Purdue president to graduates: Look back with pride, ahead with passion

May 11, 2012

Purdue University professor and 2010 Nobel Prize winner in chemistry Ei-ichi Negishi smiles broadly as he as he steps to the podium after receiving an honorary doctorate degree in science during commencement ceremonies Saturday (May 12) in Purdue's Elliott Hall of Music. Purdue President France A. Córdova  asked Negishi to say a few words, and he obliged with a message to inspire graduates. (Purdue University photo/Mark Simons)

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WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. - Purdue University President France A. Córdova on Friday (May 11) encouraged graduates to reflect on their many accomplishments and the fun they had in making a difference - and to eagerly look ahead.

She will do the same.

Córdova is presiding this weekend over her fifth and final spring commencement ceremonies, and when they are complete, she will have welcomed more than 33,000 graduates over a half decade into the family of Purdue alumni. She is transitioning in July from her position as president.

"I, like you, will be moving to the next chapter of my life," Córdova said during Friday's ceremony in the Elliott Hall of Music. "I, too, am a member of the Class of 2012."
But her focus was on the graduating class, which, she said, left Purdue - and the world - better for all.

"Over the last four years, you continued the Purdue tradition of problem-solving that began with generations of Boilermakers who preceded you," she said.

To demonstrate her point, she noted the Class of 1912, which recognized a need for a spacious facility designed to enrich student life. A fundraising effort ensued, and with a push to memorialize the university's fallen World War I veterans, the Purdue Student Union opened in 1924.

Purdue President France A. Córdova receives an honorary doctorate of science degree during the university's commencement ceremony on Saturday (May 12). Córdova is transitioning in July from her role as Purdue's 11th president and this weekend presided over her last commencement ceremonies in the role. She has welcomed more than 33,000 Purdue graduates into alumni status during her five years as president. (Purdue University photo/Mark Simons)

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"Today, its stained glass windows still symbolize the mixing of races and creeds. Its black and gold cross still honor Boilermakers who fought and died in our nation's wars and conflicts," she said.

The Memorial Union has evolved since then to include restaurants, shops, an art gallery, hotel and entertainment areas.

The reach of Purdue's students also has evolved.

"Through studies abroad and international research, you've responded to global needs in a flat world," Córdova said. "You are already making your mark on the global world with your work in Haiti, Ethiopia, Cameroon and Kenya, Japan, Colombia, and the Middle East.

"You've done ground-breaking research in new fields of discovery and have business plans, patents and publications to your credit."

She spoke of how Purdue's Class of 2012 worked with peers from other classes to communicate the threat of alcohol poisoning and successfully lobbied the state Legislature to pass the Indiana Lifeline Law.

She also recognized the impact these graduates have had on the physical campus.

"The Class of 2012 initiated a student success corridor, which will include a much-renovated recreational center for fitness and wellness, and the Center for Student Excellence and Leadership, which is being built by the students and for the students.

"Along the student success corridor, there will be a new building for interdisciplinary student projects, a new classroom and a library building. Because of you, the Bailey Hall of Music for Purdue Musical Organizations will soon become reality.

"You have done all this and more. The Class of 2012 would make the Class of 1912 proud. You continue their traditions and make ones of your own."

Reflecting on her own time at Purdue, Córdova said she listened to commencement speeches from others to see how they captured this important moment of transition. She soon realized some of the most popular commencement speeches are by comedians. Another she listened to is Steve Jobs, who transformed the world of marketing. All of them had three common threads, she said.

They learned how to fall and pick themselves back up. They found a way to express their passion uniquely, guided by passion and zeal. They approached the world with a sense of wonder and gratitude.

"Boilermakers, my advice is to embrace what lies before you with energy and confidence. Pick yourself up when you fall. Rely on your friends for support. Imagine and invent your own path.

"Wherever you are on this great planet, you will find your way home. You will always be a Boilermaker. Stay connected and return often."
Writer: Jim Bush, 765-494-2077, jsbush@purdue.edu

Source: France A. Córdova, president@purdue.edu

Note to Journalists: The full text of Córdova's speech will be available after Friday's (May 11) 8:00 p.m. ceremony at http://www.purdue.edu/newsroom/general/2012/120511SPCordovaCommence.html