Undergraduate Commencement Speeches

Watch the full commencement ceremony here.

Scott Carpenter, Chair of the Champlain College Board of Trustees.

Good Morning. On behalf of the Champlain College Board of Trustees, it is my privilege and pleasure to welcome each of you to the 140th Commencement of Champlain College.

I am honored to share this momentous day with you, the Class of 2018. And I extend a special welcome to your families and friends who have supported you on your journey. As a father who is looking forward to seeing my son graduate from college in a few weeks, I know how meaningful this day is and how proud we all feel.

You are graduating from an amazing institution. Your time here has provided you with a full range of skills-both professional and personal-that will serve you throughout your career and life. Your radically pragmatic education is about to turn into a life that makes you ready to participate, ready to perform and ready to prosper.

Today, we will also present honorary degrees to Donna Carpenter and Jake Burton Carpenter. I should make a disclaimer that I am no relation to Donna and Jake. I am more of a skiing Carpenter than a snowboarding Carpenter.

Donna and Jake's story of building an innovative global business while promoting equity and leadership opportunities for women, make them particularly deserving of recognition. On behalf of the Board of Trustees, we enthusiastically welcome both Donna and Jake to the Champlain community.

All of us gathered here today take great pride in watching you, the members of the Class of 2018, become graduates.

The bonds you have formed with faculty, friends and associates, combined with your innovation and optimism, will last a lifetime. I am confident you will face the challenges and opportunities ahead in the spirit of Champlain's motto- Audeamus - "Let Us Dare."

Dare to embrace your roles as leaders and strive to make our world a better place through your words and deeds.

We extend to you our heartfelt congratulations and best wishes for a healthy and prosperous future.   Congratulations!

Joe Gaetani, Class of 2016,  the alumni welcome.

Hello! Congratulations on making it to graduation!

Sixteen years ago I came to Champlain College as a freshman. I never once thought I'd be standing here, wearing this, and giving a speech representing Champlain's Alumni community.

That last word - community - it is really, really important. And I'd like to tell a story about how Champlain's Community has helped me.

Sixteen years ago, when I came here, I only had one goal: do whatever it takes to work for Burton Snowboards. Four years of studying and snowboarding later, I was sitting right over there, anxiously waiting for my diploma. I had it all planned out: I'd done everything I could to be a good candidate for a position at Burton, and I was going to apply for every, and I mean every, job they had open... whether I was qualified or not.

After graduating, I moved home to my parents' house in Massachusetts and was impatiently waiting to hear back from Burton while also applying for other jobs in Boston. Within a few days I scored an interview at a marketing firm in the city. It was my first interview for a real job.

I was at my parents' house getting ready to take the train to the interview. Showered, shaved, and was tying my tie in the mirror. All of a sudden I stopped.

I've never been a tie person. I had a little moment of panic and called my good friend Brian who had lived across the hall from me in Main Street Suites. He's a real go-getter, one of those people destined to be successful, and I knew he would tell me what I needed to be told: grow up and go to the interview.

When he answered the phone, I told him that I had an interview in Boston and I was tying my tie and how I really didn't want to wear a tie every day, or take the train into the city every day, but I had this interview and I really didn't want to go to it, but oh man, what should I do?!
He calmly asked when the interview was. I said, "It's in a couple hours."

He simply replied, "Don't go. Call them and cancel."

I said, "Really? I can do that?" He said, "Yeah, why not?" So that's what I did.

And the very next morning I drove back to Burlington, walked into Burton and told them I was there to an interview for a job.

I made no mention that I didn't actually have an interview. Sure enough, they couldn't find me on the interview schedule and asked if I could come back. I said "sure, no problem," handed over my resume and cover letter and left. A few hours later I got a call from Burton asking if I could come back for that interview. This was the first time I reached out to Champlain's Community for help. I needed help convincing Burton that I was the best fit for the job. So I started calling in favors.

