PLYMOUTH — Former Olympic skier Penny Pitou and former New Hampshire Governor the Hon. John Lynch have been honored by Plymouth State University at the institution’s Fall Convocation ceremony Sept. 3.
Convocation is the assembly of students, staff, and faculty observing the formal start of the academic year. New Hampshire Gov. Maggie Hassan, Plymouth Select Board Chair Valerie Scarborough, PSU Student Body President Kayla Grimes, and PSU President Sara Jayne Steen welcomed the assembly, which included trustees, friends, alumni, faculty and staff, and especially the nearly 1,000 first-year students comprising the Class of 2017.
Gov. Hassan told the first year students that higher education is a means to a better job, but she urged them to be responsible, civic minded citizens as well.
“We need you to lead not only through the work you do in your careers, but also in improving your communities,” Hassan said. “We need each of you to be engaged in the citizen democracy that drives us forward.”
Gov. Hassan and PSU Alumni Association President Amy Begg, ’97, then presented Gov. Lynch with the Robert Frost Contemporary American Award, named in memory of America’s late poet laureate, Robert Frost, who taught at Plymouth Normal School early in the 20th Century. The PSU Alumni Association created the award, given only occasionally, to provide special recognition of those individuals whose extraordinary service to the state and nation best exemplifies Robert Frost’s values of individuality, hard work, humanitarianism, and devotion to the country “North of Boston.”
Lynch, a four-term governor, is generally acknowledged as among the most popular governors in the state’s history. During his tenure, New Hampshire was named the safest state three years in a row, the best state to raise a child, and the most livable state in the country. As a business and educational leader, Lynch has thrived in a variety of settings, from serving as director of admissions at the Harvard Business School, to establishing a consulting firm, to transforming a struggling manufacturing business into a highly profitable operation. Lynch also served as chair of the University System of New Hampshire Board of Trustees before becoming governor. PSU President Sara Jayne Steen said Lynch has long been a strong supporter of higher education and Plymouth State.
“John Lynch is an extraordinary man. He has given decades of his life to promoting excellence in public higher education, the business community, and the state of New Hampshire,” Steen said. “He is a respected leader who has invested himself in serving others with intelligence, optimism, energy, and commitment. And he has made a difference in the lives of many people who will never know or be able to thank him, as we do today.”
“As Governor, I focused a lot on education, because for me, education is all about opportunity… the opportunity to have better lives,” Lynch said. “Education also drives economic development…I really believe here in New Hampshire, we live in the greatest state in the greatest country in the world, and as Governor and now ex-Governor, I think about that every day.”
Former Olympic ski racer and Lakes Region businesswoman Penny Pitou received the Granite State Award, which is bestowed on citizens, agencies, corporations, or foundations of the State of New Hampshire whose achievements have made significant contributions. Pitou was a trailblazer in women’s skiing, and a leader in New Hampshire philanthropy as well.
In 1960, she became the first American skier to win a medal in the Olympic downhill event, capturing two. Following her competitive career, this New Hampshire native founded several ski schools in New England and has been instrumental in ski development ever since. Pitou is a successful entrepreneur who runs a travel agency in the Lakes Region and serves on many boards and organizations supporting women. Steen noted Pitou’s impressive accomplishments have been an inspiration to New Hampshire residents for decades.
“Penny Pitou has never seen barriers, only problems to be solved, and then she addressed them,” Steen said. “And she has been a role model in seeing that those who followed her would have the opportunities, whether through good coaching or support organizations or scholarships, to enable them to succeed.”
“I found it was important to find a passion in my life, because if I didn’t find it, someone would find it for me,” Pitou said. “You have to stay true to yourself … it takes dedication, perseverance and a lot of hard work.”
In her message to the Class of 2017, Steen encouraged students to embrace the possibilities of higher education.
“Here you will have wonderful opportunities to investigate issues from computer translation to water quality and modern dance. Some of you will win awards, see your work accepted for publication or for juried shows; and travel across the globe for academic or service work,” Steen said. “Our hopes for you are high.”
More than 5,700 students applied to be members of Plymouth State’s Class of 2017 and nearly 1,000 are joining PSU; the class includes students from 20 states and from the countries of Denmark, Finland, Norway, and the People ’s Republic of China, Sweden and the United Kingdom.
PSU’s 2013 distinguished teaching award-winner, Christian Bisson, professor of adventure education in the department of Health and Human Performance, gave the keynote address. Bisson has a national reputation for effective teaching strategies in outdoor education and is recognized for his ability to teach the teachers and guide students to become effective educators.