Dr. Francine G. McNairy

On December 16, Millersville President Dr. Francine G. McNairy, who will retire from the University in January 2013, presented the fall 2012 commencement address to 505 graduates; their family and friends, as well as University faculty and staff.

You can read McNairy’s commencement address in its entirety below:

The acclaimed Tony Award winning Broadway musical, Wicked, tells a companion tale to the beloved American classic, The Wizard of OzWicked recounts the story of the unique relationship between two women, who first met in school, and whose lives became intertwined.  It is a powerful story, yet, it is the song, “Changed for Good,” that is so very touching.

Listen to the words that Glinda, the good witch, sings, “I’ve heard it said that people come into our lives for a reason.  And we are led, to those who help us most to grow, if we let them—-and help them in return… I know I’m who I am today, because I knew you.  Because I knew you, I have been changed for good.”

Look around you today — the person on your left, on your right; the person sitting two rows away; a member of the faculty sitting in the front rows; a family member in the bleachers… because you knew them, you have been changed these years at Millersville, and changed for good.

Graduates, there are those to whom you might wish to show your appreciation for their effort in helping you change for good.  Our faculty have provided a world-class education and a coherent learning environment to every student.  Will members of the faculty here present, please stand to be recognized?

Family and friends of our graduates, thank you for the care and support you have invested.  Your encouragement of their pursuit of higher education has supplied them with the fortitude they need to achieve their goals and make the most of their collegiate experiences.  Will all family and friends please stand and be recognized.

Graduates, what you have achieved merits celebration.  Too often we forget that while more young people pursue a college education than ever before, those who earn their bachelor’s degrees today are still a minority population.  USA Today reports the most recent census data indicates only 15.5% of Americans hold a bachelor’s degree.

So while you celebrate this achievement, remember that it comes with a responsibility.  That responsibility calls us to use our intellect, our talents, and our resources for the public good.  Now it’s YOUR turn, YOUR responsibility.  YOU become the people who help others most to grow.  YOU become those who help others change for good.  But you must make a conscious decision to accept this responsibility.  You must begin by accepting responsibility for whom you are and whom you wish to become.

In the musical, Wicked, many of the characters allow themselves to be defined by others rather than accept the responsibility to determine their own fate.  You might recognize Glinda as the name of the good witch in The Wizard of Oz.  On the other hand, Wicked, depicts Glinda as a thoughtless, inconsiderate, self-centered, manipulative young lady.  If the truth be told, she is NOT a good person.  Glinda becomes the good witch, not because she is inherently good, but because people perceive her as good, and she accepts the characterization totally because of peer perception.

Conversely, Elphaba, a kind, considerate, generous, caring, fair-minded young lady, allows herself to be defined by circumstances.  In Wicked, just because she was born green, she was ostracized by classmates and mistreated by goody-two-shoes Glinda.  Ultimately, Elphaba becomes the wicked witch of the west even though that is contrary to her innate personality.

Graduates, do not allow yourselves to be defined by others; do not accept the roles that others thrust upon you.  Take control of your life, your reputation, your destiny.  Chart your own course.  Do you remember just four years ago?  Many of you were defined by your high school grade point averages and your SAT scores.  Look at you now!  You are MORE than those numbers, MORE than those scores, MORE than those labels.

By coming to Millersville and earning your degree, you have already begun to take control of your lives.  Occasionally you will find that, even though you are fully committed to being masters of your own destinies, there are still days when circumstances conspire to make you doubt yourself.  For those days, I offer you the words of William Ernest Henley’s poem “Invictus” which have inspired me and one of my heroes, Nelson Mandela, during difficult times.

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the Pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll.
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul

Graduates, as you become masters of your fate, I challenge you… I challenge each of us, myself included… to accept three responsibilities:  keep learning, keep serving, and keep in touch.

No day is ever lost if something new is learned.  Throughout your lives, keep learning and push yourselves to dream and to take risks.  Years ago, as my own senior year was close to an end, I had absolutely no idea what I was going to do to with my life.  I knew I had a strong liberal arts background and loving, supportive parents; but beyond that I truly had no clear direction.  And let me tell you, I was scared to death.

Toward the end of the last semester, I joined a group of friends in the university commuter cafeteria where a stranger approached me and said, “You should consider a graduate program in Social Work.”  Never in my wildest dreams had that thought crossed my mind.  Yet the dream grew.  I risked rejection and applied.  I vowed that, if the Graduate School would accept me, I would be a serious student.  That chance meeting with the stranger helped change me for good.

My anxieties leading up to graduation were not particularly unique.  Recently a friend at another university, who works with Honors students, shared results of a survey of soon-to-be-graduates, who were asked to anonymously share any anxieties as graduation drew closer.  “What if I picked the wrong major?” was an important anxiety on the list.

