Addressing the University at Buffalo Class of 2013 ~ May 12, 2013
Good morning, everyone! I want to begin by wishing a very Happy Mother’s Day to all the mothers and grandmothers with us today! To me, attending your son or daughter’s graduation ceremony is the ultimate way to celebrate parenthood. As someone who has had the joy of watching two sons graduate, I know what a proud and happy time this is—for all the family, friends, and mentors who have supported our graduates.
I want to thank all of the family and friends joining us for this celebration—here in Alumni Arena, as well as those watching from the Center for the Arts. Most of all, I hope this is a proud and joyful moment for you—the University at Buffalo Class of 2013!
In just a moment, you will be crossing the stage to receive your college diploma. But just what does that piece of paper signify—beyond the concrete evidence that you have attained the degree you have studied for these past few years?
For some, a college diploma is an academic seal of approval—evidence that you’ve gained the required knowledge to qualify you as a respected leader in your field.
Many think of a college degree as a golden ticket—admission to their chosen career pathway toward professional success. And others consider a college diploma as something like a certificate of deposit—proof of a financial investment that will yield steady returns over the years.
There is some truth to all of these notions. But none of them is adequate to express the full value of higher education. We live in an era when the costs of higher education are higher than ever before—and the value of that education is increasingly called into question.
In recent years, it has become increasingly common to measure higher education success in consumer terms—as a return on investment. And by this measure alone, the value of a college degree is undeniable.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, your chances of finding a job have more than doubled with the diploma you receive today. And as a college graduate, you will earn, on average, over 80% more than you would with a high school diploma alone.
While the economic crisis has affected every sector, a college degree clearly remains a critical advantage. In part, that’s why the demand for post-secondary education is at an all-time high, despite rising concerns over affordability.
But it is not the only reason, or the most important reason.
The value of a college degree can’t be expressed only in dollars and cents. And it’s about much more than personal gain.
To be sure, what your diploma represents in terms of personal benefit is significant—whether you see it as an investment in economic security, or a ticket to professional success. But that personal benefit pales in comparison to the immense public benefit that comes with it.
At UB, you have been learning much more than the fundamentals of your chosen vocations. You’ve been learning to think critically, reason thoughtfully, judge wisely, and act ethically. And you’ve been doing all this not just for your own benefit—but to help others do the same.
Whatever course of study you’ve undertaken at UB, one core principle has been the same: as a public research university, our academic mission is to share our ideas, our knowledge, and our discoveries for the greater public good.
Universities are not ivory towers—we are deeply connected to the communities we serve. We pursue knowledge not for its own sake, but to make the world around us a better place.
As UB students—now UB graduates—you embody that principle.
As students, you have been key players in UB’s commitment to enriching the quality of life, both locally as well as globally.
You’ve worked closely with faculty who are developing new cures for life-threatening diseases. You’ve shared your creative and artistic talents with members of the community. You’ve participated first-hand in UB’s community engagement initiatives, from working with local school children, to partnering with civic groups to improve the environmental health of our region and beyond.
The communities you enter as graduates—in Buffalo and around the globe—will be richer, healthier, more sustainable places to live because of the knowledge and expertise you bring to them.
We have great pride in all that you have achieved as students. Now we are eager to see what you will contribute to the world as UB alumni. Congratulations and best wishes for much continued success!