DURHAM — University of New Hampshire graduates learned that it was OK to fail.
More than 2,500 students attended the 141st commencement at UNH yesterday, as keynote speaker David Cote, Class of 1976, told students not to be afraid to take risks.
"Be willing to take a chance," he said. "Successful people have failures — sometimes spectacularly embarrassing ones — but they learn from it and move on to the next success."
Cote is the CEO of Honeywell International, a company that makes everything from thermostats to aerospace systems. The university awarded him an honorary degree yesterday.
"There is a certain irony in the receipt of this honor though, because it took me six years to complete a four-year degree," he said.
He told the story of how he quit college after just two years to go into commercial fishing in Maine. But he returned to school and completed his degree after realizing college was the path to success.
And that is a message many students were glad to hear.
Emily DiLorenzo of Derry graduated with two of her close friends from Pinkerton Academy, Kelsey Parrillo and Sara McGrath of Hampstead. All plan to teach.
"It's surreal that I'm graduating, but I'm ready," she said. "I'll be teaching English in South Korea. I was adopted from Korea, so it's kind of like going home."
McGrath majored in studio art and minored in education. She hopes to be an art teacher.
"I had a really solid group of friends in these gals," she said. "I am thinking about maybe trying to be a substitute teacher in Hampstead or Timberlane and stay at home for a while to save money."
Parrillo took five years to get an accelerated master's in education and also hopes to stay in New England to teach.
Her mother, Kim Parrillio, said she was so proud of her.
"She's worked hard," she said. "We've had a great experience at UNH. My son also goes here and he'll be graduating next year."
Alexandru Sabau of Haverhill, Mass., graduated from the Thompson School of Applied Science and said at age 26, he isn't the usual undergraduate.
"It's kind of surreal," he said. "I graduated from high school in 2002, so it's been a long, non-traditional road."
Sabau runs his own landscaping business in Haverhill and plans to attend graduate school next year at Boston Architectural college for landscaping design.
Chelsy Capoloupo of Newburyport studied occupational science and said she plans to go to grad school in the fall, after a summer working as a waitress at the Black Cow in her hometown.
"I'm overwhelmed," she said of graduation. "It's bittersweet and exciting, but scary."
University President Mark Huddleston said the Class of 2011 has come so far.
"Just four years ago, most of you were just out of high school," he said. "And most of you had no earthly idea what you wanted to do with your life. Your only concrete goal might have been to come to UNH. Then before you knew it, things started to change."
He said he saw the students study hard, volunteer and work in internships across the state.
"You are equipped with the best education the world has to offer," he said. "You are innovators, engaged citizens, problem solvers and entrepreneurial thinkers. You cultivate the best in yourselves, and those around you, in ways that make us all proud."
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