URI Graduate School Commencement Speech

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Remarks by Nasser Zawia, dean of the Graduate School at the University of Rhode Island during graduate commencement exercises, Saturday, May 22, 2010:

President Dooley, Governors Thomas Rockett, Dan Ryan, Solomon A. Solomon, Provost DeHayes, Deans, Vice Presidents and Vice Provosts, distinguished members of the faculty, degree candidates, family and friends, I am pleased to welcome you and bring you the greetings of the University of Rhode Island.

Hello, good afternoon, and welcome to Kingston and the 124th Graduate Commencement Ceremony of the University of Rhode Island. I was walking across campus and an idea popped into my head. I’m not sure how or why, possibly the flashy new marketing campaign that saturates our campus, but I realized something very important: here at the University of Rhode Island, We like to Think Big (pause).

“Think Big” is what we did at the Graduate School this year. Supported by an Administration, which encouraged us to “Think Big”, we have seen enrollment grow by about ten percent and applications to our graduate programs increase by fifty per cent in 2010. We owe this growth first and foremost to Provost DeHayes and his team and the excellent faculty and staff of the Graduate School. As you leave us today be certain that you have departed from a Graduate School that is world-class and desired by many.

“Think Big, We Do” is more than a slogan, it is a core value of this institution, enshrined in every degree we confer, every student we educate, and every seed of knowledge we plant. One such value is that education is a journey, not a destination. While today we toast to a job well done, and celebrate an achievement not to be taken lightly, tomorrow the cheers give way to sobriety, and hopefully what is to be the next leg of your intellectual journey.

A higher education is not a right, it is a gift, a gift that one elects to accept with full knowledge of the burden it brings. You may not have signed a contract, but you consented to a myriad of responsibilities the moment you accepted the invitation to join our Graduate School. You’re a Big Thinker for life now, and we confer a diploma upon you under the condition that you dedicate your life to the pursuit and proliferation of knowledge, peace, and understanding.

I say pursuit because as we age, we tend to entrench and reinforce beliefs forged in our youth. This is, I believe, a great tragedy of the human condition. The startling pace of technological advancement serves as a perfect example for the need to retain an open mind, and engage in the seemingly endless give and take of responsible citizenry. We know that knowledge is cumulative, forever building upon, and at times, reinventing itself; each passing year yields new discoveries that dramatically alter our understanding of the universe. At the University of Rhode Island we value innovation, and catalyze the curiosity of our students. You entered your graduate studies as a partially completed book replete with a myriad of blank pages, pages now lined with ink as we shared, learned, and grew together. Think not of this diploma as a bookend, but as a call to arms, a call to continue to breathe life into your book, to insert fresh pages, and rebind if need be.

I trust that a deep-seated intellectual curiosity will ensure that you continue to seek and ascertain knowledge throughout your life, but that is the easy part. A more challenging duty of URI graduates is the proliferation of information, tolerance, peace, and understanding. These duties are essential to any Big Thinker, and we would expect nothing less from you. Those with access to education are entrusted with the responsibility to encourage, facilitate, and foster intellectual discourse and combat those who distort information, misguide, and manipulate those deprived of a quality education. History is replete with examples of masses led astray by those who possess the great power that education brings, yet misuse it, occasionally with sinister intentions and unimaginable consequences. I implore you to use your education to speak out against injustice, and to use your position to impart positive change upon society. Now, I understand that this is a rather daunting task, but let us not forget that society is nothing more than a collection of individuals, and each of us exercises tremendous influence upon our family, friends, and peers. I challenge you to use that influence wisely, and to seize every opportunity to think big.

In addition to the duties of pursuit and proliferation, URI graduates embrace the intense interconnectivity of the modern world and accept the responsibilities of Global Citizenship. At the University of Rhode Island, we proudly assemble an international community of scholars, a privilege that I believe fosters a sense of transnational connectivity and awareness that benefits all of us immensely. Let our future be one of collaboration, not conflict, of compromise, not contention, and most of all, let us embrace our differences yet unite behind the promise of a better tomorrow.


Imagine yourself as a small stone, plunged into a pond. Initially the impact of your splash in negligible; however, you trigger ring after ring of ripples that compound, expand, and transform into something far greater than imagined. Take this degree, take the experience and knowledge you accumulated in this small, special place, and set about to reclaim our future and bridge the realm of the present with the realm of the possible. Together we can build a better world. Dream, remain curious, remain audacious, and never settle for anything less than happiness. Thank you, congratulations, and I wish you peace, prosperity, and good health as you embark upon the magical journey known as life.

Pictured above

Nasser Zawia

URI Department of Communications & Marketing photo by Michael Salerno Photography.