The University of Delaware celebrates its 166th Commencement at Delaware Stadium.

166th Commencement

Alumnus David DeWalt urges UD graduates to be alive to their dreams


5:01 p.m., May 30, 2015--On a warm but pleasant morning, graduates and their families and friends were among the 23,000 guests celebrating the University of Delaware’s 166th Commencement held Saturday, May 30, at Delaware Stadium.

Commencement speaker David G. DeWalt, a UD alumnus, was introduced by University Provost Domenico Grasso as a person who found his path by combining his knowledge of computers with a drive to succeed in business. 

Campus Stories

From graduates, faculty

As it neared time for the processional to open the University of Delaware Commencement ceremonies, graduating students and faculty members shared their feelings about what the event means to them.

Doctoral hooding

It was a day of triumph, cheers and collective relief as more than 160 students from 21 nations participated in the University of Delaware's Doctoral Hooding Convocation held Friday morning on The Green.

“He became a leader and a reformer, turning small companies into large ones, turning troubled businesses into successful ones,” Grasso said. “Today he leads FireEye, one of the most sought-after companies in the cybersecurity arena.”

DeWalt, who graduated from UD in 1986 with a bachelor’s degree in computer science, told the Class of 2015 that he was deeply honored to return to the same hallowed ground where he studied more than two decades ago.

“The flood of emotions is something that words cannot begin to describe,” DeWalt said. “You see, my time at the University was not only amazing, it changed my life forever.”

Recalling a favorite song, I Lived by the group One Republic, DeWalt said the lyrics encourage listeners: “I hope you don’t suffer but take the pain…. Hope when your moment comes, you’ll say, ‘I lived.’” 

More than just lines in a song, DeWalt told the graduates and their guests that “they are words to live by — words I have lived by.”

Named one of the 25 most influential executives in high technology, DeWalt recalled that the years since graduating from UD have been marked by success and failure, and some valuable lessons learned along the way.

“In 1982, I arrived a boy here at the University of Delaware,” DeWalt said. “In 1986, I left a man — a changed man.”

As a member of the UD wrestling team, he competed in the 177-pound weight class, a number he described as being tough to maintain, and he recalled the support of his parents who once drove 10 hours each way from his hometown of Reading, Pennsylvania, in a snowstorm, to watch their son wrestle against Yale and Boston universities. 

“Love, live, and remember that humility is everything. Remember where you are from and don’t ever forget what your loved ones have done for you,” DeWalt said. “Always alive, always live on the edge of tears. Always push yourself to be better. Words to live by.”  

Much to the puzzlement of his parents, DeWalt said that upon graduation from UD he packed his bags, climbed into his Pontiac and headed to Silicon Valley, California, to follow his dreams.

“There I was, no job, no friends, 3,000 miles away, when I began my high-tech career,” DeWalt said. 

Landing a job after a tough interview with legendary Oracle executive Tom Siebel, DeWalt took a sales position and worked hard to meet the 500 cold calls per week expected of him. Siebel made it clear to the new hire that if he didn’t meet this quota week-in and week-out, he would be fired. 

DeWalt said his father questioned why he would spend four years getting a degree in computer science and then take a telemarketing job.

“I spent the next years, arriving first in the parking lot.  Sometimes having to arrive in the early morning hours to get that coveted first parking spot….

"I made those numbers, and three years in a row I became one of Oracale's top salespeople,” DeWalt said. “I ended up getting promoted five times during my career there and learning, once again, valuable lessons: Hard work and humility. Lessons of life. ” 

DeWalt also recalled how honesty enabled him to turn a disaster into a success during his tenure as CEO of McAfee after the accidental release of faulty anti-virus software numbered 5958 – software that wiped out computers at 1,672 companies in 16 minutes. Entire companies, DeWalt said, were unable to boot their computers. 

“I made an incredibly important decision that day…. I made an important corporate video. Against the advice of every lawyer that could reach me, I decided to quickly publicly air what had happened,” DeWalt said. “I took full responsibility for my actions and apologized to everyone for harming them.”

Instead of the expected flood of lawsuits, customers and partners became empathetic, as more than 4,000 McAfee employees were dispatched to fix the issue for customers, including Intel Corporation, whose 70,000 computers had also been wiped out. 

