Lynn’s youngest commencement speaker provides guidance for more than 500 graduates

“Never be afraid to talk to anyone,” was one of the pieces of advice given to the 2013 class
Lynn’s youngest commencement speaker provides guidance for more than 500 graduates

Published May. 15, 2013

Lynn University’s 48th commencement ceremonies on Friday, May 10 and Saturday, May 11 came at the end of a marquee year for the institution that saw the hosting of the final 2012 presidential debate, celebration of the school's 50th anniversary and two major groundbreakings, one for its new International Business Center and the other for the new Bobby Campbell Stadium.


“The past year was truly a remarkable time to attend Lynn University,” Lynn University President Kevin M. Ross told the crowd of graduates, family and friends. “We celebrated our institution’s 50th anniversary and made the year even more historic by hosting the third and final 2012 presidential debate …This has been an extremely exciting year to cap off our first half century.”

He also discussed another recent success for the university. Lynn’s innovative core curriculum, the Dialogues of Learning, was recently featured in the new book “College (Un)Bound: The Future of Higher Education and What It Means for Students” by Jeffrey Selingo, editor at large at The Chronicle of Higher Education. “Lynn is one of only 18 universities highlighted as a forward-thinking university to keep an eye on,” Ross said. “We know the value that your Lynn degree holds moving forward, and now even more people do.”

An empowering message

VagharSam Vaghar, the 26-year-old executive director of the Millennium Campus Network (MCN), is the youngest commencement speaker to address the crowds at Lynn’s commencement ceremonies.

His organization empowers university student organizations across the country to be effective partners for global development and educates and trains over 1,000 campus leaders through annual conferences and fellowship programs. Ross was so impressed he joined their board. “I have seen firsthand the impact of the work done by Sam and the MCN and was so impressed with it that I now proudly serve on the organization’s board of directors,” Ross said.

Vaghar, listed in 2012 as one of the top 99 most influential foreign policy leaders under the age of 33, provided several pieces of advice to Lynn’s graduates as he told the story of the founding of MCN from its early days in college dorm rooms to meetings at the United Nations and, recently, meetings at the White House with President Obama.

He started his speech by telling the audience he was disconnected “felt alone" in high school who successfully overcame his isolation in college, but still found something missing. He found what he needed when he picked up the book “The End of Poverty” by economist Jeffrey Sachs. The book taught him that there are more than one billion people on the planet struggling to survive, but that there are real, actionable solutions to solving the problems of endemic, global poverty.

Vaghar decided he wanted to find a way to help Sachs, a world-famous economist working on these problems with the United Nations, so Vaghar, a 19-year-old college student, decided to cold call Sachs’ office. This was the first step in what would be the creation of the successful MCN.

This brave phone call illustrates one of his main pieces of advice for graduates: “Never be afraid to talk to anyone.” As Vaghar says, “I had spent so much of my childhood so afraid of rejection. So, I never got rejected. I also never reached my full potential. Taking risks for what you believe in, that’s how we create change.” Vaghar added, “Use your voice for good.”

Vaghar’s other advice includes:

  • “Focus on respecting and loving yourself and those you come into contact with.” Vaghar points out that if you want to improve the world, the best thing you can do is start with yourself. If you’re unhealthy, physically or psychologically, then you can’t provide any real support or partnership to others in need. “Activism is deeply personal. In its purest form, activism is love.”
  • “You’ve been in the real world for a long time already.” Vaghar argues that commencement speakers often tell graduates they are about to enter “the real world,” but he disagrees. “Class of 2013 you’ve been in the real world for two decades already. You’ve dealt with personal adversity and experienced personal success for over 20 years.”
  • “The purpose of education is to spark and inform action.” If it was not for the curiosity sparked by his college education, Vaghar would have never launched MCN. The exposure to ideas higher education provides can open unknown paths for people and help them make the best decisions.

During his closing, Vaghar discussed how Lynn’s focus on helping students find success is closely related to the values he is trying to impart to graduates. “Its [Lynn’s] mission centers on helping you find your individual potential to maximize your success in the world. It focuses on you as an individual because that is where change begins.”

More commencement highlights

George Elmore received an honorary degree during Saturday’s undergraduate ceremony. Elmore has a long-standing relationship with Lynn. His company, Hardrives, Inc. founded in 1953, built the original roads on campus. Since then, Elmore developed several endowments and scholarships for the university.

In another highlight from Saturday’s ceremony, Katie Lemmon, member of the Knights of the Roundtable, presented the Outstanding Teacher of the Year award to Stephen Aiello, an associate professor in the College of Arts and Sciences. As Lemmon said, he is an “incredible orator who has inspired students."

As he introduced Vaghar at Friday’s graduate ceremony, Ross reviewed the several generations represented. On the same night that Lynn’s youngest commencement speaker ever was addressing the crowd, Lynn’s oldest graduate ever (once Lynn’s oldest freshman), 87-year-old Jack Slotnick, received his master’s degree in psychology. This drew loud applause from the audience, and when Slotnick strolled across the stage later, he received a standing ovation.

The intergenerational nature of the event was further reflected when Joanne Studer, the executive assistant to Lynn President Kevin M. Ross, received her B.S. in psychology at the evening undergraduate/graduate ceremony on Friday, May 10, and her daughter Meghan Studer, her B.A. in the American Studies program at the day undergraduate ceremony on Saturday, May 11. The mother-daughter pair both graduated from Lynn's College of Arts and Sciences. 

Lynn’s commencement consists of two graduation ceremonies at the Count and Countess de Hoernle Sports and Cultural Center. The first one for evening undergraduate and graduate students was held on Friday, May 10, at 6:30 p.m., and the second one for day undergraduate students was held on Saturday, May 11, at 10 a.m.