U.S. Sen. Tom Carper told those attending the Lerner College Graduate Convocation, "In adversity lies opportunity."

Capping off a dream

Sen. Tom Carper speaks at Lerner College Graduate Convocation

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2:03 p.m., June 4, 2014--“In adversity lies opportunity,” U.S. Sen. Tom Carper told students during the University of Delaware Alfred Lerner College of Business and Economics Graduate Convocation, advice that rings particularly true for students entering the world of business in the midst of a dynamic and competitive economy.

Carper, who earned his own master of business administration degree from UD in 1975, knows about persevering through challenge; at the time of his own graduate convocation he was across the globe serving as an aircraft mission commander in the United States Navy. 

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“I was not here, I missed my own graduation,” Carper said. “I was called back to active duty in the Navy. I had a P3 aircraft somewhere in the east Atlantic or Mediterranean, doing my job of tracking Soviet nuclear submarines. I missed what happened at the ceremony entirely. So, in a sense, this is my ceremony. And I just want to say, thank you all for joining me.”

A friendly and personable speaker, Carper drew laughter throughout his speech with jokes and personal anecdotes. He discussed some of the most difficult moments in his career, and the opportunities that those challenges presented. 

When Carper ran for treasurer of Delaware in 1977, for example, he did so in a particularly adverse financial environment. 

“Delaware had the worst credit rating in the country, tied for dead last with Puerto Rico,” said Carper. “We were the best in the country at overestimating revenue and underestimating spending,” he continued, to additional laughter from the audience. 

“Nobody wanted to run, and I did,” said Carper. In the end, his willingness to take on challenging work proved to be immensely valuable to his career. Carper is now one of only two Americans to have served as a U.S. senator, U.S. representative and governor during his career.

Graduates find opportunities

Fortunately, there is powerful evidence that UD graduates are also finding opportunities in spite of an adverse job market. 

As students were awarded honors in accounting, business administration, economics, finance and hotel, restaurant and institutional management (HRIM), some honorees not in attendance had already left campus to focus on their professional careers in full.

“Some of our students finished at the end of the fall semester and are already gainfully employed,” explained James L Butkiewicz, professor and chair of the Department of Economics. 

Other students, like graduate Jamie Hedrick, can look forward to internships in the coming months. Hedrick will soon begin a full-time internship with the Christiana Care Health System.

International graduates

To attend convocation and share in this celebratory moment with the students, many families had to overcome the rigors of international travel. 

Carper recognized the international makeup of the audience with the English greeting “good afternoon,” as well as the Chinese greeting, “ni hao.” The audience responded with the greeting and applause. 

Carper also mentioned students from such countries as Jamaica and Turkey, inspiring individuals in the audience to cheer out loud.

Vida Appiah-Twumasi took an 11-hour flight from her home in Ghana for the graduation of her sister, Caroline Agbemabiese. 

Agbemabiese was one of two students to receive the Hospitality Business Management Graduate Student Leadership Award for Professionalism in Leadership, earned by students who demonstrate “outstanding leadership and demonstrated professionalism toward success in the hospitality industry.” 

As Agbemabiese walked across the stage to accept her award, Appiah-Twumasi called out to her sister from the crowd in Twi, one of Ghana’s primary languages.

“Ayekoo!” said Appiah-Twumasi, her voice ringing out in the quiet of Mitchell Hall. Appiah-Twumasi later explained that this means “well done” in Twi. 

In response to her sister’s congratulations, Agbemabiese turned and gave a radiant smile to her family and the audience. Then she called “yaayei!” back in response, which means “thank you.” The audience broke into applause at this moving moment between sisters. 

Also in attendance were Agbemabiese’s children, and her husband Lawrence, who is an associate professor at UD. They, along with other graduates and their families, celebrated after the ceremony at a reception in the Puglisi Theatre in the Roselle Center for the Arts.

“I am extremely proud,” Appiah-Twumasi said of her sister at the reception. Warm laughter and conversation came from behind her, where Agbemabiese and her family had gathered at a round table. “She made the whole family proud.” 

Another graduate, Sandra Diaz, said that her mother took a seven-hour flight from Colombia to attend her graduation. Diaz is the first and only recipient thus far of UD’s recently created master of science in international business. 

Smiling with her mother in the bright sunlight outside Mitchell Hall, Diaz discussed her plans for the future, as well as what she took from Carper’s speech.

“The four points were so interesting,” Diaz said, referring to four points that Carper outlined for graduates near the end of his speech, which included remembering the “Golden Rule,” striving for excellence in all areas of life, refusing to quit in the face of difficulty, and taking an ethical approach to business decision making.

“What is the right thing, not the easy thing, not what is the expedient thing, but what is the right thing to do?” said Carper. “Put those four together: figure out the right thing to do and just do it, treat other people the way you want to be treated, focus on excellence in everything – if it isn’t perfect, make it better – and just don’t give up.”

Carper told the graduating class that the best leaders he has known ask themselves those points when making decisions. He said that doing just that will help students to “do good and do well at the same time,” doing work that benefits both themselves and the greater community as a whole.

Article by Sunny Rosen

Photos by Lane McLaughlin

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