The companies affected realized that humility, hard work and honesty were part of what McAfee was doing to make things right, DeWalt said. 

“Intel is an amazing company. Instead of being a victim, they took action, working with McAfee to design a semiconductor-based architecture to never let that happen again,” he said. “Three months later, no customer had sued us. Our stock recovered, and a mere two months later Intel acquired McAfee for a record $7.7 billion, the largest all-cash transaction in the history of high tech.”

After 17 years as a CEO, DeWalt said he is enjoying a new chapter in his life, blessed with a wonderful family and a growing cybersecurity company, FireEye, to run. 

“Surround yourself with people smarter than you are, and you will go far in life,” DeWalt said. “I’m not done. I have many more numbers to achieve. I hope you do, too.” 

DeWalt urged newest Blue Hens to remember their graduation day, to live, love and remember where they came from -- and also to remember who the important people in their lives are, the people who are there for them when it counts.

Closing with his favorite quote from the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., from the famous “I Have a Dream” speech, DeWalt said: “If you can see it, you can be it. If you can dream it, you can achieve it.” 

“Can you see it? Can you be it? Always alive. Always live life on the edge of tears,” DeWalt said. “Good luck with your futures, and I hope all your dreams come true.”

President lauds Class of 2015’s can-do spirit

University President Patrick Harker extended a Blue Hen greeting to distinguished faculty, trustees, honorary degree recipients and the Commencement speaker, DeWalt.

Harker also congratulated the resolve and adaptability of members of the Class of 2015, many of whom were scheduled to first arrive on campus when an uninvited guest, Hurricane Irene, decided to roll through with destructive force in late August 2011.

“Some of you had your cars packed when we told you to stay home for a few more days, and some of you were already here, so you grabbed sandwiches in the dining halls and hunkered down in your rooms,” Harker said. “For the first time anyone could remember, move-in weekend happened on a Tuesday and we delayed the start of classes.”

”Irene tested you, and you passed with flying colors,” Harker said.

Further challenges in life can also furnish opportunities to continue to apply these lessons long after graduation, Harker said. 

“Indeed, I know this firsthand. I never expected I’d be a university president, but when the opportunity arose, I took it,” Harker said. “I couldn’t be happier I did.” 

In a moment of reflection during his final Commencement ceremony as president, Harker noted that while he will miss being at UD, he also welcomes new challenges that will begin July 1, when he becomes president of the Federal Reserve Bank in Philadelphia.  

“You are all here today because you said ‘yes’ to opportunity, and when life didn’t go as planned, you said, ‘I’ll adapt,’” Harker said. “When you encountered an obstacle, you said, ‘I’ll persevere.’”

Harker also recounted the preserving spirit of several members of the Class of 2015 who met challenges and overcame adversity, including George Montgomery. Profoundly deaf by kindergarten, Montgomery received a cochlear implant at age 6, and by middle school he became fascinated by the amazing technology that changed his life. 

“This morning George is receiving an honors degree in computer engineering with minors in computer science and mathematics,” Harker said. “He wants a career with impact, possibly working on devices like his cochlear implant so others can benefit as he did.”

David Sang, who envisioned a major in computer engineering, found he loved business and finance, and pursued his passion through key internships, study abroad in South Africa and India and service as president of the Blue Hen Investment Club.

“Today, he’s receiving dual honors degrees in finance and accounting, as well as his master’s degree in accounting, and in a few weeks he’ll be the first UD graduate anyone can remember to land a job right out of college with the prestigious McKinsey and Company consulting firm,” Harker said. “Dave says he, too, is looking for a career with meaningful impact.” 

Mike Canino, who picked physical therapy because his father is a physician, majored in that discipline for two years but missed working outdoors. Changing his major to marine science, Canino will begin his career as a fisheries biologist for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Alaska.

“He’ll be studying king salmon in a remote field camp — no phone, no Internet — for the next five months,” Harker said. “It’s a long way from being a physical therapist, but Mike says he can’t wait to get started.”

Nikki Gomes had planned to be a Spanish-speaking orthopedic surgeon in a pediatric hospital, but after spending time in UD’s physical therapy clinic found she loved the opportunity to really get to know her patients there.  