Here is a little secret – for the most part, it really doesn’t matter what your major was.  Don’t misunderstand, having a degree in a specific major holds value, but the greater value rests in the degree… particularly a Millersville degree.  Let me remind you what your diploma represents:

  • You’ve had an education provided by experienced and outstanding faculty, 98% of whom have earned their terminal degree.  These professionals are teacher-scholars who have dedicated their lives to enhancing your learning and experience.  They have changed you for good.
  • You’ve earned an education from one of only two universities within the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education which has been designated as a Civic/Community Engagement University with distinction by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.  Millersville has educated you to be a responsible, productive citizen.
  • You hold an education from an institution which U.S. News & World Report ranks in the top quartile of schools in the Northeast, which Kiplinger Finance identifies as one of the top 100 universities based on quality and affordability, and which Washington Monthly ranks as 68 out of 500 master-level institutions, and the only university in the Pennsylvania State System, which adamantly supports the public good.  Millersville has prepared you to give back to society.

Because of our steadfast commitment to a liberal arts education, each of you has the tools of communication, inquiry, investigation, and understanding that we live in a globally-connected society.  Keep your minds open; you can achieve beyond your wildest imagination even without a plan that is fully outlined today.

Secondly, keep serving.  I am awed by the selfless dedication you and your peers consistently demonstrate in support of others.  This past year alone, you and other Millersville students gave over ­­­­­­­­­­134,000 hours of recorded community service.  Our service learning initiatives, through multiple classes and volunteer service from our  student clubs and organizations, have sent literally thousands of Millersville  University students as ambassadors of service into the local, state, regional and even international communities; you are catalysts of change in the lives of others.  Keep this passion alive.

Without question, some of my most memorable experiences at Millersville have been in serving others through the University Community — and I am sure the same is true for most of you.  Make no mistake, finding time, MAKING time, to serve others is a commitment we must continually make.

Finally, let me challenge you to keep in touch.  Stay in touch with Millersville as a place that nurtured you.  We are proud of the person you are becoming.  Your continued growth in intellectual pursuits, leadership and service will energize us.  Your alma mater needs you, and we want you never to forget that we are here for you.   Whether you stay in contact by letter, phone, e-mail, reunions, conferences, texts or tweets – nurture the relationships in your life; they will lift you up when issues in life threaten to drag you down.

Now, I know that earlier I asked you to accept three responsibilities:  keep learning, keep serving, and keep in touch.  But it occurs to me that I must challenge you to accept yet another responsibility:  Reach back.

If you are like me, your very next step in life might not be certain.  And I am here to tell you — that is OK.  What I do know about the future is that I will reach back.  I will never falter in my advocacy for students.  I will reach back through my financial contributions to this University to ensure that students have access to a high-quality education, and I will volunteer in a public elementary school to ensure students are academically prepared to continue their education.

Nor will I waver in my commitment to serving the public good; I will continue to reach back to my community – through board service and church work – ever mindful that I have been blessed and am called to share with others.

AND I will reach back, staying connected to those who follow me.  I encourage you to do the same.  Remember to reach back to those who look up to you, who desire to BE you.  Remember to mentor them as they make the journey that you have made.  You are their role models.  They seek your knowledge and wisdom.  Take the time to be engaged with them, to support them, to tutor them, to help them pursue their dreams.  Our world will be so much stronger if we remember to support those who follow us… to help them change for good.

Today, Class of 2012, you and I share a very special bond.  Today marks a transition for both of us.  We both step away from Millersville today, forever changed because we were here.  After 18 and one-half years at this amazing institution, I step forward from the presidency and you step out into the world that lies beyond the tranquility of our pond, which provides not only a home for Miller and S’Ville, but a place for reflection and conversation between friends.  We all will remember the people who helped us most to grow.  We all have been changed for good.

In the musical Wicked, Elphaba responds to Glinda with these words, “It well may be, that we will never meet again in this lifetime, so let me say before we part: so much of me is what I’ve learned from you, and you’ll be with me, like a handprint on my heart.  Now whatever way our stories end, I know you have rewritten mine by being my friend.”

Family, friends, faculty, staff, alumni and administrators… during our time at Millersville University, so many talented, caring, thoughtful, and passionate people have come into our lives and each of us, in many unique ways, has been changed by this Millersville University experience — be it for two, three, four, five, six or eighteen years.  We’ve been changed… and changed for good.  Thanks to the voices we each have added, the sound of the excellence that is Millersville University will reverberate for generations to come.

Millersville University, it has been my honor to be your president.  Thank you.  In the words from Wicked: “I’ve heard it said that people come into our lives for a reason.  And we are led, to those who help us most to grow, if we let them—-and help them in return… I know I’m who I am today, because I knew you.  Because I knew you, I have been changed for good.” Congratulations Graduates!

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