A tale of two commencements

It is commencement season in New Hampshire, and two of the commencements in which I was involved featured notable events.
First, Southern New Hampshire University had its commencement on May 21. The 1,100 graduates and their families largely filled the Verizon Arena in downtown Manchester.President Paul LeBlanc amused the audience with what he described as perhaps the first social media picture posting ever done from the podium and posted simultaneously on the Internet when he took a picture of the assembled graduates.More importantly, former Ambassador to China John Huntsman, delivered the commencement address. That fact in itself was newsworthy, and representatives of many national media outlets were on hand, since Huntsman resigned as ambassador to explore a run for the GOP nomination for president.The address was his first visit to New Hampshire, and naturally drew speculation about whether Huntsman would join the field of hopefuls in our first-in-the-nation primary.Huntsman told the crowd that it is important for both political parties to work together, reminded them how important American freedoms are compared to the lack thereof in China and other parts of the world, and expressed wonder at the fact that he, a Republican, had been criticized for serving in a Democratic administration, noting that “when the president of the United States calls, people with my upbringing respond.”Huntsman’s personal story is remarkable, and people should think about it when contemplating the kind of president they want (or at least the kind of presidential candidates they should have). Huntsman worked in the Reagan White House when he was in his 20s, was appointed ambassador to Singapore at age 31 by President George H.W. Bush, served as governor of Utah, during which time that state consistently was rated as “the best-run state in America” by the Pew Foundation and served in the family business before spending the last three years in China.Remarkably, Huntsman greeted the Chinese students graduating from Southern New Hampshire University individually in the hallway prior to the ceremony, speaking to them in one of the two Chinese dialects he speaks fluently. A portion of his commencement address was given in Chinese, causing the person writing the text commentary for closed-captioning to put on the screen, “speaking Chinese.”Huntsman was charming, self-effacing, modest and eloquent.Contemplate a president who speaks the language of our largest international competitor, has experience administering a state that was recognized as being well run, and preaches the doctrine of reaching out across party lines to find common solutions. Compare that to a lot of the rhetoric we hear today from bitterly partisan folks.John Huntsman was a breath of fresh air.*****Another commencement was held the same day at White Park in Concord.The University of New Hampshire School of Law (formerly Franklin Pierce Law Center) held its first commencement under the new name. The new dean, former New Hampshire Supreme Court Chief Justice John Broderick, presided. Not only were the graduates the first to get a “UNH School of Law” diploma, immediately outgoing Dean John Hutson was surprised with the first UNH School of Law Honorary degree and was gracious in his acceptance of it.Also, Douglas J. Wood, a New York attorney and graduate of the first Franklin Pierce Law School Class of 1976, received an honorary degree on the occasion of his stepping down as chair of the board of trustees. Wood chaired the board with distinction for many years, and in partnership with Hutson and University of New Hampshire President Mark Huddleston, engineered the affiliation between the institutions and the name change.He is being succeeded by Cathy J. Green, Manchester attorney and longtime vice chair, who graduated from Franklin Pierce Law Center in 1977.Harvard Law School Professor Laurence H. Tribe also received an honorary degree, and by all accounts, the festivities were jovial, light and pleasant.While some people claim that, “if you’ve seen one commencement ceremony you’ve seen them all,” the Southern New Hampshire University and University of New Hampshire School of Law commencements this year disprove that generalization and were events of which New Hampshire should be proud and aware.Brad Cook is a shareholder in the Manchester law firm of Sheehan Phinney Bass + Green and heads its government relations and estate planning groups. He also serves as secretary of the Business and Industry Association of New Hampshire.