Maggie Hassan

UNH Manchester Commencement Address - May 16, 2013

Maggie Hassan
May 16, 2013— Manchester, New Hampshire
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Thank you Dean Rafieymehr, President Huddleston, Chairman Galway and the University System Board of Trustees, faculty, staff, and all members of the University of New Hampshire Manchester community for the opportunity to join you on this beautiful and celebratory evening.

And congratulations to UNH Manchester's Class of 2013! [applause]

Whether you are receiving your undergraduate degree, attaining your masters, or completing the next stage of your ongoing higher education, I understand how hard all of you have worked to reach this moment.

You've invested your time, energy, and money in your future, and for that I commend you and I thank you.

Because the investments you have made are not limited to yourselves. Your education represents an investment in the future of your communities, your state, and your nation. I know there remains much uncertainty as our economy continues to recover from the worst recession we have seen in generations. A recession that has left no family, no business, no community unaffected.

But as I stand before you today, I can say with confidence that our economic future has never been brighter, and it is bright because of you.

You play an integral role as the leaders who will help build a more innovative economy where all of our people are able to succeed.

The education that you have dedicated so much to will give you the foundation for incredible success, because the 21st century economy is being driven by education.

Whether you have studied business, science, education or any other field, you now possess invaluable skills that employers are seeking.

And I hope that as you move forward, you will strongly consider building your successful careers right here in New Hampshire.

The Granite State has so much to offer you at each step along your way, from our high quality of life to our beautiful natural resources and outdoor recreation, to our vibrant cultural communities.

As I travel across our state, I have seen that New Hampshire's employers are ready to welcome you. There are many innovative companies looking to hire and many new economic opportunities waiting to be seized.

From emerging sectors like clean energy, biotech, and advanced manufacturing, to our strong tourism and outdoor recreation industries, New Hampshire has opportunities for any path you might choose.

And it is important to remember that the path you end up on might not be where you first thought you would go.

When I began college, I originally thought I would become a doctor. My grandfather was a pediatrician and he was one of my heroes. I wanted to emulate him and I wanted to help people, and I had spent time volunteering with nonprofits providing health care services to those in need.

But over the course of my college career, I learned that a career in medicine wasn't for me. Instead, I found myself pulled in another direction - towards social services, then law school and eventually, as a result of my family circumstances, to public service.

And the lessons I took from my experiences helped me understand that you shouldn't fear failure - or reject something you're interested in or good at - simply because it doesn't follow the path that you started on.

You will have personal experiences that will shape your life and career in ways you cannot possibly imagine. And your personal and professional experiences may complement each other in important ways as they did in my case.

My professional path took me from a post-college job in social services on to law school. I worked in a large law firm as my husband, Tom, and I started our family. When our oldest child, our son Ben, was born, we learned he had serious physical and developmental disabilities.

Today Ben is a wonderful 24-year-old high school graduate and a great young man. But even with all the progress that advocates had made on behalf of people with disabilities before Ben was even born, I quickly learned that he would need his family to advocate for his full inclusion in our schools and in our community.

My commitment and passion as Ben's mother joined forces with my education and my legal training and experience, and I became an advocate for families like mine and people like Ben. Eventually, my advocacy work led to my decision to run for the state senate.

And it was the lessons that I learned in my combined roles of mother, lawyer, advocate, and legislator that led to my decision to run for governor.

So, there is no formula, no predetermined set of steps that works for everyone—and I think it's fair to say and I suspect that may of you already know this—you rarely end up where you originally thought you would be.

What you can be sure of, though, is that your education has prepared you for any path that you might take.

No matter what your degree, you are all now better equipped to engage in the collective problem solving, team work, and critical thinking that are so important in any career in today's economy.

And these skills will also be brought to bear in the role you play in your civic life. Because we need you to lead, not only through the work you do in your careers, but also by committing yourself to improving your communities.

In New Hampshire, and across our nation, the concepts of civic engagement and economic success are intertwined like nowhere else on earth.

When our founders began the great experiment that is America, the notion that we could operate as a true citizen democracy while also becoming an economic force in the world was, remember, at the time, revolutionary.

The idea of being a truly self-governing people—where ordinary people could have an equal voice in decision making—was considered outrageous, but it was our founders' genius. They understood that the freedom to self-govern and the ability to succeed economically are inextricably linked.

If you were to talk today to the most successful leaders in any sector or in any field in our state or in our nation, what I think you will find that all these leaders have in common is that each had an idea, the energy to implement it, and, most importantly, the freedom to pursue it.

That freedom includes a welcoming society and a welcoming public sector, access to education, infrastructure, community support and much, much more.

But that progress and that freedom isn't here by accident. The success of our American experiment relies on each generation working harder than the last to move us forward.

And that's why your leadership is so vital.

Each of you is poised to help lead the way in the next chapter of our progress, but we need each of you to be engaged in the citizen democracy that drives us forward.

Here in the Granite State, we provide an unmatched ability to participate in our democracy. We are a state that combines a sense of community and independence like no other.

With 424 state representatives and senators, we have the third-largest legislative body in the world, made up of dedicated volunteers who give of their time and lend their experience to improve their communities.

We have city councils and community boards and advisory panels all driven by citizens who understand that our individual success is dependent on our collective progress.

We need your talent and your energy to keep our state moving forward. We need your perspective and your collaborative problem-solving to address our challenges. It is all of you, who will keep New Hampshire strong for generations to come.

We are willing, able and prepared to do all that we can to make sure you all have a bright future in the Granite State.

I understand that the qualities that make New Hampshire so special must be protected, and we are working to invest in the priorities that will keep our communities the safest, healthiest and most livable in the nation.

But our ability to make those investments and continue our progress relies in no small part on your willingness to engage in the democratic process.

Because our economic success and the strength of our citizen-led democracy are one and the same, and it is up to all of us to continue to show the rest of world that our founders were absolutely right.

In these changing times, we face great challenges, challenges that require us to rise above old political arguments and find new ways to articulate our different points of view and reconcile them through innovation and collective and creative problem-solving.

If we keep our founding principles in mind—if we remember that free individuals who are full participants in their economy and their communities can address economic and societal challenges and solve problems in ways that make us stronger, ours will continue to be a successful story.

If we remember this, it means that no one can beat us economically.

If we remember this, it means that all of our communities will be strengthened.

If we remember this, it means that each of us will be able to live in a stronger state and a stronger nation.

At times the path with be difficult, but you all have worked too hard to let obstacles stop you. And as a gentle reminder from your governor: we are Granite Staters and we are Americans and we are supposed to do hard things.

So as I look out on all of you, and I hear from President Huddleston about the wonderful things many of you have already done—no matter where your path leads, I am confident that you have what it takes to live up to our founders' grand vision. With your help and leadership, we will remain a leading force economically. We will remain a shining example of freedom throughout the world. We will all thrive.

Congratulations again, Class of 2013. I look forward to witnessing all that you will accomplish. Thank you for having me. [applause]

"Gov. Hassan speaks at UNH Manchester Commencement 2013," YouTube video, 15:19, posted by the University of New Hampshire Manchester, June 4, 2013.