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.

Winter Commencement 2010
Bob Carpenter Sports and Convocation Center
January 9, 2011

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I can’t imagine a better way to begin 2011 than by congratulating the Class of 2010.

Today, we honor, as well, all the families and friends whose encouragement, love, and support have gotten you to this milestone day. I think they deserve a round of applause.


One of the many privileges of being president of this University is that, twice a year, I get to offer a few words of advice to our newest graduates. And, twice a year, those graduates pretend to listen because they’d like to receive their diplomas.

So my advice to you today is about building your personal brand.

You’ve heard of product branding—creating an identity for a product and, by extension, an identity for the people who use it. If Apple is all about sleek design and innovation, Apple users must be design-savvy and innovative. I see all the Apple users nodding their heads.

Even institutions brand themselves. The University of Delaware did. We talked to everyone who matters to us—students, prospective students, parents, faculty, staff, alumni. We asked them what UD stands for; what our unique qualities are; where our value lies. We distilled those conversations into the essential attributes you’ve seen all around campus: We’re a Talent Magnet and a Citizen University. We stand for Idea Leadership, Discovery Learning—and so on.

But what about a personal brand? How do you build a personal brand that conveys your defining qualities and those essential things you stand for?

Actually, you know very well how to do it. You began building your personal brand the moment you created your Facebook page. And I know you’re on Facebook, because—according to the latest numbers—every single person in the U.S. between 18 and 25 is on Facebook.

Everything about your online presence builds the brand you want people to buy—your photos, your posts, your status updates, your friends, your friends’ friends … even the people you’ve un-friended. Facebook tells me whether you’re fun, or smart, or thoughtful, or popular.

It’s all for public consumption in service of your ultimate product—yourselves. But how do you build this brand in service of something more ... more authentic, more constructive, more meaningful?

You apply the “business” of branding to life.

You find and frame your mission. What is it you want your life to be about? Say it. Write it down.

Do you want to achieve on a scale that redefines what we believe—and what we believe is possible? 2010 Nobel Prize Winner Richard Heck, a UD professor for decades, absolutely remade the field of organic chemistry. And he taught and worked in the same buildings where many of you took classes. Your mission can be this brand of truly extraordinary achievement. Why not?

Your mission could be to enrich the lives of others—to ease pain, to share joy, to prove the incomparable power of human compassion. Senior nursing major Sarah LaFave started an organization called Lori’s Hands in honor of her mother, who died of breast cancer. Sarah and about two-dozen other students do household chores for the ill and the elderly in Newark—whatever needs doing: shopping, laundry, dog-walking, mowing the grass.

Sarah wants to take the program to campuses across the country—to create a nationwide community of students providing comfort, kindness, and care. That’s a pretty powerful mission.

So once you’ve found your mission, create the network you need to achieve it.

Surround yourselves with like-minded people whose efforts and interests complement yours. Create a community of mentors, colleagues, and friends who can help you achieve your aims—who can guide you or support you, provide motivation or perspective.

The mission may be yours, but fulfilling it will take a team. That’s okay. We’re all bit players in other people’s missions. That’s what makes us a community.

Next, build your portfolio. Accumulate the milestones, achievements, and successes that, in total, create a body of work that reflects your full capability and your full effort.

“Audacious” isn’t everyone’s style, and I’m not suggesting that your life’s résumé needs to document ever-greater feats of intellect, ambition, or altruism. But it should be one that you’re deeply and honestly proud of.

And, finally, assess and celebrate your successes. Today is a success—a big one. And yet I know it will soon pale alongside the ones that are coming to you. For four years, you’ve been building personal brands that have value. You’ve been building brands that matter. I’ve seen the work you’ve already put into them, and I’m blown away.

You’re headed for wonderful things. So I’ll step out of the way now and let you get to them.

Thank you and congratulations!

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