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 & Convocation
Roselle Center for the Arts
January 8, 2012

Read the UDaily story

Good morning, and a very happy New Year to all of you! I imagine that, for the doctoral degree recipients we’re honoring today, this is the happiest year in a while—the payoff for a lot of hard work; long hours; fantastic breakthroughs followed by sobering setbacks, some of them the very same day. I’d like to assure you that this is where the roller coaster ends, but given the exciting academic and professional careers that still lay ahead for you, I wouldn’t be able to say it with a straight face.

My own PhD journey was some time ago, but I remember the consuming research, the stress, the fatigue. But I also remember the lifelong friendships forged in the crucible of doctoral study. I remember the joy of discovery—how intense and how startling it could be. And I remember the pride of accomplishment, of achieving what so few people achieve, of feeling NOT smug, but deeply, deeply satisfied. I hope you’re feeling all these things and more. You deserve to.

In just a few minutes, Mary Martin, Assistant Provost for Graduate and Professional Education, will tell you about the robes and the hoods you’re wearing today—the meaning with which we’ve invested them, and why. I want to talk about meaning, too. Not the meaning of academic regalia, but of academic obligation.

I know you’ve been busy over the last several years, and maybe you haven’t had time to pour over UD’s strategic plan. I’ll forgive you. But if you have read our plan, the Path to Prominence, you know that we put a premium on exceptional graduate education. And that’s because we believe the University of Delaware has an obligation to contribute to the advancement of knowledge, and to marshal that knowledge for the benefit of humanity. We believe we have an obligation to develop intellectual leaders and provide the intellectual leadership required to address the challenges of today and tomorrow.

It’s not much of a mental exercise to imagine the corollaries—the consequential actions to which we obligate you. We believe you have the obligation not only to create knowledge, but to use it—to apply your expertise to the predicaments of human existence; to illuminate the ideas we’ve constructed and the world we’ve made with them; to dismantle the boundaries that constrict human understanding and potential. We believe you’re obliged to be thought leaders, and to be generous with your leadership, to drive national and global conversations on the most pressing problems we face as a connected community.

We invest you with these important obligations for a very simple reason: You’re our best bet. As much as I believe in the democratic principle that anyone can change the world—and I do—I also acknowledge that you’re better equipped than most people to make a real and lasting difference in our quality of life and our quality of thought.

You have the backing of your scholarship and the weight of your research. You have the support of your colleagues, the legitimacy of the academic community, the influence of your professional standing and the resources that come with it. You have your intellect, your passion, and your perseverance—all prerequisites for this doctoral degree. And so your work is very likely to have a material effect—on people’s health and happiness, on cultural understanding and community cohesion, on world peace and security, on global sustainability.

Of course, you’re not in this alone. Your work will be shaped by some, and joined by others. It will be replicated and expanded and enhanced. And then what you have is a huge community—people of intellect and influence and resources—fulfilling their obligation to change the world. And that’s incredibly powerful.

A Community of Support
As we celebrate the end of one leg of your journey and the beginning of another, I ask that we recognize another community, the full community of support that has a piece of your accomplishment.

Your teachers, mentors, advisors, and colleagues are in no small way responsible for this degree.
It was their expertise, encouragement, and advice that helped set your path, and make some course corrections along the way. This degree is a little bit theirs, and I know you’re in their debt. Don’t worry: They know it, too. Could we acknowledge the faculty and colleagues who played such a big part in this achievement?

Your friends and family have been in this with you from the beginning. Your anxiety wasn’t yours alone. Your sleepless nights were theirs, too. They may not have known what they were getting into the day you began down this path. And so I think your families and friends deserve our recognition for staying strong, and making it out the other end—still side-by-side with you. Could we give them a round of applause?

In case I haven’t tasked you with enough already, I’ll close with what I ask of every class of doctoral candidates. I ask you to live your education every day—and to continue to be guided by the responsibilities your degree confers: to seek wisdom in your research, discernment in your data; to pursue truth and prioritize compassion; to improve the lives of others and the world in which they live; to contribute doggedly to a body of knowledge that will help perfect us as a people.

Thank you and congratulations!

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