Purdue President's speech to spring graduates

May 13, 2011
Purdue University President France A. Córdova made these comments during commencement ceremonies 


Congratulations, graduates! What a special weekend this is! On our West Lafayette campus we are celebrating the achievements of 900 graduate and 4,000 undergraduate students. Congratulations to your families and everyone who "friended" you during your time here.

I came to Purdue four years ago, so I'm a senior, too. The difference between us is that after today, most of you will leave Purdue … and I will still be here. I guess I should have listened when they told me not to walk under the Bell Tower.

We've seen many exciting moments over the last few years.

On a fall day in 2007, the Dalai Lama spoke of "Cultivating Happiness" to an audience that filled this hall. On the same day across campus, 16 Purdue alumni astronauts reunited for the dedication of the Neil Armstrong Hall of Engineering. I remember thinking, "What a day to be a Boilermaker!"

The following year, Tom Friedman, best known for his book, "The World is Flat," joined us here at Elliott for a lively discussion. In just a few years, the world has become even flatter as social media have played a dramatic role in global events.

In the fall of 2008, we unveiled the "Unfinished Block P", a project that came from the energy and creativity of our students.

The inscription on this dramatic sculpture reads, in part, "The real Purdue is not simply the physical facility or the location of the university but the cumulative and lasting impact and wonder of our interactions with faculty, staff, other students, and all the events that occur during our time together. Once a part of the experience, we are all together eternally Purdue."

In the time we've shared, this institution has seen record levels of research thanks to the work of our graduate students and faculty who are finding solutions to challenges that are being felt around the world.

In the fall of 2009, we received the largest amount of research awards in our history. Our faculty are developing partnerships with such agencies as the National Science Foundation, the Department of Energy, the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Homeland Security. Researchers at Purdue are impacting everything from world hunger to earthquake disasters to alternative energy systems.

These are the same experts who are teaching in our classrooms and devoting themselves to our students' success. And they are being recognized around the world for their expertise.

In the past several months alone, Dr. Ei-ichi Negishi won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his palladium-catalyzed cross coupling technique. (Some of you took his organic chemistry class.)

Professor Steve Wereley was on every major news station helping us understand the magnitude of the oil gushing from the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico.

Jere Jenkins consulted on the effects of nuclear radiation in the wake of the tsunami in Japan.

Dr. Michele Buzon's work with ancient burials in the Nile Valley was featured on the National Geographic Channel.

Professor Thomas Talavage and his research team drew the nation's attention to an undiscovered category of cognitive impairment suffered by football players.

And World Food Prize Laureate Gebisa Ejeta was appointed by President Obama to the Board for International Food and Agricultural Development, where he will advise on famine protection and freedom from hunger.

Purdue's influence is being felt well beyond the globe. Robert Brown, a Purdue alumnus, leads the science team that runs the Cassini spacecraft that is examining Saturn's moon called Titan. Recently, the team discovered a methane lake that now proudly holds the name of Brown's favorite Indiana watering hole: Lake Freeman. It seems that our Boilermakers tend to reach for the sky - or outer space - to fulfill their dreams.

Our students are making national news, too.  Emilia Czyszczon discovered a previously unidentified virus in a Southern Indiana cave as part of a class assignment. The virus will bear her name Czyszczon1. Her research is ongoing and has the potential to fight diseases like tuberculosis one day.                   

Many of you are making a difference through your outreach efforts. When the levees were breeched by Katrina, and earthquakes devastated Haiti and Japan, you donated your time, supplies, and even money to people you will never meet.

A village in Cameroon, Africa, will receive vital electricity because of a team of Purdue students who came together to design a hydropower system that will support homes, schools, health-care facilities and a drinking water system.

Closer to home, over 1,000 students register every spring for Boiler Blast to help our community clean up and prepare for the summer.

The two great cities of Lafayette and West Lafayette will miss your energy and your contributions. I know wherever you go, you will continue to offer the same Boilermaker spirit that is at the heart of this institution, its students, faculty, staff and alumni. 

During your time here you have seen great performances - some of them on this stage.

There were the two talented ladies we came to see three times: Lady Gaga and Lady Antebellum.

Snoop Dogg shared his birthday with us.

And thanks to Sigma Nu fraternity, 3,000 students joined Wiz Khalifa in saying "farewell" to seniors JaJuan Johnson and E'Twaun Moore.

JaJuan and E'Twaun and the entire men's basketball team gave us terrific athletic performances, ending with the first unbeaten home schedule in over 40 years. Well done, Boilers!

And there were other athletic firsts during your time at Purdue: The women's volleyball team reached the Elite Eight. The women's golf team brought home the NCAA championship. Defensive end Ryan Kerrigan became the football program's first consensus All-American in 30 years - and soon will be playing for the Washington Redskins. And the Purdue "All-American" Marching Band led the way in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade.

And here's one more first: There was an old Pete, a new Pete and a re-Pete in less than a week! That's never happened before!

The years you've shared with us have been exciting times.

I know you'll greet your new experiences with the same spirit and engagement that you brought to Purdue.

Whether you decide to pursue a service-oriented career, become a distinguished professor like members of our faculty where you can devote yourself to the success of future student leaders, or manage a Fortune 500 company, the choices will be up to you.

Remember what the Purdue experience has taught you. You've learned to set high goals and step out of your comfort zone to meet them. You've learned that you have a point of view worth sharing and that listening to others' views adds more value. And you've found that giving back to your community - and to each other - not only is great but feels great.

We've had a wonderful time together here at Purdue. Thank you for what you have given to our campus and community.

As you accept your diplomas today, think about this. Much will change, but one thing will never change: You will always be a member of the Boilermaker family…and you will always be welcome here.

Congratulations graduates and Hail Purdue!