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May 23, 2021
Welcome. I am James MacLaren, the 19th president of Lebanon Valley College. It is my privilege and honor to welcome you to the 152nd Commencement Ceremony. To our graduates, many congratulations. And to the friends and family of our graduates—thank you for your support of them through the years. You are a big part of where they are now, and I know how proud you are of all their accomplishments. Graduates, please give your friends and family a big round of applause!
Graduation ceremonies are special and happy occasions in the life of colleges and universities— a time of ceremony, celebration, and tradition.
As members of the Class of 2021, you are fortunate to be graduating from one of the best colleges in the country and to have received an unparalleled education—one that has, and will, continue to enrich your lives. You have worked with dedicated and exceptional faculty, caring and supportive staff, and talented peers on your journey to this momentous day. Please stand and join me in thanking all the faculty, staff, coaches, and classmates who have been such an important part of your education at the College.
Your final year has been a year like no other. We all had to socially distance (and what an oxymoron that term is!), wear masks, and negotiate hybrid classes using Zoom. You likely all had this great insight in class only to realize that you were still muted halfway through your argument. How many cats, dogs, and children graced your screen uninvited, adding some much-needed lighthearted moments to our days. You had your noses probed as part of surveillance testing, and you had to text friends across the table in the dining hall because of plexiglass screens. Yet, despite all these hurdles, you made it to graduation. Wow! You learned to be resilient, dedicated, and adaptable, all skills that will serve you well later in life. As Elyse noted, these experiences will bond you even more closely to your classmates and the College. I am confident that you will look back fondly upon these times. You exemplified our guiding principle for ourselves, for each other.
I suspect that as you look back at your years at The Valley, you will quickly realize that it has gone by so fast, that you learned and grew so much, that you made lasting friendships, and, if LVC history is any guide, several of you will have met your spouse while studying here too. I hope that these have also been happy years that you would readily do all over again. I am confident that you will continue to be true lifelong learners.
While your time at The Valley has been short, please know that you had a lasting impact on our community through your contributions in the classroom, work with faculty in research or independent study, involvement with some of the many service and volunteer opportunities offered by the College, and, for some of you, through your time competing as student-athletes.
These ceremonies are more often known as Commencement since they signify the start of the next phase of your life. I hope that once you leave LVC, you will continue to make the world a better place through your thoughts and actions and build upon what you have learned as a student. You enter the workforce at what I am convinced is a time of great change that COVID has only been accelerated. I am an optimist and remain optimistic about the future because of what you have accomplished so far and what I anticipate you will achieve in your lives.
All of us at the College admire your passion, character, and commitment. We will miss you but are excited to learn about all that you will accomplish. As the newest alumni of the College, I ask just one more thing—that you keep us informed of your successes and triumphs. Come back to visit us often. Hopefully, this will be when we no longer need to wear masks and have six feet of separation! I wish you every success and happiness.
And now, please pardon me as I take a quick picture of my first LVC Commencement.
Thank you, and Go Valley!
Dr. James M. MacLaren
President, Lebanon Valley College
May 23, 2021
Thank you for that glowing introduction, Dr. Pipkin. I’m grateful for our friendship and appreciate your kind words.
Welcome Everyone. Administration, Staff, Faculty, Friends and Family and of course… graduates. I’m Dr. Michael Fink, Chair and Associate Professor of Physical Therapy at Lebanon Valley College. It is my pleasure as the recipient of last year’s Vickroy Teaching Award to welcome you to the two thousand and twenty-first Commencement Ceremony. Our one hundred and fifty second in our College’s proud history.
What a year it has been! You all persevered, you all did the hard work…you all made it to this day…surrounded by friends and family, and your life’s work ethic has begun to be solidified.
This year you were like unfinished steel being tempered and fashioned through novel experiences. The blows of the blacksmith, or in this case the Coronavirus and hybrid learning, came fast and furious. You adapted, you found inner strength, you became creative, and your faith fueled you onward. You grew out of adversity and sit here having overcome challenges ready to further adapt to an ever changing world where historical rules may no longer apply.
I’ve titled this talk ‘Adapt and Overcome’ for this reason.
Adapt. A verb. Its meaning is “to become adjusted to new conditions; make something suitable for a new use or purpose; modify”
Overcome. A verb Defined as “to prevail; to succeed in dealing with a difficulty”
For those in the audience who have served in our country’s military you may recognize the title as a portion of the Marine slogan “Improvise, Adapt, and Overcome”. However, as a former active duty Air Force physical therapist, I, like my fellow Air Force members, have adopted the shortened version of “Adapt and Overcome”. By the way, thank you all who serve and have served our country!
Success this year has been marked by our ability to adapt and overcome. We have adapted to a new set of rules for how education is delivered, for how and where we work, for how we gather in public, and for what we deem as socially acceptable greetings. I’m not a ‘hugger’, so I’ve adapted much better than my friends who view a handshake as a way to pull you in for a big squeeze!
