UNH commencement speaker tells graduates: Don't worry about mistakes, learn from them
Amanda DeMarco of Salem wears heart sunglasses as the crowd sings the National Anthem during UNH's commencement ceremony on Saturday. (Thomas Roy/Union Leader)
"Now all you have to do is get up at 5:30 in the morning, grab a cup of coffee and go to work," she joked as more than 3,000 UNH graduates realized they must now face the realities of life after college.
Thousands gathered at Memorial Field for Saturday's commencement ceremony to applaud the 2,522 undergraduate and 522 graduate students who earned their degrees. They included 68 military veterans, ranging in age from 19 to 67, and represented 29 states and 23 countries.
They also included heroes such as UNH track athlete Cameron Lyle, who gave up the remainder of his senior season of track to donate bone marrow after learning he was a perfect match for a 28-year-old stranger diagnosed with lymphoblastic leukemia.
Lyle was entered into a donor registry after he and others on campus provided a routine cheek swab two years ago.
"The moving part of the story for me is not that Cameron decided to be that donor and to save that life. The moving part is that he genuinely doesn't understand why anyone would be surprised by his decision," UNH President Mark Huddleston said during his welcoming speech, in which he spoke of the many times students proved the strength of their character this school year.
He recalled the helping hands that UNH director of athletic training, Jon Dana, and two students, Brandon Hall and Ashlei Brock, provided on the day of the Boston Marathon bombings. The three were working as race volunteers at the finish line when the bombs went off.
Huddleston said they remained there "in the midst of that horror, in the smoke and confusion and carnage, and lent aid. That was character: Doing the right thing in the face of tremendous adversity without even thinking about it."
He also recalled the day in January when a UNH student exercising at the Hamel Rec Center went into cardiac arrest. Seven students who were there didn't hesitate to offer help.
"They ran toward the bomb, metaphorically speaking, grabbed a nearby (automated external defibrillator) and, thankfully, resuscitated the young man. In the face of adversity, character," he said.
Students were tested again when a hot water pipe burst outside Hunter Hall and near-boiling water and steam accumulated inside the front lobby, seriously burning several students.
"I was again deeply moved to hear how their quad-mates ran in, carried them to safety and tended to their injuries," Huddleston said.
In her commencement address, keynote speaker Lt. Gen. Mary A. Legere had the graduates and crowd roaring with laughter as she cracked jokes about everything from the registrar's office hunting down those with unpaid parking fees to the day she graduated from UNH and sat in the audience listening to the "blah, blah, blah."
Legere kept her speech light, but it carried serious messages and offered words of encouragement.
A Dover native and '82 UNH graduate, Legere has spent 31 years in the military and is now the Army's deputy chief of staff for intelligence. She urged the graduates to look forward to what's ahead and not to worry so much.
"If you have an anxiety that you haven't fully prepared yourself for what's ahead, don't worry, you haven't," Legere said. "You're just going to have to go out and do your best and bring the confidence and strength and support that you've gained here in these four years because ultimately you will figure it out.
"And if you're worried about making mistakes and failing, don't do that either because you're going to make a thousand mistakes. It's like death and taxes. It's going to happen. You can count on it," said Legere, who told the graduates to learn from their mistakes and then "drive on."
Dave Goodsell and Kevin McKenna, both 22 and buddies from Stratham, are among the graduates hoping to launch their careers soon after graduation. They're excited, but understand they face challenges.
"There are definitely better opportunities now, but I'm still nervous, as always," said Goodsell, a business major.
McKenna majored in sociology and plans to enter a career in law enforcement. He's applied at some local police departments but expects it'll take some time before the lands a job.
Meanwhile, Goodsell had some advice for next year's students: "Live it up, but make sure you do your work because if you don't it's going to catch up to you," he said.
A biochemistry, molecular and molecular biology major, Sarah Mercier of Manchester plans to take a year off before pursuing a master's degree in nursing.
She urged next year's freshmen to take advantage of all that the college experience offers.
"It's tempting to go home every weekend because you miss your family, but it's really important to stay here to enjoy the campus. There's so much going on here. There are so many people you can meet," Mercier said, as her proud dad arrived and greeted her with a hug and flowers.
An aspiring preschool teacher, Angela Dalessio, 33, of Milford, is a communication sciences and disorders major who plans to return to UNH to study for her master's degree in early childhood special needs.
"It was a good experience," she said, "and I'm excited about coming back for the special ed program."
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