'Frozen' director warms up to speaking at UNH commencement
DURHAM -- Feelings of self-doubt can be so pervasive, Jennifer Lee said, that she initially doubted whether she was "good enough" to speak at the University of New Hampshire's commencement - even though the 1992 UNH grad won an Oscar in March for writing and directing the hit animated film "Frozen," which grossed more than $1 billion in global ticket sales.
Shaking off self-doubt is the key to moving forward in life, Lee said Saturday at Memorial Field, where morning rain that fell as more than 2,700 graduates took their seats in a jubilant procession, yielded to sun and clearing skies by the time mortarboards were thrown in the air about noon.
Forecasts of rain had caused organizers to make backup plans for the ceremony, which was simulcast inside the adjacent Whittemore Center. But the rain did little to mar the day, which UNH engineering professor and chief faculty marshal Nancy Kinner emphasized as she used her opening remarks to lead the crowd in a sing-a-long that played off the smash single from "Frozen," the seemingly made-for-graduations "Let it Go."
"Let it go, let it go, we're Wildcats all the way," Skinner and the gowned graduates sang. "Here we stand on commencement day - let the storm rage on, the rain won't bother us anyway."
Lee kept the positivity rolling in her address.
"When you are free from self-doubt, you fail better," Lee said, citing the challenges that came early in her career. "When you believe in yourself, you succeed better."
Many of the newly minted UNH alums said Lee's remarks resonated with them.
"I definitely have moments of self-doubt," said Kim Buchwald, a Hampstead native who majored in psychology and said she'll start pursuing a master's in education in two weeks. "It was really inspiring that somebody who has come so far has those same feelings."
"She was eloquent, and she told it like it is," added Anthony Rapp of Cape Cod, who majored in political science and said he plans to look for jobs as a Senate staffer in Washington, D.C.
Rapp said he's "a little bit worried" about finding a position. "It's not the best market right now," he noted.
Carol Newcombe of Nelson found a seat inside Whittemore to watch her daughter Michayla receive a degree in computer science. Newcombe said she felt fortunate that Michayla is applying for a full-time job at a UNH lab where she's interned since her sophomore year.
"Jobs are tight, especially in the Keene area," Newcombe said. "Most kids are moving into the Dover-Portsmouth area, because there's not anything over our way. At least not anything that pays."
UNH awarded degrees to 2,268 undergraduates Saturday, along with 488 graduate students. Graduates hailed from 42 states and 17 foreign countries and included 55 veterans, according to UNH staff.
Of the hundreds of families who shared hugs and happy tears on Memorial Field, among the most jubilant were the Gabriels and Madols.
UNH President Mark Huddleston took time in his address to praise international business and economics graduate Komot Gabriel, who lived in war-torn Sudan until he was 7 and spent two years in a refugee camp in Egypt before coming to the U.S. when he was 9. His family settled in Manchester.
Gabriel received a warm ovation when he stood up among his classmates and acknowledged the crowd after Huddleston's remarks. After the ceremony, his hands were filled with flowers as he embraced family members and posed for photos.
"It meant a lot to me and my family," Gabriel said of being mentioned by Huddleston. "Just to have the opportunity to be here is a great feeling."
Gabriel said he'll start a full-time job at E. & J. Gallo Winery in Manchester on June 30. His cousin, Richard Madol, received a biochemistry degree at UNH on Saturday, after coming to the U.S. in 2002.
Madol said he also plans to remain in the Granite State, citing local opportunities and displaying an optimistic view of the job market that reflected the afternoon's clearing skies.
"There's a lot of room for growth here," Madol said.