“This is a day of victory,” said UVM graduate Sethuraman Panchanathan, director of the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF), told the 222nd graduating class of the University of Vermont Sunday, May 21.
Panchanathan began his address by acknowledging that he didn’t remember the commencement speech that he’d heard upon graduating from college—“Nothing,” he said, eliciting laughter from the audience. But, he said, “you are the graduates of the University of Vermont, and that you will never forget.” And, he said, to help them remember his speech, he was going to attach his key points to each of the letters in the word “Vermont.”
He emphasized the honor he felt in standing before his “fellow Catamounts”—to loud cheers—and encouraged the graduates to embrace their victory—the “V” in Vermont, he said—over the challenges they’ve faced during their academic and personal journeys so far.
“There will be days where you will be challenged, where you will find moments of despair. Then close your eyes again,” he said, and recall the “E” in Vermont—for excellence. “Remember this day and think of that spirit of excellence that permeates through you,” Panchanathan said, “and will guide you and make sure that you continue to be successful in your life.”
Addressing the spirit of excellence that he observed among the graduates, Director Panchanathan urged them to hold onto it tightly. He emphasized that excellence should not be seen as a measure against others but as a personal quest for continuous growth and self-improvement. He encouraged the graduates to face competition as an opportunity to enhance their own abilities rather than viewing it as a comparison with others.
Panchanathan further commended the research mindset ingrained in the University of Vermont—the “R” in Vermont—emphasizing its significance in the graduates’ future endeavors and to the needs of “our great nation.” He praised their curiosity, urging them to retain their thirst for knowledge and the ability to ask the right questions. He highlighted the importance of evidence-based decision-making and encouraged the graduates to continue acquiring new talents and skills throughout their lives.
Reflecting on the unique challenges faced by the Covid-era graduates, Director Panchanathan acknowledged their resilience and innovation in “overcoming obstacles”—one of the meanings of the “O” in Vermont. He called on them to seize the moment—the “M” in Vermont—and recognize the opportunities it brings. He emphasized that every obstacle is a chance to transform it into an opportunity for growth and to “create great outcomes,” he said.
“There are three O’s,” Panchanathan said, smiling, as he gave the graduates a final quiz on the meanings of “Vermont” he wanted them to take with them. “You don’t get your degree until you pass this quiz,” he said, as the crowd laughed. Overcoming obstacles, creating opportunity, and working toward meaningful outcomes are all, he said, attached to the “O” in Vermont.
Highlighting the significance of collaboration, Director Panchanathan stressed the value of working in teams to achieve progress. He encouraged the graduates to remember the transformative journey they embarked upon at the University of Vermont and challenged them to extend their success to others by mentoring and uplifting young minds who may not have had the same opportunities.
“There are so many still left behind,” Panchanathan said, “and I implore you today, every one of you should at least take 20 to 25 young minds, mentor them, lift them up, particularly from those communities that don’t have the chance to see this amazing potential that all of you have realized.” Panchanathan called on the graduates not just to seek excellence in themselves but to inspire and motivate others, “so they too can contribute,” he said. “It is our responsibility.”
In closing, Director Panchanathan left the graduates with a lasting message. He reminded them of the power of their network—the “N” in Vermont. And of the importance of continually transforming themselves—the “T” in Vermont—and their communities, and the responsibility they bear to uplift others. “Lift them all up,” he said.
Panchanathan received a standing ovation. – Source: University of Vermont