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Kullman to Class of 2011: Lifelong learning, collaboration keys to success

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DuPont Chair and CEO Ellen Kullman painted a picture of a challenging and turbulent global market for the graduating students and families gathered in Goodman Stadium for Lehigh’s 143rd commencement exercises. But, she said, the qualities that helped her company endure more than two centuries in a rapidly evolving marketplace can inspire graduates and ensure their success.

“We’re still here,” she said of the multinational chemical company that will soon celebrate its 209th year, “because we learned to be resilient. We learned how to use science to innovate. And we learned how to transform ourselves whenever fundamental transformation was called for.”

The corporate leader recently named one of the most powerful women in the country by both Forbes and Fortune magazines encouraged students to learn how to do the same, as well as collaborate—an approach that is essential in the 21st century.

“The problems we face are too big and too complex for anyone to solve alone,” said Kullman, who also advised students to commit to lifelong learning.

In DuPont’s rich legacy of scientific research, she said, there were many great scientists. But only one won the Nobel Prize for chemistry, and he was also a poet who painted watercolors, watched birds and was an avid fisherman. He was the first to discover crown ether after testing the brown sludge that formed at the base of a test tube during a failed experiment.

“Charlie Pedersen would have been the first to say he was a lifelong learner,” she said.

The company she now heads continues to change, she said, but “our values don't.”

She urged students to “avoid the temptation to think you’re done ... The good news is that with your Lehigh education, you already have a head start on much of the world.”

A long journey to Lehigh

Kullman’s talk was preceded by remarks from Violet Kulo, a doctoral student, and Brian Cohen, president of the Class of 2011.

Kulo detailed the long journey from her home in Kenya to this moment in Goodman Stadium, where she would soon be awarded the degree she worked on since 2004. The fifth of nine children, Kulo expressed gratitude to her parents, who valued educational opportunities, and the professors who mentored her.  She encouraged fellow students who are about to embark on their life’s journey to be persistent in the pursuit of their dreams.

Cohen began his remarks by ticking off a series of cultural references that reflected the shared experiences of his fellow graduating seniors, and then reviewed a series of Lehigh milestones as well.

Cohen recounted his experience last summer working in the Fox entertainment division in Los Angeles, and attempting to emulate the successful leaders of that company. In the process, he said, he gained a valuable piece of advice from a mentor, who reminded him that no one will notice you if you are imitating someone else “since the original is already there.”

Cohen’s advised his classmates to celebrate what is unique, distinctive and extraordinary about themselves. “Nothing will get you further,” he said, “than being yourself.”

Guided by values

Lehigh President Alice P. Gast acknowledged the mixed emotions many of the students shared on this momentous day.

“You are proud of your accomplishments, and also nostalgic about the wonderful times you had at Lehigh, and the great friends you have made along the way,” she said. “You are no doubt both excited and a bit apprehensive about what comes next.

That feeling resonated with Gast recently, when she read a letter written by her newly widowed father to his eldest daughter as she was about to graduate from college.  He wrote: “Sweetheart, I know just how you feel about leaving college. I felt that way myself. It seemed like the end of an era. I had many, many wonderful memories of the years I spent in college and wouldn’t exchange them even now for anything else, including all the money in the world…..”

Gast told those gathered that her father had been the only one in his family to go away from home and experience that atmosphere for four years.  “He sent five daughters to college to live in that atmosphere,” she said. “His legacy lives on at Lehigh, in a scholarship in his and my mother’s name.”

Gast said that the knowledge students gained at Lehigh will serve them well in life, but that their values will serve as a guide. 

Commencement, she said, represents the closing of one chapter of the students’ lives, and the beginning of another. Inspiration for future success can be found in the members of the Class of 1961 who have guided them, the professors who have taught them, and the honorees who have inspired them.

“We know from our alumni and our esteemed honorees and our heroes that success requires high aspirations, strong values, intellect, hard work and perseverance,” she said. “Your trajectory will be just as great. I am confident of this because I know that you hold very high expectations for yourself. Likewise, we hold very high expectations for you.”

Confident that these students would soon be hard at work after celebrating this milestone, Gast told them to set their goals high and strive to exceed them.

“You will use your character, your intellect, and your values to make the world a better place,” she said. “And no matter how far your life takes you from Lehigh, I know you will look back on your time here with wonderful memories.”

Fast facts

The three-hour ceremony took place under cool, gray skies, with a light rain falling at times … a total of 1,777 degrees were conferred at Goodman Stadium: 1,064 bachelor’s degrees, 603 master’s degrees, 106 doctoral degrees, and four education specialist (Ed.S.) degrees … the Class of 2011 included students from more than 35 countries plus the United States … the ceremony began with a blessing from University Chaplain Lloyd Steffen, and was followed by the national anthem, which was sung by Jennifer Ginsburg ’11 … later in the ceremony, Ginsberg joined a group of graduating seniors in singing the alma mater. The group included Rayanna Azar, Anna Field, Nowelle Kahle, Tim Krentz, Lily Kull, Daniel Manbeck, Matthew Pollock, James Casey Rule, Emily Sipes and Elizabeth Woods … Daniel E. Smith, chair of the Board of Trustees, welcomed the assembled audience … Violet Kulo, a doctoral candidate, delivered the Graduate Student Remarks, and Brian Cohen, president of the Class of 2011, delivered the Senior Class Remarks … Commencement speaker Ellen Kullman received an honorary Doctor of Engineering degree following her talk … other honorary degree recipients were American playwright David Henry Hwang, who received a Doctor of Letters; Commander Charles R. Kubic ’72, who received a Doctor of Engineering; and feminist theologian Rosemary Radford Ruether, who received a Doctor of Divinity … James M. Flanagan ’80, outgoing president of the Lehigh University Alumni Association, officially closed the ceremony with a welcome to new alumni, which was followed by the ringing of the bell by representatives from the classes of 1961 and 2011 … the benediction was offered by the Rev. Wayne E. Killian, director of the Newman Center and pastor of the University Parish of Holy Ghost Church … the Allentown Band, under the direction of conductor Ronald H. Demkee, delivered their 30th consecutive performance at Lehigh’s commencement ceremony. It is America's oldest civilian concert band, with its first documented performance on July 4, 1828.

Photo by Douglas Benedict

Story by Linda Harbrecht

Posted on Monday, May 23, 2011

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