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Chancellor's Speeches

Remarks of USM Chancellor William E. Kirwan
Frostburg State University Commencement
Saturday, May 21, 2005

Good morning. I am delighted to join you on this very important day.

It's an honor to share this occasion with your President, Catherine Gira. Of course, President Gira's announcement that she will be retiring at the end of the next academic year brings with it a sense of sadness and regret . . . but what a tremendous legacy she will leave. During her

14 years of leadership, the FSU campus and its reputation have grown substantially; the student population has become larger and more diverse; academic offerings have expanded; the university's economic impact on the region is phenomenal; its outreach efforts have won national awards; and its faculty, students, staff and academic programs have received impressive national recognition. Now THAT's a record of accomplishment that would make any leader feel proud.

Catherine, I know I am joined by everyone here today in offering our heartfelt thanks for all that you have done both for Frostburg and the Western region of our state and the rest of the state, indeed, the nation as well. Now, we all know, and are all grateful, that we'll have another year to benefit from your leadership and there will be ample opportunities to thank you properly on other occasions. But, given your recent announcement, I could not let this moment pass without saying something about all that you have done for the advancement of higher education both at Frostburg and beyond.

Of course, the main objects of our attention and appreciation today are the soon to be graduates of Frostburg. What you have accomplished has taken hard work, persistence, and dedication. You have met and mastered many challenges over the past four, or five, or six, or even more years. But no matter how long it has taken, what we celebrate today is a really big deal - your graduation -- and we are so very proud of you.

I know your family and friends also take a great deal of pride in what you have accomplished. They have shared in your sacrifices and certainly share in your success today because of the encouragement, nurture, support -- both financial and otherwise -- that they have given you.

It is traditional for speakers at commencements to offer words of advice and encouragement: Be bold; be true to yourself; fight for the things you believe; bring a sense of purpose and integrity to everything you do. These are all important thoughts and I hope you will heed them. Incidentally, most commencements share a common characteristic. A few years after graduation, no one can remember the name of their commencement speaker or, for that matter, what they said. I, at least, have a fighting chance that you'll remember my name since it appears on your diploma.

With this sobering realization in mind, rather than admonishing you, I want to express briefly two hopes for you.

My first hope is that you and your generation will step forward and lead our nationand our worldwith a renewed sense of purpose and commitment to the common good.

There is a divisiveness creeping into our society that, unchecked, could be destructive to our way of life. Despite the increased diversity in our nation, prejudice and intolerance continue to plague our society. Despite our nation's phenomenal wealth, poverty rates are actually rising. Despite our incredibly sophisticated means of monitoring our environment, our air and water quality continue to decline at alarming rates. Despite our time honored democratic traditions, political partisanship - at the state and national levels - threaten our ability to make progress. Compromise, tolerance, respect for others are qualities that seem to be vanishing from our society. In our pursuit of personal financial success, we have lost a sense of the importance of the common good.

When I think about all of the challenges we face as a nation, I can actually get depressed. But, quite frankly, what gives me hope for the future is you and your generation. Your talents, your openness to new ideas, your spirit of volunteerism, and your appreciation for the diversity of our society are the very qualities so badly needed at this time.

Our nation faced an enormous challenge some 65 years ago with the outbreak of World War II. This traumatic event produced an incredible generation who some have dubbed The Greatest Generation. Through their talents and their willingness to recognize the self sacrifice necessary for the common good, they not only won the war, they built the most economically powerful nation and the largest middle class the world has ever known. Many see in you the potential to be the Next Great Generation.

We see in you and your generation the seeds of a renaissance of community consciousness. So, my first hope is that in the years ahead, as you move into positions of leadership, as I know you will, you will realize the enormous potential you have to make this a better world, not just for yourselves, but for others as well.

My second hope is that as you pursue your dreams and goals, you'll set your sights high and that you'll hold fast to those lofty dreams when life's inevitable setbacks occur. It's easy to avoid failure; just don't ever take a chance. Don't ever accept a job or a "challenge" you're not positive you can master. Don't ever set the bar so high that you're not certain you can clear it. And, truth be told, you can have a perfectly comfortable life if that's the path you choose. But if you want a life of real meaning, significance, and accomplishmentwhatever field of endeavor you choosethen you must be willing to try, risk failure, learn from the experience...and try again.

Let me share with you the words of Benjamin E Mays, former President of Morehouse College in Atlanta, because they capture so well the hope for you that I'm trying to express: "The tragedy of life doesn't lie in not reaching your goal. The tragedy lies in having no goal to reach. It isn't a calamity to die with dreams unfilled, but it is a calamity not to dream. It is not disgrace to not reach the stars, but it is a disgrace to have no stars to reach for. Not failure, but low aim, is a sin".

You are a very talented, gifted group. Our nation's future well-being depends upon young people like you realizing your full potential. And you can only accomplish that by reaching beyond the safe and predictable. So, my second hope for you is that you will aim high because you have the stuff to make a difference.

In closing, let me say that if you realize the two hopes I mentioned to you today-- the compassion to work for the common good, and the courage to persist toward ambitious goals -- I won't mind if you don't remember a single thing I said today or even that I spoke at your commencement. If you realize these two hopes, you will have accomplished something much, much more important for yourselves and our nation.

Congratulations, best wishes and Godspeed to each and every one of you.

And go Bobcats!!!