What I didn't see coming was the power of the people who I had met at and through Champlain. The people I met on the path to graduation - peers, friends, alumni, and the amazing people in the Burlington community - they all rallied to help me with recommendation letters, phone calls, prepping answers to interview questions, and much much more. All at the drop of a hat, as soon as I asked for help.

And within a few weeks, I was starting my career at Burton. That was the first time, but definitely not the last time, that I realized the power of the community that Champlain College introduced me to. Burton was a special place for me. It's how I met my wife, met a lot of my best friends, and met the people who would help launch the next stage of my career.

After my time at Burton, I had an even larger ask for the Champlain Community. I was starting my own business and needed all the help I could get. I needed clients, I needed interns, employees, and I needed lots and lots of advice. Literally, every single one of my needs were met with the help of the Champlain College community.

The funny part is, I didn't totally realize this until I sat down to start writing this speech. It's really something to look back and think about it.

So I'll leave you with this:

There is an entire Champlain College network around the globe. Use it. It really is all about who you know and how you are remembered. You all are now part of this network. So keep in touch, stay involved, utilize the network and your resources. Stay hungry, keep asking questions, and never stop learning. Trust your gut and believe in yourself. And most importantly, never forget to pay it forward when other Champlain students or alumni come looking for help. I'm serious when I say this - the time you've already spent with Champlain is just beginning.

Congratulations, and good luck.

Stephanie Doan, representing the Class of 2018.

President Laackman, members of the Board of Trustees, distinguished guests, members of the Cabinet, faculty, staff, friends and family of the graduating class, and of course my fellow classmates: I am honored and humbled to speak on behalf of the Class of 2018 and to celebrate with all of you as my classmates and I join the 6.7% of people in the world who hold a college degree. Both of these things - speaking at Commencement and earning my degree - have been dreams of mine, and today both have come true.

I am a child of two immigrants who came to this country to achieve the American Dream. Both of my parents are from Vietnam and come from impoverished families. Growing up, my parents understood the value of an education, but other responsibilities stood in their way.

Back in Vietnam, my father stopped going to school so he could work and help support his family. My mother was able to earn her high school diploma here in the States but was not able to earn a college degree as she had me at a young age. My family believes a world-class education is a part of that American Dream, as it opens doors for the next generation to achieve more than anyone could ever imagine. So to all of our families, friends, and supporters, we hope we can fulfill that dream for you.

The access to education we have here at Champlain, and at colleges and universities across the country, is a blessing. Yes, it takes work to get into college and yes, it takes work to graduate, but we had the opportunity to earn a degree.

I think about women around the world who are still fighting for the right to go to school or, even worse, women who desire an education but remain silent for fear of persecution and violence. I think about children in war-torn countries who are, rightly, more concerned with finding their parents than learning the difference between a consonant and a vowel. I think about the youth in our own backyard who are trying to find their next meal rather than trying to finish their division homework. Many of us here did not have to worry about prioritizing these basic needs over our pursuit of education, and that is the difference a little privilege can make.

Privilege: that's a scary word in our culture. I worked hard for everything I have and everything I accomplished. That's not privilege; that is the product of a positive work ethic and determination. Yes, it is true. We all work hard. We do have a positive work ethic, and we do have determination.

We finished the race, but we also have to consider where we started on the track. Did you know that first-generation college students are twice as likely to drop out than their continuing-generational classmates? Or that only 14% of students from low-income backgrounds earn a bachelor's degree within eight years of graduating high school? That is less than half the number of students from middle-class income families who are able to achieve the same. With privilege comes power: the power of knowledge, the power of status, the power of access and opportunity. And with the power that we will receive from our diplomas today, we have a responsibility to use it for not just our benefit, but also for the benefit of our families and friends, our communities, our world.

I think about how my education has already made an impact on not just my life but also on the lives of those around me. For those of you who do not know me, I studied abroad at our campus in Dublin during the spring semester of my junior year. For those of you who do know me, you know I never stop talking about it. Because I attended an institution like Champlain, I had the amazing opportunity to see the world and experience it in ways I didn't know I could. I took classes with Irish professors, explored the city, discovered the world outside the island, and met a lot of people along the way.

