This Commencement Speech was delivered at the University of Maine at Farmington Graduation Ceremony on May 14th, 2011 by the Senior Speaker, myself.
Welcome family, friends, faculty, staff, honored guests, and the class of 2011! First and foremost I think congratulations are in order — congratulations to all the students, and all their parents, sitting here today. Congratulations on the success you have achieved here at UMF.
What I like about success here at UMF, and about college in general, is the myriad ways that success can be defined. Here, success isn’t how much money you make, or how big your house is, or how expensive the car you drive is. Success is measured not only by grades, but also in your contributions to the community; success is measured in the lifelong friends you make while you are here; success is measured by the knowledge and wisdom you obtain at UMF.
Yet for all the success we have achieved, we still have our critics.
There are some who claim that we are not prepared to meet the challenges that our nation faces, and that we are not prepared to make the sacrifices necessary to overcome those challenges. They say we are selfish, apathetic, shallow, cynical, and self-centered. They say things like we care more about Facebook than we do about our community, and about the well-being of the nation.
Such criticisms come from those who do not recognize our accomplishments. Our critics are not willing to acknowledge our successes. And I don’t know about you, but when I hear these criticisms, I have to…respectfully disagree. I am skeptical of those who criticize us, and here is why. They call us irresponsible, yet they helped lead us into the worst economic depression in 80 years. They call us uncaring, yet they tell us that love is only genuine when it is between a man and a woman. They call us unprincipled, yet they tell us that war is the best way for us to spread our democratic values. They say we have no respect for our elders, yet they are the ones who tell us that the problem with our education system is bad teachers.
I know that the only reason we are here today is because of the outstanding teachers who have guided us through college, and throughout our lives. I know that we take value in living in a democratic society. I know that we understand what it means to live in a country that is open and accepting of others. And I know we are prepared to make the sacrifices necessary to make this nation prosperous once again.
Our critics do not see all our potential, or our success. And as I said before, success is defined in myriad ways. Take some of the students in the audience for example. Students like Nancy Varin. Nancy was awarded the prestigious Maine Public Policy Scholarship at the end of her freshman year, she is graduating summa cum laude, and her work in the State Senate with President Libby Mitchell is only one of many examples of Nancy’s contributions to her community.
But what really separates Nancy from the crowd, and what really impresses me, is her dedication to the State of Maine and her dedication to making it a better place for all of us to live, particularly those in rural Maine. Having grown up on a blueberry farm north of Bangor, Nancy moved to Farmington not only because it was small and rural, but because of its proximity to Augusta. Nancy has spent her entire time here at UMF in tireless pursuit of changing public policy in Maine to better serve its citizens. Not surprisingly, Nancy is staying in Maine to pursue her graduate degree, and wishes only to have a career where she can serve her fellow citizens of the State of Maine.
Another graduating senior among us whose dedication I find highly admirable is Benjamin Engel. Ben has received two Wilson scholarships since his time here, he is graduating summa cum laude, and has worked with the Sustainable Campus Coalition for the entire 4 years he has been at UMF. Ben’s dedication to environmental issues is unparalleled. For example, his Honor’s Thesis on high elevation ponds had Ben hiking to the top of nearby mountains in subzero temperatures.
When I asked Ben where his unwavering dedication to environmental issues came from, the only answer he could give was that it would not be right if someone who recognized all these environmental issues, as he does, was not doing everything in his or her power to address them. Ben is attending graduate school for work in Forest Ecology, so he can keep places like the forests of western Maine pristine and sustainable for all of us to enjoy.
These students, like all of us, stand here today proclaiming to the world that we can and do achieve! We are here today because of all the people who believed in us. And today we celebrate our triumph over all those who, throughout our lives, said we couldn’t do it, and all those who do not believe in our potential to make a difference in this world. Today we stand here to show that we will answer the call to action; that we will use all we have achieved here to shape not only our destinies, but also the fate of the whole nation.
So here is my challenge to you: I challenge you to show our critics that they are mistaken. I challenge you to do something every day that betters the lives of others. I challenge you to make sure the history books say that it was we who made this nation a better place to live, and it was we who led the world into a new age of prosperity, freedom, and peace.
Some may call me idealistic, but I fail to see why that is a bad thing. I say never let the pessimism of others prevent you from the success you know you can achieve. So once you have left UMF, be the best teacher, best psychologist, best business person, best professional, best spouse and the best parent you could ever hope to be, and in doing so you will bring us, as a graduating class, and as a generation, one step closer to showing everyone that we can, and we will, be successful in making this world a better place for all humanity.
Thank you very much! Congratulations Class of 2011. Go forth and celebrate all that you have achieved. Thank you again.