A President's Reflections

Commencement 2011

Posted on May 30, 2011

[I wrote this post early in the week and thought that it had posted.  evidently not, so here goes again.]

What a great Commencement we had this year.

I have been reflecting on it since Saturday and thinking about why it was so (and it is not as if past ceremonies were lacking — I think we do Commencement particularly well).  Yet this year had a well calibrated balance of pomp, warmth, energy, humor, and some other ineffable quality I can’t name.  Maybe it was just that it was the first warm, sunny day in ages and we all felt like Noah when dry land finally emerged and he was able to step off that damn ark.

Some of my highlights:

Winning a steak dinner from our Vice-Chair.  He bet me his line would finish before mine and while we can’t control the speed of things really, it gave a little suspense as we got to those final rows.  Admittedly, I was aided by an initial delay on his side, but a bet is a bet.

Despite my desire to finish first, I really do try to give each and every graduate my full attention, a smile and a firm handshake and a hearty “congratulations.”  It’s their culminating moment and I want it to be perfect for them.  While in truth, they have about three seconds on center stage, the ramps up and down serve to give them a sense of arriving there and extending that moment.  With all of those hundreds of graduates, I don’t think I counted three that seemed unmoved by the moment.

Jon Huntsman shared with me the unruliness of the students at the University of South Carolina’s graduation, where he was speaker some two weeks before.  In contrast, our students are just amazing.  They are respectful, attentive, supportive of everything.  Not a beach ball or air horn to be had in the crowd — I am so proud of them.

The full and rich range of those we serve is on display at Commencement.  Traditional age students, moms and dads, married couples getting degrees together (at least two this year), veterans, students from many countries, the disabled, star athletes, those going on to top graduate programs, those feeling lucky to have squeaked by.  Name me a university that serves a greater diversity of student types.  Go ahead.  Try.

I was particularly pleased to see Nathan Yates at graduation.  Nathan has Muscular Dystrophy and is confined to a wheelchair.  He emailed me when he originally visited SNHU to compliment the staff with whom he met that day and to say he was exciting about enrolling. Because Nathan is at high risk of respiratory infections, he had never attended a conventional school.  I remember sending him a sweatshirt and welcome note.  I heard he was graduating, but was surprised to see him with his parents, Jeff and Sue.  They traveled from Virginia and the Appalachian coal mining town where they live to be part of the graduation and I brought them behind the scenes to meet Huntsman and Sy Montgomery, though I think he was more excited to meet Doug Blais, one of his instructors online. Just a wonderful family and Nathan is thinking about enrolling with us for a Masters program.  When I next wake up griping about this ache or that pain, I will think of Nathan and feel ashamed.  While I know his parents are extremely grateful to our faculty and staff, we were lucky to have Nathan.

Speaking of faculty and staff, I love the support we see from both groups.  Staff volunteer from offices across campus and do an extraordinary job, but the best part is the obvious delight they take in our graduates.  The warmth and support that we talk about as an SNHU core trait is not a fiction.  What is unusual is that we seem able to maintain it despite our size and growth.  We are trying to confirm this report, but it looks like we this year surpassed UNH in the number of degrees granted.  If so, we would now be the biggest institution in the state in terms of degrees granted annually.  Take that, Huskies.

There’s always risk in inviting a politician to be Commencement speaker and choosing a likely presidential candidate is something most of our peers will not do, but I thought Huntsman did a great job.  He hit all the right notes, spent time meeting students beforehand, stayed for the whole thing (despite pressure to get onto other events in his tightly packed NH schedule), and I think he genuinely enjoyed himself.  So he is handsome, rich, talented, speaks fluent Chinese (how great was that part of his speech?), and increasingly famous.  I think I hate him.  All I got on him is height….

We recieved amazing media coverage thanks to Hunstman’s presence.  Gregg Mazzola provided the following:

  • From May 20-23, 512 print, Internet and broadcast stories mentioned the SNHU 2011 Commencement.
  • These stories generated an equivalent advertising value of $14m.
  • The web sites that carried these stories have a shared 5.5b in monthly page views and 475m in unique visitors.
  • 213 print and online stories were generated from the Top 10 media markets; 96 were national stories

o   National outlets included but were not limited to:

§  NYTimes.com

§  CNN.com

§  TodayShow.com

§  Boston Globe

§  USAToday.com

§  FOXNews.com

§  ABCNews.com

§  Politico.com

§  CBSNews.com

§  Salon.com

§  NPR.com

§  NationalReview.com

§  BloombergNews.com

§  Taiwan News Online, Yahoo Canada, BeijingNews.net, Philippine Times, Yahoo Malaysia, Newstrack India

I loved that on one television report the next day, there was a shot of Huntsman out and about and there was Gracie, his daughter, wearing her new SNHU sweatshirt.  As we continue to build the SNHU brand, this kind of coverage is just so valuable.  When an SNHU graduate goes into an interview, we want the person on the other side of the desk saying “I hear about SNHU all the time.”  That seems to be the reality more and more.

On a personal note, I was so pleased with Pat winning the Teaching Excellence Award.  I know how much time and care she puts into her teaching.  She genuinely believes in every one of her students (even the ones I might be tempted to write off, truth be told) and that combination of passion, belief, and energy can’t be faked.  This honor meant an awful lot to her.

So all in all, a great day.

3 thoughts on “Commencement 2011

  1. Misty says:

    When will DVDs of the ceremony become available to us? I am not sure if you were aware, but the online live feed crashed moments before graduation began, and my grandmother was unable to see the first child in our family graduate from college. I would love for her to have a copy of it to watch again and again!

  2. Paul Leblanc says:

    Actually, the feed worked fine and I’ve heard from many people that they watched the entirety of the ceremonies online. My guess is there was a glitch on your end, but nevertheless, I’m sorry for your grandmother. I will check on the DVD question.

  3. Paul LeBlanc says:

    I think I wrote “Wildcats” when I should have said “Huskies.”

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