Commencement Remarks 2018
Dr. Melik Peter Khoury
These commencement remarks were given May 12, 2018 at Unity College by Unity College President Dr. Melik Peter Khoury.
As I look out at a full house here today, I am humbled and feel privileged to be the President of America’s Environmental College. Unity College began as an economic development project for a struggling region and we have come a long way in 53 years.
Unity College was the first college in the nation to divest our endowment portfolios from fossil fuels. We have created an experiential curriculum centered on sustainability science that truly sets us apart. And now, with your help, Unity College is working to reimagine what it means to be a college.
Unity College continues to stand the test of time, serving traditional freshmen and transfer students from all over the country to be environmental stewards and engaged citizens prepared to enter graduate school or the workforce.
But as you graduate, Class of 2018, you enter into a world of uncertainty. Job rates fluctuate, inflation is constantly on the rise, and we’re all too familiar with the current environmental crisis. But I have confidence that no matter what the world throws at you, you will persevere. I believe you will persevere because I have seen it firsthand.
I have seen the passion you put into your projects, competing for bragging rights at this year’s student conference. I have seen your hard work and research collecting data to assist whale watching companies in the Bay of Fundy. I have witnessed you travel across the country to Tacoma, Washington to help build homes for people in need. I watched as you helped amphibians safely cross the road on Big Night this spring. I have seen your struggles. I have felt your triumphs.
But most importantly, I have seen your resilience. I’m astounded by your ability to pick yourselves up in the face of adversity. It’s that resilience that has brought you here to this moment today.
As you finish a momentous chapter in your lives, we are doing the same here at Unity College, as we complete our five-year strategic plan and transition to a new one. A new plan that will help us discover new ways to enhance the value of a Unity College degree. Over the last five years, our strategic plan has helped shape Unity College as we know it.
Over the last few years, you witnessed the addition of a Sustainable Business Enterprise major, as well as Distance Education Graduate programming. Actually, one of our graduates will be hooded today. I’m proud to say that one of our very first graduates from the master’s program in December, Paul Miller, also earned his undergraduate degree here at Unity College. Yet another first. Paul just last week accepted the position of Chief Executive Director of Island Heritage Trust, right here in Maine. Congrats Paul.
Over the last few years we were gifted two spaces — a farm in Thorndike and a 150-plus acre northern wonderland called Sky Lodge in the Moose River Valley. McKay Farm and Research Station has opened up agricultural opportunities for the community, and offered greenhouses and fields for you to gain real-world agricultural business skills. Sky Lodge will give those who follow you an expansive outdoor setting perfectly suited for experiential education, ecotourism, research, and hands-on training.
We brought the learning resource center – literally — out of the basement, and into its own student-friendly facility known as the Collaborative Learning Center, which serves you, our students, today, and will continue to do so well into the future.
Your commitment to our residential experience allowed us to increase our housing capacity by over 125 students, and expand our award-winning dining options to better accommodate those of you who made Unity College your home away from home.
Unlike many other colleges, we increased our full-time faculty and teaching staff on our flagship campus, allowing you more quality time with your teachers and mentors, while the national trend headed in the opposite direction.
We invested in career services, research, and internship programs, to ensure you had every opportunity available as you prepare for the next chapter of your lives. Because you are worth it. You deserve every opportunity and the very best we can offer.
I could go on, professing the pride of our faculty, our staff, and our trustees, but we have a graduation and Jeff Corwin to get to!
In all seriousness, like you, the graduating Class of 2018, we here at Unity College are beginning our next chapter.
The world of higher education faces an unprecedented level of uncertainty. Demographic shifts, the rise of digital natives, and even the very definition of what a student is, are challenging many traditional colleges, and even putting their futures in jeopardy.
Not Unity College!
Not long ago in higher education, institutions would draw a line. You are either ready for the workforce, or you are well-educated. That is no longer enough.
The new normal is, and should always have been, this: No matter where you go from here, you need to be both prepared for the workforce, and be well educated, something that we here at Unity College have been exemplifying for many years.
Because an educated society is a successful society. Because a society that understands right from wrong is a prosperous society. Because a society that can decipher fact from fiction is a sustainable society. The world needs more Unity College graduates, like you. And because a society that makes room for new members in its pack, is a good society.
And people all across the planet are looking to solve environmental problems, like you. Good people everywhere hope to become educated global citizens and environmental stewards, like you. They may not know it yet, but those good people need to be Unity College students and Unity College graduates, like you. And Unity College has an obligation to do everything we can to meet those needs.
Everyone should have access to a flexible, affordable, and relevant education. A student should be able to have their education interrupted without forfeiting their education completely.
Never should a young man from Maine have to choose between working on his father’s Lobster boat or learning. Never should a woman from the Sudan have to choose between her family and her education. Never should a family have to choose which child to send to college, nor should any employee in any industry have to choose between a sustainability education or their career.
Therefore, we at Unity College need to expand our offerings, and further our reach. We need to serve more students and continue to serve you. As your needs change, we owe it to you, soon-to-be graduates of Unity College, to grow along with you. We need to become the college that is with you wherever you go, and there whenever you need us.
This means that, like you, we have to reinvent ourselves to stay ahead of the curve and redefine the role of education in our society and our community. We know that sustainability and the environment are core tenets if our species is to survive over the next couple of decades.
And we know that our curriculum is relevant and critical, and needs to be seen as a foundational piece in any educational pedagogy rather than just as an environmental niche. Education as we know it needs to change.
Unity College is embarking on this very journey.
I promise you, graduates, that in addition to serving the freshmen and transfer population as we always have, we will transform our delivery of the skills you need, to give you the competencies you need regardless of your industry, and to offer the flexibility and affordability to serve a new generation of Unity College students, wherever and whenever they are ready to learn. Because no one should ever have to choose.
I promise you who are about to graduate. You and your families have invested in us to earn your degree. You have trusted us with your education. In return, we will work tirelessly over the next 25 years to make sure that you — and all those who follow you – are confident that your Unity College degree places you ahead of the pack.
But as we grow, we need you – Unity College graduates — to grow with us. We need you to visit us, we need you to support us, we need you to challenge us and tell us what you need. We need you to advocate for us, and we need you to be proud of what you’ve accomplished here, and of what you will continue to accomplish as graduates of America’s Environmental College.
So I will leave you with this promise: From today until the day I retire, I will dedicate my career to ensuring that you are as proud of your college, as we are of you.
And, as you graduate into the global economy as global environmental citizens… Adios, auf wiedersehen, sie tie, ma salami, bon chance, and godspeed.
Thank you very much.