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You Visit Tour. Webb Lion Fountain. June 1 2017. Photo David B. Hollingsworth

Record Number of Students Earn Degrees During Spring Commencement

A record number of students proudly shared their graduation moment with families, friends and University colleagues at Old Dominion's 122nd commencement exercises May 8 and 9.

Close to 3,000 students strode across the seal on Kaufman Mall, then across the stage at the Ted Constant Convocation Center. They also heard words of wisdom in Commencement addresses from Gov. Terry McAuliffe; Marcia Brand, former deputy administrator of the Health Resources and Services Administration; and the Hon. Sean J. Stackley, assistant secretary of the Navy (research, development and acquisition).

Besides humorous, self-deprecating anecdotes, the commencement speakers offered encouragement and advice to bachelor's, master's and doctoral degree recipients from Old Dominion's six academic colleges.

McAuliffe, who spoke Friday night to graduates of the College of Arts & Letters, got a roaring round of applause when he mentioned how happy he was to be in the convocation center, where the Monarchs men's basketball team currently has a 26-game home winning streak.

In his enthusiastic address, McAuliffe mixed in his own inspiring story with fond hopes for the class of 2015 as they chase their dreams.

"There are three things I tell my five children every time we talk about their future," McAuliffe said, noting that his children don't always follow his advice to the letter. "Always think big. Always take chances. And never be afraid to fail."

McAuliffe said he thought big from an early age, starting a pavement-sealing business as a teenager in New York and buying a truck at age 15 (before he had a driver's license) to meet the growing demand of the first of more than 30 businesses he would start during his career.

"I still get chills thinking about the sound that engine made the first time I turned it over and pulled it onto the road," he said.

Speaking on taking chances, McAuliffe recalled leaving Georgetown Law School to accept a job with the 1980 re-election campaign of President Jimmy Carter. "Over the course of that campaign, I visited 40 states and became the national finance chairman for the President of the United States by the time I was 23," he said. "Taking that chance changed my life."

And about failing, McAuliffe reminded the crowd that he was elected governor his second time seeking the job. During the first election, he said he passionately pursued a campaign, urging voters to consider his big ideas for the job and "got crushed."

However he added: "I can still remember waking up the next morning, and deciding that if I meant what I said during my campaign, if I believed I could create jobs and make this a better place for my family and families across Virginia, I couldn't take no for an answer. So I suited up, and I got back out there."

For Marcia Brand - who spoke Saturday morning to graduates of the Frank Batten College of Engineering and Technology, College of Sciences and College of Health Sciences - it was a return to her alma mater to deliver the morning's commencement address. The former dental hygiene student and faculty member noted that the honorary Doctor of Humane Letters she received from the University Saturday meant that she possesses an "ODU trifecta" of degrees

"I now hold a bachelor's degree, a masters' degree and a doctoral degree from Old Dominion University. While this last degree took me about 40 years to earn, arguably, it was tuition free," Brand joked.

Going from student, to practitioner, then faculty and on to a long career in public service has been a journey that Brand said she couldn't have imagined when she sat for her graduation day.

"Theodore Roosevelt said, 'Far and away the best prize that life offers is the chance to work hard at work worth doing,'" she said. "I have had a wonderful career, and I was fortunate to do work that was worth doing."

Brand told graduates she would have "laughed out loud" if someone told said on her commencement day that she would one day be deputy administrator of a federal agency with a $9 billion annual budget.

"But consider this: The strong professional education you have received, coupled with some courage and a willingness to consider new professional roles, can lead to a lifetime of career engagement and satisfaction," she said.

The Hon. Sean Stackley, who spoke to graduates of the Strome College of Business and Darden College of Education, began by paying tribute to Old Dominion for its decades-long commitment to the Armed Forces.

"I definitely want to thank the University for all it's done for our men and women in uniform. They go all around the world putting themselves in harm's way so we can enjoy these freedoms we cherish so much," he said.

More than 650 of the nearly 3,000 graduates who participated in this year's commencement exercises have a direct connection to the military, either through active duty service or the reserves, as veterans, or by attending university through the G.I. Bill.

Stackley remarked on his own 37-year military career that has taken him around the world, and told graduates that lessons learned while he was in school have helped him immeasurably along the way.

"As you go out into the world, keep sharp those precious tools you have placed in your toolbox during your time at Old Dominion. Logic, discipline, problem solving and passion - they will unlock the future that you are all striving for," Stackley said.

As his remarks neared their conclusion, Stackley gave an unorthodox piece of advice to graduates: ignore what he was saying.

"I want you to follow your own path, make your own rules to live by," he said. "The truth is, none of us has the ability to change the world, but we all have the ability to change the world around us. Now I urge you to go out and do it."

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