Ted Kennedy Jr. acknowledges the Class of 2013 at UNH's Spring Commencement
by Dave Cranshaw
UNH Today Editor
In his Commencement address, Ted Kennedy Jr., a healthcare attorney and advocate for people with disabilities, told graduates that being able to overcome adversity will be the key to their success.
“Change and unpredictably present rare opportunities to learn about yourself,” he told more than 700 members of the Class of 2013 during the morning ceremony. “Possessing adaptability is just as important, if not more so, than raw intellect. It is only perfected when people are repeatedly faced with unexpected circumstances."
Kennedy was speaking from experience. When he was 12, he was diagnosed with bone cancer, which led to the amputation of his right leg below the knee.
“I remember how shocked and horrified I was,” he said. “I felt my life was over and I would no longer be able to do the things I love to do.”
Years later, he said, he realized that his experience battling cancer and learning to live with and accept his disability were the defining moments of his life.
“My struggles became a transformational experience for the better and shaped who I am today,” Kennedy said. “It has enabled me to put the stresses and problems of everyday life into proper perceptive, and it has opened my eyes to the difficult circumstances that other families face and made me realize how fortunate I really am.”
Kennedy, the president and co-founder of the Marwood Group, a healthcare-focused financial services and consulting firm with offices in New York, Washington, D.C. and London, has served as a board member of the American Association of People with Disabilities, the country's largest disability civil rights and public policy organization.
Kennedy implored the graduates to look beyond the work place to find a cause they are passionate about.
“Today, people are focusing more and more on what it takes to get a good job and less and less about other aspects of life where true success and fulfillment are ultimately attained,” he said. “Don’t make the mistake of defining yourself exclusively by what you choose to do for a living or by how much money you earn.
“When all is said and done, what really creates self-worth and self-value, what really defines our character and what we are ultimately most proud of is what we have done for others and the relationships we have cultivated,” he said.
Courtney Cusson '13 (right) is escorted by her brother, LCpl N. Joseph Cusson USMC
One of the most emotional moments of the ceremony occurred when Courtney Cusson’s brother Joe, a lance corporal in the Marines, surprised her on stage to present her degree. He has been stationed in Japan for the past year.
“I was so full of emotions that I couldn’t hold it in and cried the whole way off the stage,” said Cusson, who earned a bachelor's degree in legal studies. “My brother is a big part of my life, and to have someone you love so much show up unexpected cannot be explained in words.”
In her remarks, Alexandra Hart, president of the Class of 2013, told her fellow graduates that they have the power to change the world.
“Our generation has open minds on what people can do, who they can love and who they can fight for,” she said. “Remember what we learned here at UNH both inside and outside the classroom. We are a community, and there are always people to help, people to represent and people who want their voices heard.”
View photos from the ceremony,
The University of New Haven is a private, top-tier comprehensive institution recognized as a national leader in experiential education. Founded in 1920 on the campus of Yale University in cooperation with Northeastern University, UNH moved to its current West Haven campus in 1960. The University operates a satellite campus in Tuscany, Italy, and offers programs at several locations throughout Connecticut and in New Mexico. UNH provides its students with a unique combination of a solid liberal arts education and real-world, hands-on career and research opportunities. The University enrolls approximately 6,400 students, including nearly 1,800 graduate students and more than 4,600 undergraduates – the majority of whom reside in University housing. Through its College of Arts and Sciences, College of Business, Henry C. Lee College of Criminal Justice and Forensic Sciences, Tagliatela College of Engineering, and College of Lifelong & eLearning, UNH offers 75 undergraduate and graduate degree programs. UNH students have access to more than 50 study abroad programs worldwide, and its student-athletes compete in 16 varsity sports in the NCAA Division II’s highly competitive Northeast-10 Conference.