“She heard their stories and learned about their lives,” Harker said. “Today, Nikki will receive her honors degree with distinction in exercise science and in a few weeks she’ll start our doctoral program in physical therapy.”

Amanda Boccardi, who loves math and music, knew she wanted to be a teacher from the third grade, but never imagined those interests would intersect in the class room until she discovered ArtsBridge, which preserves and strengthens arts programs in American schools.

“Through ArtsBridge, Amanda developed lessons to use music and dance to teach second graders about fractions, time and money,” Harker said. “She’s receiving her honors degree with distinction in elementary teacher education and hopes to keep using music to teach all kinds of lessons.”

Lemond Adams, who loves cooking, went to culinary school and became a chef. After he got married, his wife suggested he earn his bachelor’s degree, so at age 32 he began studying food science at UD, Harker said. 

Sitting in a microbiology class, Adams got the text he had been waiting for, that his wife was in labor with their first child.

“Over the next few months, Lemond plowed through calculus, physics and organic chemistry while managing 2 a.m. feedings and diaper changes, but with his wife’s support, he made it,” Harker said. “Next month, Lemond will start a new job as a research and development chef for a Philadelphia food company.”

The couple will be welcoming their second child in August.

Lauren Farrell was a sophomore when her 17-year-old brother Joey was diagnosed with a brain tumor. A few days after surgery, Joey asked her if he was going to die. While she told him he would be fine, she really wasn’t sure. 

“For the next year and a half, Lauren juggled classes and medical appointments so she and her family could be with Joey,” Harker said. “During his chemotherapy, Lauren sat with him and studied. At her part-time restaurant job, Lauren collected donations for Joey’s care.”

Farrell now volunteers with charities benefiting kids with cancer, and Joey does, too, Harker said. 

“His cancer in remission,” Harker said. ”Joey is a volunteer firefighter and also studies auto mechanics at Delaware Technical Community College.”

Both brother and sister received a big round of applause from graduates and guests. 

Harker concluded his remarks by expressing the hope that the lessons learned at UD, both in and out of the classroom, will serve the graduates well.

“As we move on to new challenges, you, and all Blue Hens, will hold a special place in my heart,” Harker said. “Thank you, and congratulations to the University of Delaware Class of 2015. 

At the start of ceremonies, the presentation of the colors by cadets from UD’s Army and Air Force ROTC units was followed by the singing of the national anthem by Alyssa Cataldi, a member of the Class of 2015 and a recipient of the F. Warren James Memorial Award. 

Also during Commencement, Fred Hofstetter, president of the Faculty Senate and professor in the School of Education, congratulated the Class of 2015 for its interaction with faculty through courses, research projects, internships and theses. 

“You played an active role in helping the faculty achieve some important goals this year for UD,” Hofstetter said. “On the senate floor, for example, students made important contributions to the University’s new goals for general education, which the Faculty Senate passed by unanimous vote.”

A procession of alumni helped open Commencement and Kenneth Jones, president of the University of Delaware Alumni Association, welcomed the organization’s newest members and urged them to stay connected with their alma mater and give back through a wide variety of volunteering opportunities.

Jones also led the newest Blue Hens in attaching UD Alumni Association pins to their hoods and hats as part of the traditional pinning ceremony.

Harker also noted the Senior Class Gift of $14,000 that will be used to fund various programs around the UD campus. 

The ceremony concluded with the singing of the UD alma mater by senior members of the University’s a cappella singing groups and the University Chorale. 

Related stories and resources

• Follow the conversation on social media by checking out the Storify site.
• For videos about Commencement, see the University’s YouTube channel.
• Honorary degrees were presented to five outstanding individuals.
Outstanding seniors and alumni were an important part of the Commencement processional.
• Eight high index seniors were honored.
• The Commencement view from graduates and faculty members.
• A doctoral hooding ceremony was held on Friday morning.
• The UD Honors Program held a celebratory breakfast on Friday morning.
• Read the remarks by Commencement speaker David DeWalt.

Article by Jerry Rhodes

Photos by Kathy F. Atkinson, Evan Krape, Ashley Barnas, Wenbo Fan and Doug Baker

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