burlington, Vermont. Most
importantly, your generation is noted for a strong belief that individuals have the power to affect significant change.
The Chronicle of Higher Education found supporting data for these characteristics when they polled college students in the US in 2009, the year most of you were in your first or second year: 65% of college students responded that they expected to socialize with someone of another racial or ethnic group in college; 84% performed volunteer work; 82% were registered to vote; 72% believed that, realistically, an individual can affect changes in our society.
You already have changed this campus – UVM is shaped in many ways by student initiatives. Just two examples of many come to mind to find: our Bike Users Group provides free bikes to ride and free bike repair for students and our Eco-Reps educate people in their Residence Halls and across campus about sustainability and campaigns for major changes on campus that positively impact the environment.
Your altruism, your inclusiveness, and your contributions have implemented change in the community with student clubs such as Adaptive Sports Partners with a local organization to help people with disabilities experience outdoor sports. Additionally, Alternative Spring and Winter Break brings students across the country to help those in need, for example, contributing to the on-going Katrina clean up in New Orleans.
The strong community spirit and volunteerism of UVM students, with other local colleges, grabbed the attention of the Atlantic Monthly this fall. An October article that called UVM a leading Public Ivy notes “a remarkable symbiosis that enriches the City of Burlington and its colleges and infuses both with a strong sense of community.”
I would like to conclude with a quotation from John F. Kennedy, who was assassinated 50 years ago, as you know, and whose words are still relevant today: “Never before has man had such capacity to control his own environment, to end thirst and hunger, to conquer poverty and disease, to banish illiteracy and massive human misery. We have the power to make this the best generation of mankind in the history of the world – or to make it the last.” As emerging leaders, you have great responsibilities, and I hope you build your ambition and sights on making a difference in your communities and beyond.
You already have shown how well you have learned to learn, how well you work with diverse people, and how effectively you can change your world for the better. I look forward to the ways that, you, the First Globals of UVM, will shape business, politics, education, technology, our state, our nation, and the world.
With your fine UVM education, which we celebrate today, and all of your talents, now the question and the challenge for you are: how will you make a positive difference? To be successful in fostering a positive difference, I hope you will ignite your ambition and choose optimism as your North Star. Winston Churchill said it well, “A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees opportunity in every difficulty.”
Congratulations and all the very best!
Last modified January 15 2014 02:36 PM