Gov. Christie: Keep hearts, minds open to opportunities
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie: "To be free is to know that at any time in life, you can choose any direction and any new goal."

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11:27 a.m., Jan. 10, 2011----New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, himself a University of Delaware alumnus, told the University's newest graduates to keep their hearts and minds attuned to the many opportunities that life may present them with after leaving UD.

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Christie made his remarks as he congratulated the audience of more than 4,000 guests, including the graduates, their families and friends, as well as UD faculty, administrators and members of the Board of Trustees, during Winter Commencement held Sunday, Jan. 9, in the Bob Carpenter Center.

University President Patrick Harker welcomed the newest Blue Hen alumni and their guests, encouraging the graduates to apply the concept of product branding to the personal and professional lives they will build upon receiving their University degrees.

“You've heard of product branding, creating an identity for a product, and by extension, an identity for the people who use it. Even institutions brand themselves -- the University of Delaware did,” Harker said. “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?”

Harker suggested it is essential that a personal branding concept include finding and framing a mission, creating networks to achieve goals and building portfolios that reflect an individual's full capacity and effort.

“Do you want to achieve on a scale that redefines what we believe, and what we believe is possible?” Harker asked. “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?”

Other mission opportunities, Harker noted, might include following a passion to enrich the lives of others, ease pain, share joy and prove the incomparable power of human compassion.

Regardless of one's chosen mission, Harker said it is important that it be one of which the individual can be deeply and honestly proud.

“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,” Harker said. “You're headed for wonderful things, so I'll step out of the way now and let you get to them.”

Gov. Chris Christie

Christie, who earlier in the ceremony was presented with an honorary doctor of laws degree by UD Board of Trustees Chairman A. Gilchrist Sparks, III, noted that while some career and life paths seem to be marked by an identifiable beginning, middle and end, many of the most rewarding life experiences are found in the least likely places or circumstances.

“To get here, you have had to adhere to a certain set of rules, and now, you get to make your own rules, and I suspect you feel that way right now,” Christie said. “But, feeling like you are free and really being free are two different things.”

While the education represented by a UD degree opens doors that might not be opened otherwise, the key to a lifelong learning experience is to also remain open to paths that lie outside one's chosen academic discipline or training, the governor said.

“Your education may be a part of everything you do, but then again, it may not. Graduating from UD is a significant accomplishment, but it is one accomplishment, in one direction,” Christie said. “To be free is to know that at any time in life, you can choose any direction and any new goal.

Christie illustrated the idea of changing a life's direction by noting the accomplishments of guitarist and teacher John Knowles, who worked with guitar legends Chet Atkins, Jerry Reed, Lenny Breau and the Romero Family.

“On the spur of the moment [Knowles] quit his job as a senior engineer at a major national engineering firm and decided to do something else,” Christie said. “He had figured out that he loved something else more than he loved physics. He enjoyed playing and teaching the guitar -- that was his passion.”

Knowles' recipe for making this change, Christie said, was the realization that no matter how many years he had spent studying physics at the college level, this did not mean he could not be open to opportunities not defined by his original educational choices and initial career.

“Dr. Knowles is over 70 years old now, and most people who know him don't know that he has a Ph.D. in physics,” Christie said. “He doesn't talk about it. It is no longer his passion. That was one choice, but then he chose another. This is freedom, to look beyond the path you are on and recognize something better for your soul.”

Christie said that many such opportunities and challenges arrive unannounced and unplanned, and that it takes courage to see these challenges and be willing to walk through these new and mysterious doors.

“No one is going to pull you along, not really, not in your adult life,” Christie said. “When you make big changes, you are going to be the one who makes the call, just you. And when you have a comfortable life and a routine, it is going to take a lot of courage to listen to your heart.”

Brian Ezell, a voice major and member of the Class of 2010, opened the ceremony with the singing of the national anthem and closed the event by performing the UD alma mater.

A reception was held on the concourse after the event.

From the graduates

Kelli Ann Godfrey, a marketing major with a minor in international business from Swan Point, Md., said that “graduating is a bittersweet experience because it's exciting to go out into the real world, but I will miss all the friends I have made, especially on the dance team. I will take them with me forever.”

Jaclene D'Ambra, a fashion merchandising major from Yardley, Pa., said, “It's a surreal experience. You work really hard to get here and it's very exciting. I really appreciate all the people who have such pride in the University. It's really good to be part of that.”

Rebecca Moore, an art conservation major from Mantua, N.J., said, “I also like all the pride people take in this school. It has taken me a long time to get where I am today, and it's kind of infectious to be part of this.”

Mikala Jamison, an English major from Hockessin, Del., said graduating from UD reminded her of graduating from high school, except that it is much larger in scale and a much different experience. “I really liked working for the Review. I'm from Delaware and I wanted to go here. I love the school pride.”

Ludmila Rotchford, a mother of four and a grandmother from Camden, Del., received a master's degree in nursing. She said that because both her father, Julio, and her mother, Celina, died during her time at UD, graduation was going to be a very emotional experience. “Before my mom died, she told me to finish school. I fulfilled my promise, I'm here.” Rotchford's plans include earning a doctorate in nursing.

Article by Jerry Rhodes
Photos by Evan Krape and Ambre Alexander

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