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Remarks of APLU President Peter McPherson at the University of Maine Commencement

May 9, 2015

APLU President Peter McPherson delivered the commencement address at the University of Maine on May 9.  McPherson told graduates they have an "obligation to carry that land-grant status with you and as part of you for the rest of your life.  It means that, while having a good and rewarding job is important, so too is making sure that you are constantly working toward making this a more fair, just, and prosperous world.  It means never relenting in the pursuit for greater knowledge that will enrich your own lives while providing you with greater ability to enrich the lives of others."  Below is the full copy of his remarks.

Thank you President Hunter. Today’s graduates and your families, Chancellor Page, Chair of the Board of Trustees Collins and distinguished guests, I am pleased to be with you on this important day.

Let me start by telling you of my admiration for Black Bear hockey. Teams have their ups and downs but by any measure Maine hockey is a national factor. As you perhaps noted, I was President of Michigan State for many years but you may not know that Maine and Michigan State hockey have long and close ties. A few decades ago Michigan State’s very successful hockey coach Ron Mason hired a young assistant named Shawn Walsh.  That name is certainly familiar here because Shawn left us at Michigan State to become the head coach here at Maine where he turned this school into a hockey powerhouse and won two national championships.  So while this is many years late, I’ve come today to say congratulations and you’re welcome!  

In all seriousness, thank you for having me here, during this historic year for the University of Maine.

Your graduation occurs during the 150th anniversary of the University of Maine as the land grant institution of the state.  Under the Morrill Act, signed into law by President Lincoln, every state was to have a land grant college.  The vision of Lincoln and Senator Justin Morrill was that there must be an opportunity for an elite education for everyone. They understood that science and technology was critical to advance in agriculture and industry and that this body of knowledge should be available for the children of non-elites. They also believed that humanities were important for these students.   

The University of Maine has lived up to this Lincoln/Morrill vision and today you are another generation that fulfills their promise.

As the President of the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities, I work with public and land-grant universities in every state.  And I can honestly say that the University of Maine is a wonderful land grant university for which you can be very proud. Lincoln and Morrill certainly would be proud.

The University of Maine is deeply committed to its public purpose of seeking new knowledge, and helping to solve problems locally, throughout Maine and beyond.  It is deeply commitment to the education of its students and to research. This land grant, sea grant and flagship university has the coherence, size and gravitas for the state. No other institution in Maine is in position to play the same leadership role in education, research and engagement within the system and for the whole state.  

This institution’s work and commitment to bettering Maine are found in its students and in every corner of the state.  From the new potato varieties developed in partnership with the Maine Potato Board, to the new $20 million National Science Foundation project called SEANET focused on the interaction of sustainable aquaculture with coastal communities and ecosystems, to the U of Maine's engineering and food science innovations that are helping the private sector, to the cutting-edge research that could one day lead to the production of biofuel from the North Woods, the U of Maine – its faculty and students – are transforming lives and making this state and nation a better place.

The University of Maine’s land-grant status is at the center of its being.  And it should be for you too.  When you leave here today, your degree will provide you with countless opportunities for advancement.  Your degree will enable you to earn more money, go further in your career and help you to have a fulfilling life.  

But being from a land-grant institution, particularly one as notable as the University of Maine, means that you have an obligation to carry that land-grant status with you and as part of you for the rest of your life.  It means that, while having a good and rewarding job is important, so too is making sure that you are constantly working toward making this a more fair, just, and prosperous world.  It means never relenting in the pursuit for greater knowledge that will enrich your own lives while providing you with greater ability to enrich the lives of others.  

That University of Maine sweatshirt you have should not just be a sign of where you’re from, but where you’re going.  By attending and graduating from this institution you now must carry these values with you wherever you go.  And I hope and think you will all go far.

Many decades ago I grew up in rural Michigan, milking cows and tending to the family farm. Then I went to Michigan State, the land grant of Michigan.  Through that education I started to see a world with limitless possibilities; possibilities that I would not have otherwise understood.  Over the years I have been fortunate to have experiences that enabled me to help shape and improve the world in tangible ways.  And while I have been all over the country and world, Michigan, particularly the campus of Michigan State, has always been a home for me.

Each of you has your own story of how you got here.  Some of you may come from a long line of Black Bears while others may be the first in your family to attend college.   But no matter how you got here, you are all equally fortunate to have had the opportunity to attend Maine and to grow.  Now you have the opportunity to show what you will do with your degree.

I do have one last recommendation: be involved in the issues of your time.  Over 100 years ago Teddy Roosevelt said, “It is not the critic who counts; not the [person] who points out how the strong [person] stumbles … The credit belongs to the [person] who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat …: the (person) who strives to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms…. so that [their] place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

You, as graduates of the University of Maine, must be in the arena.  It might be pursuing justice, working to solve world hunger, improving K-12 education, or working for your views on other ways to make your community, state and beyond a better place.  Big changes are hard and often slow, but they will never happen at all if University of Maine graduates and others are uninvolved.   

Let me conclude by congratulating you and wishing you the very best with the many exciting opportunities and endeavors on which you are about to embark.  The University of Maine has been a temporary residence, an association, for you for these past years.  With today’s graduation, you and the university are linked forever.  This will always be a home for you.  Come home often.

  • Council of Presidents

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