PLYMOUTH — More than 1,400 degrees were awarded at Plymouth State University’s 143rd commencement ceremony on Saturday, May 17. PSU President Sara Jayne Steen welcomed the guests.
“For all of us, this is a wonderful day,” Steen said. She described the 2014 graduates, calling out some of their stories as samples of student excellence, such as Delilah Smith who, in receiving her doctoral degree, became the first student to have four progressive PSU diplomas: bachelor’s, master’s, certificate of advanced graduate studies, and doctorate. The president described graduates’ plans, whether attending graduate school, joining schools, businesses, and nonprofits, or becoming officers in the U.S. military.
“Each of you is a success story. Your family members are so proud of you, as are the faculty and staff, many of whom will remain your mentors and friends for life,” Steen said. “All of us are excited to see where you will go as you apply your intelligence, commitment, and innovation to live PSU’s motto, Ut Prosim (That I May Serve). You have worked hard; in your education you also have received a great gift. Use it well.”
J.J. Theplama, treasurer of the class of 2014, asked students to share their stories. “Plymouth State University represents a chapter within your life … and today marks the start of a new beginning. You’d better get writing.”
Class of 2014 President Kayla Grimes urged her classmates to remember the lessons learned at PSU while maintaining perspective on the important things in life. “Never lose sight of the power in the details,” Grimes said. “It’s as simple as saying ‘I love you’ a few more times, or saying ‘Thanks, Mom and Dad, for believing in me.’”
Before addressing the graduates, Gov. Maggie Hassan asked for a moment of silence in memory of recently slain Brentwood Police Officer Stephen Arkell. She then congratulated the Class of 2014. “The education you have dedicated so much to will give you the foundation for incredible success,” Hassan said. “You are all now better equipped to engage in collective problem-solving, teamwork, and critical thinking that are so important in today’s economy.” Hassan explored the importance of engaging in citizen democracy, and she joined Steen in congratulating graduates as they received diplomas.
Stephen J. Sedensky III, ’80, a prosecuting attorney in Connecticut, provided the charge to the graduates and received an honorary Doctor of Laws degree. Sedensky is recognized nationally as a child abuse prosecutor. He championed Connecticut’s adoption of a training program in which child abuse professionals are taught investigatory skills, and he has taught those techniques to thousands of professionals. As the state’s attorney for the judicial district of Danbury, Conn., he was the chief investigator of the tragedy in Newtown, Conn. He has been honored nationally for his concern for victims’ rights and the protection of children.
His advice to the Class of 2014 was to have a plan and work hard at achieving it. “Be purposeful, be persistent, be grateful,” Sedensky said. “Have a plan. Have a vision. Have a focus. Have something identifiable that you are working towards. … When you have something to work for, you will find things happen far more quickly than when you just exist day to day. … Being outwardly grateful reminds us that we cannot achieve our goals or success without other people. Please say thank you to your parents and those who made this day possible for you.”
The 2014 Commencement also featured the award of an honorary Doctor of Science degree for Hugh Miller Herr, who leads the Biomechatronics research group at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Media Lab in creating bionic limbs that emulate the function of natural limbs and allow recipients to perform normal activities and even succeed as athletes. Herr, who lost both legs in a climbing accident in the White Mountains 30 years ago, has designed his own bionic legs and devoted his life to seeing that others can move beyond a physical disability.
“As a society, we need to embrace the basic proposition that people aren’t broken. A person can never be disabled; rather, technology is disabled and broken,” Herr said. “We must not accept human limitation, but seek to transcend disability through technological innovation … I feel it is a great privilege and honor to make a small contribution to this global effort. There is no greater gift than the gift of giving back.”
Former University System of New Hampshire Chancellor Stephen J. Reno received the Granite State Award, an honor reserved for those making exceptional contributions to New Hampshire. He is the executive director of Leadership New Hampshire, a program in which leaders learn about the state in order better to respond to its issues. He has served as a consultant to many New Hampshire nonprofits, and led initiatives such as Stay, Work, Play New Hampshire to attract and retain young workers in the state. He emphasized the Stay, Work, Play goal by asking the new graduates to consider making New Hampshire their home.
“To all of you, I extend congratulations,” Reno said. “I hope at least 55 percent of you will stay in New Hampshire and begin your careers and lives here. Remember, 100 percent of you are now alums of this wonderful university.”
Jill Tarkleson, completing her master’s degree with the Class of 2014, closed by asking students to inspire others as they were inspired and said, “It has been an honor to have studied here.” Richard Evans, alumni representative of the 50-year class, welcomed graduates to their PSU Alumni Association.
The commencement ceremony was held indoors in four locations, attended by thousands of family members and guests, and live-streamed internationally to allow friends and family members across the globe to participate.