May 17, 2014
The University of New England conferred 1,374 bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees at its 179th Commencement ceremony held at the Cumberland County Civic Center today at 10:00 a.m.
Students were awarded degrees from the College of Arts and Sciences, Westbrook College of Health Professions, College of Osteopathic Medicine, and College of Pharmacy. Each college recognized its own student achievements at pinning and hooding ceremonies throughout the week.
UNE President Danielle Ripich quoted the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., whose visit to campus 50 years ago to participate in a civil rights symposium has been celebrated throughout the 2013-14 academic year:
“The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. Intelligence plus character – that is the goal of true education.” Ripich added, “We have seen you grow in both intellect and character as students, and we are proud to have you here today as graduates, fully confident not just in your ability to change the world, but in your desire to do so.”
Gregory W. Powell, chief executive officer and president of Dexter Enterprises, Inc. and chairman of the Harold Alfond Foundation, the largest charitable foundation in Maine, was the Commencement speaker. Powell was also awarded an Honorary Doctor of Laws degree at the ceremony.
Powell joined the UNE Board of Advisors in 1992 and two years later was elected to the UNE Board of Trustees, where he served for five years, including as vice chairman. It was Powell’s introduction of Harold Alfond to UNE that sparked his interest in supporting the construction of the Alfond Center for Health Sciences in 1996. In 2010, Powell was instrumental in awarding the transformative investment by the Foundation to establish the Harold Alfond Forum.
In conferring the honorary degree, President Ripich said, “The Foundation’s significant support for new models of health care, education and recreation throughout our great state of Maine is a reflection of your visionary leadership. We honor your longtime dedication and service not just to our students and the University of New England, but to students and families everywhere who have been touched by your generosity and vision ...Over two decades ago, you saw what UNE could become. Your belief has helped build this great university.”
In his address, Powell spoke about the many “dots” connecting him, Harold Alfond and the University of New England over the past 19 years. From Alfond’s serendipitous conversation with a hitchhiker he picked up on his way to the Skowhegan Fair (he never made it there), to his purchase of an abandoned shoe factory in Norridgewock, Maine, to care he received from an osteopathic physician, and to success and philanthropy, Powell discussed themes of trust and confidence inspired by his “friend and much missed mentor.”
“Don’t try to connect the dots looking forward. Life is not a rigid plan or script. The beauty and opportunity in life is its random diversity. Harold Alfond set out to the Skowhegan Fair and ended up buying a shoe factory, building a world-class business and giving hundreds of millions of dollars to charity. I was intent on being a trial lawyer and, because of UNE, today run a wealth management company and lead Maine’s largest foundation.”
He added, “Your University could have been satisfied at any point along its journey. But it has never settled. It has trusted in its mission to keep pressing ahead, leaving one successful dot after another in its wake. And you graduates could have chosen to receive your education anywhere, but you chose UNE. ... And as the dots of the future are laid down on the chart of your life, UNE will always be a part of you. And you and your life a part of UNE. So like your University, find your special place and purpose, never settle, work hard, be ambitious and bold, grow and change as the world changes, be visionary, creative, passionate and kind....Be UNE.”
At the end of the commencement ceremony, President Ripich, trustees and the platform party danced off the stage and down the aisle to a UNE video version of "Happy" by Pharrell Williams, which was projected on the Civic Center's large monitors. In the video President Ripich dances with students, faculty and staff to the popular song. Watch the "Happy" video.