The people I think back on the most are the children I worked with. Through my Community Advocacy and Inquiry course, I spent every Wednesday afternoon with the Aisling Project. In Gaelic, the word aisling means hope, and that is exactly what the Aisling Project brought to its community.

The program is in Ballymun -- a low-income underserved community just outside the City Centre in Dublin where students often do not finish secondary school, let alone attend college. Through this experience, I was able to work with children ages 12 through 16. We would work on homework, play games, chat about everything happening in school, share a toasted sandwich, or a toastie as they would call it. I learned a lot about the problems these children faced at home and at school, a lot of the worries they had, all of the hopes and dreams they held. One girl looked forward to starting her own studio as a makeup artist. One young lad dreamt of becoming a professional football player. Another girl had dreams of being a psychologist or a social worker so she could help support young people the way that some of her role models and the Aisling Project were able to support her.

Through these conversations, I was able to share with these children the importance of respect and how impactful it can be to be kind to one another. I was able to share with these children that there is a world beyond Ballymun, waiting for them to explore it. I was able to share how college has changed my life and what opportunities it can open up for them.

Every day, we hear that Americans have an equal opportunity to go to college to earn degrees that will transform their lives for the better, but every day, the aspirations-attainment gap for minoritized groups grows. I am a firm believer that to address this, we do not need equality; we need equity. You see, there is an important difference between these two concepts. Equality is giving everyone the same pair of size-eight shoes to wear for a race while equity is giving everyone a pair of shoes that fits just right. 

Equity is not about giving everyone the same thing; it is about giving people what they need.

It is up to our generation to create equitable access to opportunities, and we can all contribute to that goal, regardless of what degree we earn today. We need our educators to reimagine a well-rounded educational model in our K-12 schools, so that we may provide equitable access for all students to achieve their highest academic potential. We need our designers and our artists to change the culture through media, so the next generation learns that access and success can be for everyone, not just for those who look a certain way or have a certain amount of money. We need our computer networkers to find safe and efficient ways for people to connect all around the world, so that we may deepen our learning about cultures and ideologies that are different from our own. 

We need our entrepreneurs to not only create more jobs and drive our economy, but to create jobs and opportunities with the pay and benefits people need to obtain the necessities of life and beyond. 

Us millenials get a bad rep: we're lazy, we're entitled, we're destroying the economy, we're unable to buy houses because we eat too much avocado toast. To that, I say encourage each other with our college's motto: Audemus. Let us dare. Let us dare to defy the odds as we have done together today. Let us dare to use our newfound power and privilege to help those who need help the most, no matter how difficult that may be. Let us dare to dissolve the narrative that past generations have written about us and write our own, a narrative where we make a difference for ourselves and for future generations. 

Our work is far from done, but I have no doubt that our class is ready to run the next race and change the world. Thank you!

Founded in 1878, Champlain College is a small, not-for-profit, private college in Burlington, Vermont, with additional campuses in Montreal, Canada, and Dublin, Ireland. Champlain offers a traditional undergraduate experience from its beautiful campus overlooking Lake Champlain and over 90 residential undergraduate and online undergraduate and graduate degree programs and certificates. Champlain's distinctive career-driven approach to higher education embodies the notion that true learning occurs when information and experience come together to create knowledge. Champlain College is included in the Princeton Review's The Best 384 Colleges: 2019 Edition. For the fourth year in a row, Champlain was named a "Most Innovative School" in the North by U.S. News & World Report's 2019 "America's Best Colleges,” and a “Best Value School” and is ranked in the top 100 “Regional Universities of the North” and in the top 25 for “Best Undergraduate Teaching.” Champlain is also featured in the Fiske Guide to Colleges for 2019 as one of the "best and most interesting schools" in the United States, Canada and Great Britain and is a 2019 College of Distinction. For more information, visit champlain.edu.