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Take the benefits of your education and turn them into opportunities for others

Commencement message to grads: Take the extra time for others that others took with you

(Editor's note: Below is text of the welcome remarks presented by President Marc Johnson on the morning of Saturday, Dec. 10, 2016, during the University's Winter Commencement Exercises.)

Good morning graduates.

Welcome to the University of Nevada, Reno's 2016 Winter Commencement Ceremony.

Before we begin, I'd like to thank a few people. To families and friends: Today is the culmination of your loved one's journey at the University. Thank you for the support and encouragement you've given.

To our University colleagues: You bring our University to life for our students. In your daily work, you embody our core missions of learning, discovery and engagement. Please join me in thanking these wonderful individuals from our faculty and staff.

To our guest speaker this morning, State Senator Ben Kieckhefer: Thank you for providing the principled and thoughtful leadership that our state needs. I know you began your professional career as a writer and  journalist. Like everyone here this morning, I'm anxious to hear what stories you will be sharing with us. Thank you, Senator Kieckhefer, for being here with us this morning.

And finally, I'd like any teachers we have in our audience to please stand. Teachers are without question the unsung heroes of our society. They advise and counsel; they inspire and impart knowledge; they provide direction and guidance. Many of our graduates would not be here today if not for that one special teacher who saw in them the great potential that we honor this morning. To all the teachers here today, thank you.

Speaking of teachers, I'd like all of the members of this Class of 2016 to think back in time for a moment. Conjure the face and name of a teacher, or a professor, who has had a profound influence on you. Think about this person ... and how they influenced your journey to our University. Or, how they altered the direction of your journey once you were on our campus. Think about how they saw special things in you ... that others did not. Who was that one teacher who spent the extra time with you? Who was that one professor who took the time ... to find innovative, experiential ways of learning new concepts and ideas? Who was that one person who gave you the tools that will help you in your career ... and in your life?

The influence of these people cannot be underestimated.

I recently spent an afternoon writing thank-you letters to high school teachers from throughout our state. These were individuals who had been singled out by some of our students for having a lasting impact on their lives. What was fascinating to me was how so many of these students had chosen to major in fields mirroring their high school mentors' fields. Our students had seen first-hand what it meant to feel passionately about learning. It had inspired them to find out more. It had stirred their enthusiasm for a particular subject. It had helped them decide on a major, and a direction, once they began their college careers.

Cynics may say, "Well, direction and meaning in life is one thing. But let's talk bottom line: Is a college education worth the money that is spent?"

It is worth every penny.

Recently, NPR shared the results of a year-long report done on our college campuses. NPR chose to track students who had entered college in and around 2010-2011. NPR asked nine students, all of whom had either just graduated or were about to graduate, if their time in college had been worth it. One young woman, who graduated from Columbia University, said perhaps the most difficult thing about college was how it was often so difficult to enjoy ... in the moment. But once this young woman had graduated, the experience crystalized almost immediately for her.

Her time in college? Definitely. It been worth it. She said, "Since graduating, it's a lot easier to look back and appreciate the benefits and the incredible opportunities that I had while there."

My sincere hope is that all of you will appreciate the benefits and the incredible opportunities that you had while you were here.

If I can ask one final thing of you before you leave here today, it is this: Take these benefits. Turn them into opportunities. Not only for you. But for others. Think again about those special professors. Those wonderful teachers. Those individuals who saw something memorable in you. How they helped cultivate and nurture something deep inside of you ... the potential for accomplishment that we celebrate this morning with your graduation.

Remember how they spent extra time with you? If you can, do the same with others. In your community. In your workplace. In your home. With your fellow citizens. With co-workers. With loved ones.

The value of any college education is not just how it benefits you, but how it provides significant opportunities to bring out the potential in others around you as well. How it provides you the opportunity to serve as an example for others, as your teachers and professors did for you.

This is a great responsibility to carry with you as you go forward today. But thanks to the experiences you've had, the knowledge you've gained and the people you've met while students here at our University, there is no doubt in my mind you will meet this responsibility.

For 142 years, our University has produced leaders in practically every field imaginable. As graduates, you are well-equipped now to do the same. Congratulations to each and every one of you, on this wonderful morning.

University President Marc Johnson

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