Our ability to adapt (and thus overcome) is directly related to the labels that we give the new situations in which we find ourselves. Is a new situation a ‘challenge’ or a ‘problem’, is it an ‘opportunity’ or something to avoid, minimize, ignore? Our physical response (also known as a physiologic response) is also dependent upon these labels. As a healthcare provider, I’m acutely aware of how the body responds to stress and injury.
A physical response to stress is often characterized by quickened breathing, heart rate increases, increased muscle tension, subtle body shaking and sweating, warm and flushed skin…well enough about me, how are you all doing today?
When I hear this list, I envision someone running, playing a sport, doing something physical in nature, but this same phenomenon can occur at rest when we are either nervous or excited. Notice how the body’s physical response is virtually the same in all three conditions of exercise, nervousness, and excitement. The opposite physical response, characterized by a slow heart rate, slow breathing, relaxed muscles, etc. can be seen at physical rest, but also when one is content and at emotional peace.
So what determines our physical responses when not exercising? The labels that we give our situations and circumstances. Do we label them as uncomfortable or enjoyable? We typically assign one of these two labels to most life events. For example, think of how you feel physically when: posting on Instagram (depends on what you post right?), performing in front of a crowd, playing a sport that you are good at, trying a new sport, taking an exam, graduating, interviewing for a job, and public speaking. There is likely a correlation between how you feel physically when doing these activities (or even thinking about doing them) and how you’ve mentally labeled them…either uncomfortable or enjoyable.
So why have I decided to discuss the topic of labeling our circumstances? Well, it’s because this the first step in changing how we react to them…it’s how we can convert nervousness to excitement, fear and worry to enjoyment, and most of all avoidance to action! This is what I do with my patients in the clinical realm. I work to convert their nervousness, worry, and inaction to that of excitement about improving their condition, enjoyment that a defined pathway is ahead, and thrusting them into action to correct their aliments. And you can all do the same in your spheres of influence.
These labels we assign to life events are derived from our expectations, our sense of security, and our perception of risk. So where do these expectations come from? They come from the narrative we tell ourselves about who we are. Are we an optimist or a pessimist, do we have inner self-confidence or do we feel like a fraud? Do we feel competent or do we battle Imposter Syndrome (which is when we feel like someone is going to discover that we don’t know something, can’t do something, or are ‘out of our league’ and don’t belong).
Where we find our greatest sense of security will often define our path. If it is financial security that drives us, then we may find ourselves changing jobs often or working with a laser focus on attaining promotion after promotion. Is it value to an organization that drives us? If so, we may continually work to add credentials after our name or responsibilities to our positions. If our drive is based on how others perceive us, then we may spend a vast amount of time cultivating social acceptance in person and online.
So if the narrative we tell ourselves is not one of optimism, genuine confidence, and competence, then I encourage us to change it. How you may ask? Well, I have three strategies that I’ve used to get there. 1. Seek relationships with people that foster these qualities, 2. Adopt an attitude of perseverance, and 3. Own the word ‘Integrity’.
Surround yourself with those who embody what you want to become…those with a positive outlook on life, who speak encouragement into the lives of others, and who exude confidence, and who have mastered their craft. Spending time with these types of people, can help reframe your mental narrative. Next, put in the hard work to become better. Better at your chosen profession, better in your community outreach endeavors, and better in your relationships. Let words such as ‘grit’ and ‘perseverance’ define you. Lastly, I urge you to anchor your thoughts in things that are honorable and meaningful. Set your moral compass to true north. Make ethical decisions knowing actions (and physical responses) follow thoughts.
You have the knowledge and skills. You’ve heard the maxim that knowledge is power, but I view knowledge as potential power. Knowledge is only powerful once it is applied to a situation and put into action! LVC has trained you how to apply knowledge, how to put it into motion, how to cultivate a desired outcome, how to adjust the application to achieve an optimal result, and how to produce those results consistently. This is the definition of success; this is what it means to ‘overcome’. The speed and efficiency at which we move through this process will be different for each and every one of us. This is our individual career path.
A growth mindset is the impetus to streamline this process and continually adding new knowledge followed by action is critical. We must act. Oh, and by the way, ‘inaction’ (or a failure to act) is a conscious decision. Now there are situations when inaction is appropriate, but using this as a default strategy will not typically produce the desired results in the long run.
So in closing, you, class of 2021, are well equipped to Adapt to this current and future environment and Overcome the ‘challenges’ in your life, whatever they may be. Change your narrative by surrounding yourself with people who foster optimism, confidence, competence, and who encourage you. Adopt a work ethic defined by grit and perseverance. Embody unwavering Integrity.
I tell my children regularly “You are destined for greatness.” I want them to own that phrase and weave it into the fabric of their being. You, class of 2021, although you are not children, you too are also destined for greatness; you will leave an indelible mark on your families, your workplaces, your communities, and your world! You’ve left your mark on LVC and we couldn’t be more proud of you. Best of luck as you confidently seize your next opportunity! Adapt and Overcome!
Michael L. Fink, PT, DSc, SCS, OCS, CMPT
Chair and Associate Professor of Physical Therapy
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