Commencement 2010 Address
by President Michele Perkins
May 15, 2010
Trustees, distinguished honorees, faculty, staff, families, alumni of the College, the Class of 2010, and friends: Welcome to the 63rd Commencement of New England College!
I would like to extend a warm welcome to our honorary degree recipients today. Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus, Laura Knoy, host of New Hampshire Public Radio’s The Exchange, and accepting the degree posthumously for Congressman (and human rights advocate)Tom Lantos, his daughter Katrina Swett. Also joining us today are several members of Secretary Mabus’ staff, Laura’s husband Steve and her two children Isaiah and Abe. And we are so delighted to have with us Katrina’s husband, former Ambassador Richard Swett, four of their children, and Congressman Lantos’ wife, Annette. Your presence here today is an honor for us all.
We have an embarrassment of riches here today – and those riches include our about-to-be-minted alumni. I’d like to begin this celebration by acknowledging that the graduate and undergraduate degree recipients of the Class of 2010 compose the largest graduating class in the history of New England College. At today’s ceremony, just over 400 undergraduate and graduate students will receive their degrees. As NEC continues to grow and prosper, our graduates take with them the memories, the experiences, and the values that they learned here, to every type of professional setting, in every corner of the world.
And as you leave Henniker, New Hampshire for the adventures that await you in this next phase of your lives, I challenge you to hold in the forefront of your thinking the values that have been the foundation of your education here. The diverse gathering of students, faculty, families, and friends here today reminds us of the people who have shaped those values, There are excellent role models among us. The people we honor here today, along with our 405 graduates – Tom Lantos, Laura Knoy, and Ray Mabus, have lived their lives by achieving many great things – and by upholding their ethical standards.
Martin Luther King, Jr. described the practice of ethical living beautifully when he said: “Cowardice asks the question, 'Is it safe?' Expediency asks the question, 'Is it politic?' Vanity asks the question, 'Is it popular?' But, conscience asks the question, 'Is it right?' And there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular but one must take it because one's conscience tells one that it is right.”
As Dr. King describes, there will come a time when each of you is confronted with an ethical dilemma. When you may be pressured to compromise to extremes or even abandon your ethical principles. You will be asked to change your mind in order to make a situation more convenient. Go along, it’s ok, you’ll be told. Don’t make waves. It’s not that important. No big deal.
Edmund Burke, the 18th Century British statesman and philosopher famous for his saying, “Those who do not know history are destined to repeat it” is also reputed to have said “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”
Doing nothing often is the safe route. But doing something can come with risks. When one must take a stand against a greater majority, it can even be dangerous. Benjamin Franklin, at the signing of the Declaration of Independence said to his colleagues: “We must all hang together or assuredly we shall all hang separately.” These patriots understood very well the risk they took to create this nation and took it anyway – because it was necessary. Because it was right.
Thankfully, we hear stories everyday of people who act with their principles firmly intact; people who have the courage and commitment to do what is right and not what is convenient.
The men and women of our armed forces, our journalists, our elected officials who work tirelessly to make the world a better place, do this at some personal expense, and not always with ease.
Graduates, in your time at NEC, you have witnessed extraordinary campaigns and elections, the collapse of major industries and local businesses, natural disasters in the United States and around the world, and conflict among nations and neighbors. And you have responded. I know that your NEC education has prepared you for more than the expertise of your discipline. You are well acquainted with your ethical fiber; you understand with even greater clarity than you did when you applied what is good and what is important. And you have tested your convictions through your work in local communities, in our nation’s service, and in international outreach efforts.
As president of New England College, I believe that one of the most important parts of my job is to preserve the ethical flame that is our guidepost. We have no right to put on regalia, to make speeches, to assert the importance and significance of this ceremony unless we can do so with the full conviction of our ethical values. Those who work in higher education have a responsibility, especially at Commencement, to affirm our dedication to serving the public good. And so we do. How else can we expect you to do the same?
Graduates, Class of 2010, you have the power to change the world. You will realize great success in your lives and we will be most proud of you. Reflect on what you have learned here and regardless of your path in life, make the smart decisions but also make the right decisions. Remember what is important. Remember this day.
Please join me now as we acknowledge the accomplishments of our graduates and recognize those whose academic success has taken them far beyond their own expectations.