Office of the President
Dr. Patrick T. Harker is the 26th president of the University of Delaware. He also serves as professor of business administration in the Alfred Lerner College of Business and Economics and professor of civil and environmental engineering in the College of Engineering.
Doctoral Hooding Ceremony
January 12, 2014
Good morning, everyone. To our guests, welcome. To our graduates, well done!
This is an amazing day, one I’m sure you’ve envisioned time and time again. Maybe you’ve even practiced your name with “doctor” in front of it. Well, let me be first to use the word in public: Congratulations … doctors! I hope that sounds as good here as it did in front of the bathroom mirror.
I know a lot of people have been giving you advice lately, but as president of this University, it’s my prerogative to add my own. I’ll keep it short—just three suggestions as you begin this next phase of your career: Be open. Be useful. Be grateful.
It was 30 years ago that I received my own doctoral hood. As a new Ph.D., I saw my future as that of an academic—teaching, research, writing. Leading a University? Never.
But throughout my career, whenever I discovered a new interest or a new challenge, I pursued it—without apology, without reservation. And I wound up in a job that’s been as rewarding as it was unexpected.
So my first piece of advice: Be open to new opportunities. You don’t have to pick Door #1 again just because you picked it when you were 18 or 22. I understand the urge to keep the course. You’ve dedicated so many years to one field, one problem, one line of inquiry. To stray from that path might seem insane.
I promise you it’s not. Because what you’ve got is curiosity. And curiosity translates. It’s what started you on this path: You began by asking a question—Why? Where? How? As you got deeper into your work, you saw that others before you had asked similar questions. So you kept asking, until the experts ran out of answers. The new answers are all yours.
I know you’ll apply that same curiosity to whatever you pursue. And I know that whatever you pursue will be richer for it.
As you worked toward this day, you honed some useful skills: how to approach problems from different angles; how to synthesize information; how to document and defend your findings; how to think impartially when it’s tempting to take a stance.
So my second bit of advice is to be useful. Apply not just the content of your work—but the skills you acquired through it—to change the character of our conversations on the things that matter. Every day, we’re hit with more information than we can process. And then we’re baited into binary arguments with no room for nuance.
You know better. You know that every advancement brings a new challenge—every opportunity, new risks.
So I think what we need above more facts is deeper insight. You’re built for this: Doctoral study is the enemy of simplistic reasoning and hollow logic. You and your colleagues can lead a revolution of thoughtful dialogue, marshal evidence in the service of considered debate and make these sorts of scholarly tests the crucible where real change happens.
And that brings me to my final piece of advice: Be grateful. Be grateful for this incredible academic tradition—this lineage—you’re a part of: the scholars who came before you, whose work was the foundation, or the scaffolding, on which you built; the scholars who’ll come after you—your students among them—who will rely on your vision and honesty to go even further.
At our best, we are a community greedy enough to crave the spark of discovery ourselves, but selfless enough to hope that spark grows into a fire for those who come next. So I hope you’ll take a moment to thank the scholars who surround you right now—the ones who fanned the flames. I hope you’re humbled to be counted among these giants: the faculty, advisors, mentors and colleagues who’ve helped you reach this milestone. They deserve a round of applause.
We also know that today may never have come without the support of your family and friends. They gave you the confidence you needed to pursue this degree. They encouraged you when your enthusiasm waned. Maybe they read the 87th draft of your dissertation, and reassured you that, yes, of course—you’re absolutely brilliant. However they helped you, they deserve a round of applause, too.
I’ll close with what I ask of every class of new doctors.
I ask you to continue to be guided by the responsibilities your degree confers: to pursue truth and prioritize compassion; to seek wisdom in your research, discernment in your data; to improve the lives of others and the world in which they live; to expand the boundaries of human understanding; and to contribute doggedly to a body of knowledge that will help perfect us as a people.
Thank you and congratulations!