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.
Spring Commencement 2010
May 29, 2010
Good morning, Class of 2010! It’s a great day to graduate, isn’t it?
This Commencement is probably as much of a celebration for me as it is for you. After all, our years at UD are pretty closely entwined. When I arrived, most of you were rising sophomores. So I guess I just finished up my junior year. I kind of felt like a junior this year.
By junior year, you’ve taken most of your prerequisites, the core curriculum is all but done, and you’re really getting into your major—the tough courses, the ones you’d better master if you want to succeed in your field.
That’s how I feel right now. Like we’re on the cusp of something great, and we’re getting ready to do big things. The difficult, really rewarding stuff.
When I came to UD, I was definitely a freshman. Everyone is when they start something new. I was feeling my way around, trying to figure out exactly what the University of Delaware is. What we cherish. What we stand for. What we’ll stake our reputation on and proclaim to the world.
But I didn’t figure any of that out. All of us did—all of us right here in this stadium. You told me what the University of Delaware is.
It’s a Talent Magnet, where talent attracts talent, and quality just keeps spiraling. We’ve got some of the best students in the country—in the world—right here on campus. We’ve got some of the most influential faculty in all of academia. And talent wants to go where talent already is. Apparently, that’s Newark, Delaware.
The University of Delaware is Idea Leadership. We’re inventers and innovators and problem-solvers. We’re into cutting-edge scholarship—education that shapes and challenges prevailing thought, research that makes us reconsider what’s possible.
The University of Delaware is Smart Money. UD has one of the country’s best returns on tuition. I think I just saw all the parents snap to attention. Your kids will make money off this degree. Whether they give any of it back to you, well … that I can’t say.
The University of Delaware is Discovery Learning. Life doesn’t happen in a classroom, though I certainly hope some learning did. But we know that learning is authentic when it’s applied—when you’re in the lab, in the field, on the farms, in the neighborhoods, and the villages where you’re putting your learning into practice.
UD is a Citizen University. Because none of this matters—not any of it—if we’re not spending our intellectual capital—our leadership, energy, ideas, expertise, passion, and earnestness—on making a significant difference in this world and solving the biggest problems that plague us.
The University of Delaware is all of these things, because you are all of these things. A university isn’t its campus or programs or degrees. A university is its people. UD is a living University—breathing and beating through you. It’s all of you who live these principles. If you didn’t, they wouldn’t mean a thing.
Rita Chang is Idea Leadership. Rita couldn’t find a major that fit her plans—so, as a Dean’s Scholar, she created her own: Social Responsibility in the Textile and Apparel Industry. She went to Taiwan last year, working with Nike on sustainability issues and better labor practices for migrant workers. She’ll continue her work in corporate social responsibility, focusing on ethical purchasing practices.
Jesse Marsh is Smart Money. Through four years at UD, Jesse worked 40 hours a week as an EMT. And he still managed to graduate on time with a degree in leadership. Professor Audrey Helfman saw his leadership skills in action last year when Jesse, himself, responded to an emergency call from her classroom. Jesse says full-time job or not, he knew he’d need a degree in this economy, and he wasn’t afraid to work hard to get it.
Tara Rhoades is Talent Magnet. She’s graduating with two impressive degrees: an Honors Degree in biochemistry and an Honors Degree with Distinction in philosophy. She’ll go to Yale for her law degree and to Rutgers for her PhD in philosophy. The two top schools wanted this Rhodes finalist badly enough to agree to this unique combined program.
Zach Schoepflin is talent, too. Zach’s a mechanical engineering major who’s off to medical school for a combined MD/PhD in biomedical engineering. In four years at UD, he completed his major, all his pre-med requirements, and two minors—one in history and one in biomedical engineering.
Rachael Vaicunas is Discovery Learning. Studying bioresources engineering, Rachael is traveling to India this summer to finish research she started with Professor Shreeram Inamdar. There, she’ll learn about sustainable agriculture and watershed management in semi-arid developing nations.
Elisa Lala made some discoveries of her own. An intern at the Philadelphia Inquirer, the English major contributed to several stories. But one was pretty special. After a woman gave birth to a baby girl in the parking lot of Temple University Hospital, Spanish-speaking Elisa was the only reporter to get an interview with the Latino parents.
Gina Siddiqui is Citizen University. Getting her degree in economics and completing a pre-med curriculum, Gina worked at Penn this semester, developing a community-based diabetes intervention. Now she’s off to get a combined MBA/MD so she can focus on community-based holistic health delivery.
Lindsey McCormack is a citizen, too. After suffering a paralyzing spinal cord injury in high school, Lindsey started walking again—soon after she was told she never would again. She arrived at UD just months out of her wheelchair. Now the nursing graduate will provide others the kind of care that got her to where she is right now.
This is living the mission. Add your stories to theirs, and we’ll have 4,000 more people “living” the University of Delaware all around the globe. And we need that more than ever.
Because we’re at an inflection point. (All the math majors in the crowd should like this analogy.) In differential calculus, an inflection point is a point on a curve at which the curvature changes signs. It goes from being concave upward to concave downward, or the other way around.
For all the non-math majors, Wikipedia offers this: Imagine you’re driving your car along a winding road, and you’re turning your steering wheel from right to left and left to right … well, inflection is the point at which the wheel is momentarily “straight” mid-curve. You could go either way.
You’re at an inflection point right now. You’ve got your degree in hand—theoretically, anyway—and you could go either way. You’ll have to turn the wheel soon and you should probably know which way that’ll be.
The world is at an inflection point, too. Since you arrived at UD four years ago, we’ve seen the markets nosedive and the world’s most profitable financial institutions go bust. We’ve seen foreclosures skyrocket and jobs dry up.
The upheaval is more than economic, though. We’ve got political leadership that’s deeply divided. We’re dealing with ecological catastrophes decades in the making. We face ideological tensions and threats to peace daily.
Maybe none of this is new, but seeing it in real-time is. Seeing it up and close personal, in high-def, on 54-inch screens is. Getting every global crisis streamed to our hand-helds is. And, the thing is, it’s your hands on this steering wheel now. You’re driving.
And—while I’d never dish out this advice if this car I keep invoking were anything other than a strangled metaphor—I hope you’ll take some chances on this road of yours.
There’s a reason why entrepreneurship spikes during recessions. People with less to lose are more willing to risk. Most of you are young and free. So decide you’ve got nothing to lose. What would you dare to do then?
When I was at Penn in 2004, Bono delivered the school’s commencement address, and he had some interesting things to say. He also had the best opening line of a Commencement speech ever. “I’m Bono. And I’m a rock star.” I didn’t think I could pull that one off.
But he also said there’s a lot of conventional wisdom out there that’s worth betraying. So I guess what I’m doing is daring you to betray it. I’m daring you to blaze your own trail, to rethink and reinvent, to risk and to conquer. I dare you.
You all know A Christmas Story, right? In the spirit of A Christmas Story, I’ll issue what Ralphie called the coup de grace of dares: I triple-dog dare you.
You’re at an inflection point. Turn the wheel and see where you go.