University of Maryland, College Park Commencement Address

Published: 5/20/2024

Remarks as prepared
Delivered on Monday, May 20, 2024​​

Thank you so much, Alexandra.

President Pines…

Chancellor Perman…

Chair Gooden…

Chair Thompson…

President De Armond…

Distinguished members of the platform party…

Faculty, friends, family, and special guests…

All of you beautiful Terps…

Let’s give it up for Summer 2023, Winter 2023, and the great UMD, College Park Class of 2024.

I’m thrilled to be here: Not just because you are the flagship university in our great university system – But also because my wife, Dawn, is a proud graduate of the University of Maryland, College Park.

I didn’t graduate from here, but I did marry a Terp – so I guess that kind of makes me one of your in-laws.

And Dawn reminded me of something a few days ago that I want to share with you this evening.

She said: “Without UMD, I wouldn’t have learned how beautiful Maryland truly is.”

She was born and raised in New York City. 

She didn’t see herself living anywhere else.

But then, she got a scholarship to THIS school – She fell in love with THIS state – And she has lived and worked in Maryland her entire adult life.

That’s the power of UMD: You don’t just educate Marylanders – you create Marylanders – 

And I couldn’t be prouder to stand with you as the 63rd governor of the state we love.

Now, graduates: You are about to write the next chapter in your lives.

All of you will have different stories. 

But the one thing I can guarantee is this: 

Challenges await you. And you won’t be able to predict any of them. 

You will see trials you never saw coming.  

You will have moments that define you – that you didn’t anticipate.

The only question is: Will you be prepared when life throws you a curveball?

And so today, I want to talk about preparation.

I look out on this crowd, and I see students who have spent years preparing for their next steps.

We have graduates from the School of Public Health. They’ve been preparing to save lives.

We have graduates from the School of Engineering. They’ve been preparing to help us explore new frontiers of science and technology.

We have graduates who studied International Relations, like I did… they’re still trying to figure out what the hell they’re going to do next.

Look: You worked hard for these diplomas.

You spent countless hours in McKeldin Library. 

Many of you were the first in your family to go to college.

Many of you juggled coursework with a campus job.

Some of you have not just your parents – but your children here in the audience to celebrate your accomplishments. 

You earned this moment.

But I have hard news for you: The degree you receive today will be neither your preparation nor your protection for the challenges ahead.

True preparation cannot be taught in a classroom. It must be earned through experience.

As you consider your next steps – people are going to tell you to focus on this thing or that thing: 

Choose STEM. 

Choose business. 

Choose communications. 

All of these suggestions are valid. But they’re guided by short-term trend lines – and not long-term preparation.

So let me throw something else at you today: Choose tough. 

Choose the thing that forces you to wake up early.  

Choose the thing that forces you to stay up late. 

Choose the thing that your family or friends might not understand. 

Choose the thing that doesn’t just TAKE you out of your comfort zone – but KEEPS you out of your comfort zone.

Because when you choose tough, that’s when you figure out how to take on whatever life throws at you. 

And I speak from experience.

My “tough” came when I was seventeen years old, and I decided to join the Army.

I was so young, my mom had to sign the paperwork;

But after my teenage years, she would sign whatever paper I put in front of her.

I’m the son of an immigrant single mother who didn’t get the first job that gave her benefits until I was fourteen. I joined the Army because college is expensive – and the military promised to help pay for my tuition.

But what I didn’t know was that military service wouldn’t just get me through college – it would prepare me for a life of uncertainties. 

I didn’t complete Army training with a degree. 

I wasn’t scored on a four-point scale.

But for me, it was the military that served as the preparation for everything I would face in life.

I’m talking about the kind of preparation that helped me start and run my own small business.

I’m talking about the kind of preparation that helped me build a family and a career.

I’m talking about the kind of preparation that helped me become the 63rd governor of Maryland and the first Black governor in our state’s history.

And it’s the kind of preparation that helped me and my team respond when the Francis Scott Key Bridge collapsed.

You know, every so often my phone rings in the middle of the night. 

I know it’s never good news. 

Good news can always wait.

A cargo ship the length of three football fields and the weight of the Washington Monument had collided with the Key Bridge.

Thousands of tons of steel plummeted into the water. Six Marylanders had been killed.

Our team had to respond to a situation nobody could have predicted. We had to do something nobody had ever done.

And when people ask me: “What kind of training helped you respond when the unthinkable happened?”

My answer isn’t: “Well, you know I have a Bachelor of Arts in International Relations.”

My answer is: 

“I choose tough. That was my preparation.”

And as of this morning, I’m proud to say we have refloated the ship that ran aground – 

We are on track to clear the full federal channel  –

We have brought the families of all six victims the closure they deserve –

And we have achieved things that people said would take months – in a matter of weeks.

Class of 2024 my message to you today is this: 

Choose tough – because when you choose tough, you become tough – 

And when you become tough, you won’t just open up the world – you will prepare yourself for the world.

I don't mean to say your education hasn't prepared you – it has… 

But not because you earned a specific degree with a specific title.

Your education has prepared you because your education has toughened and tested you.

It's the all-nighters –

It's the hard classes –

It's the seminar discussions and long conversations –

It's the struggle of balancing coursework and a campus job – 

It’s the hours spent engaged in the biggest debates our world is wrestling with right now –

It’s all of the tough choices you’ve made from the moment you walked on campus.

I’m talking about the tough choices of people like your classmate, Marie Brodsky.

During COVID, Marie witnessed how isolation affected the health and happiness of her grandfather, who suffered a stroke years earlier.

So Marie chose tough. 

She founded a company called WISE Cities. 

It’s a startup to help older Americans deal with isolation. 

Her project has already received thousands of dollars in grant funding… And it is literally changing lives as we speak.

And so I say Marie: Thank you for choosing tough.

I’ve learned about your classmate Luke Kues.

Luke came to UMD to earn a Master of Public Health. 

But getting a degree wasn’t challenging enough for Luke – Because Luke chooses tough.

He juggled his studies with his work running a nonprofit organization that he founded himself. 

It’s called True Community. It trains people in CPR. And so far, his nonprofit has certified more than 8,000 people in 20 cities.

And so I say to Luke: Thank you for choosing tough.

I’ve learned about your classmate Gustavo Lang Jr. 

Gustavo started his career as an educator. 

He got married, had two children, and built a solid foundation for his family.

And then, Gustavo chose tough. He went back to school so he could launch a second career.

At UMD, he has balanced home life, coursework, and a regular job to support himself and his family. 

And today, he starts a new chapter as an engineer.

Gustavo: Thank you for choosing tough.

Terps: You have what it takes to make the kind of hard choices that will protect and prepare you for a life of unpredictable challenges. 

So my ask to you this evening is simple: Nurture that instinct – and grow it.

Choosing tough is running with that idea you’ve never told anyone because you were too scared.

Choosing tough is saying “no” to a guaranteed business offer because you know your worth – and you know you can do better.

Choosing tough is making amends with a family member or friend who hurt you long ago, but seeks and deserves forgiveness.

Choosing tough is staying awake during your graduation, even though you were up all night at C-Stone.

Choosing tough is pushing yourself to your very limit – and then pushing some more. 

And if you choose tough, I promise that you will be ready to take on the world.

It won’t be glamorous –

It won’t be simple – 

And it won’t get you any short-term reward. 

But if life has taught me anything, it's this:

The things that are hard are the things that last;

The things that come easy are the things that don’t matter;

And those who push will be the ones who prevail.

Class of 2024, it is your time. 

Get out there –

Choose tough –

Win big –

And make us all proud.

Thank you so much – And congratulations.