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May 10. 2014 9:57PM

SNHU student speaker encourages graduates to be open to change


Robyn Sharp of Upton, Mass., cheers her daughter, Rachel, during the undergraduate graduation for Southern New Hampshire University at Verizon Wireless Arena in Manchester on Saturday. (Thomas Roy/Union Leader)

MANCHESTER - People need to be open to change and not wait for others to tell them how to live, the student speaker at Southern New Hampshire University's undergraduate commencement said Saturday.

"Don't spend your life staring at a blank screen and waiting for it to write itself," Tabitha Jennings told about 1,300 undergraduates at Verizon Wireless Arena.

"Don't be afraid to redefine your life," said Jennings, a mother of four daughters.

"A successful life should be a series of redefinitions. If it wasn't, we would all be graduating today as princesses or astronauts," said Jennings, who wore a softball uniform under her graduation robe, so she could coach a daughter's game immediately after the ceremony.

At the commencement for graduate students held later Saturday, Gov. Maggie Hassan said the almost 800 degrees conferred were given to more than just the students themselves.

"The investments you have made are not limited to yourselves," said Hassan, who was also given an honorary doctorate of letters. "Your education represents an investment in the future of your communities, your state and your nation."

At the earlier ceremony, SNHU President Paul LeBlanc saluted the graduates' family and friends, who nearly filled the arena, for their contributions to the success of their sons and daughters.

LeBlanc, who donned Google glasses to take a photo of the graduates, told them they will need grit, perseverance and creativity to succeed in life.

"Remember, your degree doesn't entitle you to anything," LeBlanc said. "It's your ticket to play the game."

Former U.S. poet laureate Robert Pinsky, the undergraduate commencement speaker who received an honorary doctor of humane letters degree, recalled his childhood days when teachers showed movies in class about careers about making paper and glass. He thought it impossible his classmates could ever do such difficult jobs and society would be in trouble.But generations pass on their knowledge and culture through family, work and other family members. He said the graduates had a responsibility to share and add to that knowledge base."If you become very successful ... and are praised and make a lot of money, in my eyes you are still a failure if you have not somehow thought about how you can help pass it on to other people ...," Pinsky said.

Graduate student speaker Thomas Langan urged his fellow graduates to continue to seek new knowledge beyond their degree programs.

"If I can summarize a single message to my fellow graduates, it's to identify, explore and tackle your gaps," he said. "You'll never go wrong with knowing more today than you did yesterday."

The university conducted separate commencements Saturday for undergraduates and graduates due to the number of students and guests attending.

Before the ceremony, Melissa Barclay of Hudson said her hard work paid off and hoped her accounting degree would pay off in other ways.

"Hopefully, it will be a slightly bigger paycheck," she said.

Jessica Higgins of Manchester, an SNHU adviser for military graduate students who earned a master's degree in organizational leadership, said she was excited to be a part of something she works to help others achieve.

"For me, it's not only cool to see my students graduate, but for me to graduate as well," she said.


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