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Graduates Encouraged to Connect Their Life to Their Passion and Help Make the World a Better Place

Graduates heard messages about innovation in the face of adversity and the value of making the most out of life's unscripted moments during Old Dominion University's 117th commencement exercises on Saturday, Dec. 15.

More than 1,200 students received bachelor's, master's and doctoral degrees from ODU in the two ceremonies, at 9 a.m. and 2 p.m., at the Ted Constant Convocation Center.

President John Broderick held a silent remembrance of the victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Connecticut at the beginning of the two commencement programs.

Christine Mann Darden, retired director of the Aero Performing Center Program Management Office at NASA Langley Research Center in Hampton, gave the commencement address to graduates of the Darden College of Education, Batten College of Engineering and Technology and College of Sciences at the morning ceremony.

"We need great STEM teachers that will stay in the classroom," Darden told the graduates. "We need engineers and scientists who will make the next discoveries or innovations, or who will solve many of the pressing problems that we face as a country and as a world."

During her 40-year career at NASA Langley, Darden made contributions ranging from research into supersonic aerodynamics to recruiting and instructing the next generation of NASA engineers.

In closing, Darden offered the following words of encouragement to the graduates: "You are prepared to go out and meet the world where it is and make it a better place. ... Go set this world on the right path!"

Kenneth A. Samet, president and chief executive officer of MedStar Health, spoke to graduates of the College of Business and Public Administration, College of Health Sciences and College of Arts and Letters at the afternoon ceremony.

Samet, who graduated from ODU 1980, said he came to the university intending to study pre-med, but confessed that the prospect of dissecting frogs and earning a grade of no better than a C in Organic Chemistry convinced him to change his major to business. It was, he said, his own "unscripted moment." He told the graduates that their life ahead will consist of many unscripted moments, and that they should be prepared to make the most of them.

"You'll make decisions every day that will shape the final person you become," he said.

In more than 25 years in health care administration, Samet has risen to be responsible for all operational aspects of the more than 25 companies that make up the largest, not-for-profit, health care delivery system in the greater Washington, D.C.-metropolitan Maryland region, with annual revenues of $4 billion. Prior to that, he had served as COO since the system's inception in 1998.

Samet offered the following words of advice to the graduates: "It is a long race, and in the end, it is only with yourself. Take the time to find out what matters most to you. Do everything you can to connect your life to your passion."

He added: "Have the courage to live up to your own potential. Don't let others tell you that you can't do something."

Rev. Joseph N. Green Jr., former Norfolk vice mayor and a long-time civil rights pioneer, received an honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters at the 9 a.m. ceremony.

Green was a member of the Norfolk School Board before his election to the Norfolk City Council, where he served for 20 years, including 12 years as vice mayor. He advocated for civil rights for African Americans and fair play for all as he worked for the betterment of Norfolk.

Samet also received an honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters before his address; Darden received an honorary Doctorate of Science.

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