The president, and a parent
Remarks from the Spring 2023 commencement ceremonies
The following are my remarks from the Spring 2023 undergraduate commencement ceremonies. While each ceremony is personalized, with impromptu thoughts added during the event, the following blog post reflects my message for our newest alumni.
Graduates, we are here today to celebrate your great achievements... and we’ll get to you soon, I promise. But first I want to talk with the parents, families and supporters who are here to cheer you on today.
As I prepared my thoughts for today, I have to admit, I view the class of 2023 through a different lens than I have previous graduating classes. Because today, if I was not up here on stage, I would be out there in the audience, sitting with your parents and family members.
After all, I am not just the president of CMU this year; I am also the proud parent of a graduating CMU student.
As a parent, I have learned more in the past four years than in my more than 30 years in higher education. I have had a front-row seat to all of the joys and pains, the ups and downs, the trials and the successes our students and their families experience.
Like you, I watched and listened as our children made the decision to attend CMU, and of course, her mom and I were joyous with her decision.
And shortly after they were admitted, like you, we participated in the agonizing choice of residential communities.
I remember specifically when my daughter told me, very firmly and with great pride, that she was going to live in Barnes Hall! I had to tell her that earlier that very day, the Board of Trustees approved demolishing Barnes Hall. To her credit, she didn’t miss a beat and asked for me to reverse that decision.
We experienced the hectic excitement of move-in weekend and its many requisite shopping trips for room essentials.
We saw the joy of moving away from home in their eyes, as well as the sense of anxiety they felt when they suddenly realized, they were moving out and into the unknown.
We celebrated great grades on papers and took late-night, excited phone calls about internships.
We experienced the joy of living vicariously through the stories of good friends and good times and amazing opportunities.
And, like all of you, I experienced the worry that arrived with the global pandemic.
We worried as our students were forced to change how they learned and lived.
We worried as they faced the disappointment of closures and cancelations.
We worried as we saw them struggle with the isolation of social distancing.
As we navigated the turmoil of the pandemic, it could feel like there was no light at the end of the tunnel of worrying.
The plans we all had with our students entering college four years ago did not play out as planned.
We were all terribly worried that this challenge would derail our children’s education and growth and future…
But they amazed us!
Graduates, YOU amazed us.
Class of 2023, WE ARE SO PROUD OF YOU.
You did the unimaginable.
YOU showed us how STRONG you are… how CAPABLE you are… how RESILIENT you are.
Think about what you were able to accomplish in a changing world that often seemed full of fear and uncertainty.
We asked you to learn in ways that were unprecedented, and you rose to the challenge, not knowing if you would succeed or fail.
Robert F. Kennedy said, “Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly.”
You dared to face fear and uncertainty and, YES, even failure, and just look at what you have achieved!
Just look at where you are sitting today.
The past four years required you to think quickly AND critically.
You had to be flexible while remaining true to your dreams and goals.
You faced disappointments and celebrated triumphs.
You CHOSE to set the leadership standard again and again, all while exuding enormous compassion and care for your classmates, friends, and others.
You even found a way to include me in some socially distanced fun when the pandemic forced us apart.
I remember being invited by a group of students to play Dungeons and Dragons online . They turned the blueprint of Park Library into our game board and allowed Boda the Elf… my character… to partake in the adventure.
Student gamers, if you are in the audience today, know that Boda thanks you. You used your creativity to make connections and have fun, when we couldn’t be together in person… showing us again your tremendous, and flexible, Fired-Up attitude.
You have achieved great things and succeeded at your pursuits here on campus. Now, you will succeed beyond our campus.
You will leave this university as alumni and will carry with you the pride of being a CMU Chippewa. But you will also carry with you something even more valuable… something that will go with you everywhere… something no one can take away:
The lessons you learned, the resilience you built and the connections you made.
Your degree, and all the memories that came along with it, will be part of you forever.
Moving into the next chapter of your lives, I urge you to take what WE DO at CMU and apply it to everything YOU DO out in the world.
Keep the ability to adapt to changing situations.
Keep lifting up your colleagues and community.
Remember that YOU have the power to support and encourage others, and that can make a tremendous difference in someone’s life.
Keep striving for excellence. Make the world a better place with your words and actions.
Keep your passion and compassion.
Nurture your sense of purpose, and approach challenges with a Fired-Up attitude!
No matter where you go, no matter what you do, you WILL face difficult choices and challenging situations.
YOU are prepared for them. YOU can handle whatever comes next.
May you now have the confidence to do what Robert Kennedy suggested and be willing to fail greatly to achieve greatly. Fail greatly to learn greatly.
I am grateful to have shared some of my personal experiences with you all today, and I would like to beg your indulgence as I share just one more personal story.
I began by talking about the support parents and families provide in the success of students.
I would like to share with you something my father wrote to me on the day of my own college graduation, something I believe demonstrates how essential the support of family and supporters truly is.
My father wrote:
“Today, you achieved an important milestone and goal — you are a college graduate. Your mother and I very proud of you what you accomplished and even more proud of what you will do next and throughout your life.
Your grandfather will be looking down upon you today with joy in his heart and a tear in his eye. I know you will follow in his footsteps as you will continue to set ambitious goals and to make a difference in the lives of others.
Like your grandfather, don’t fall to the fear of failure as you strive to make a difference in the world.
Your mother and I are proud of you. We love you.“
I think of that note regularly, especially on commencement day. I reflect on the incredible impact those words have had throughout my life and my career.
Parents, families and supporters: We have the power to make a powerful, positive impact on our students today.
Let’s make sure the CMU class of 2023 feels the pride we have in them.
Will you all please rise and repeat after me?
I AM PROUD OF YOU
I LOVE YOU
FIRE UP CHIPS!
THANK YOU for sharing this incredible day with our CMU family!