NSF News

NSF Director Panchanathan speaks at University of Vermont commencement and receives honorary degree

U.S. National Science Foundation Director Sethuraman Panchanathan delivered the address at the University of Vermont’s 222nd Commencement Ceremony on Sunday, May 21, 2023. The livestreamed event took place on the University Green and inspired graduates to address some of the world's most pressing challenges.

At the ceremony, Director Panchanathan was introduced by the University of Vermont’s Provost and Senior Vice President Patricia Prelock, who read the director’s citation and conferred upon him an honorary degree on behalf University of Vermont President Suresh Garimella. Moments after presenting the director with his hood, Garimella — who currently serves on the National Science Board — invited him to the podium to deliver the commencement address to an audience of graduates, alumnae, faculty, family and friends.

Director Panchanathan began by thanking the university and congratulating the graduating class. His speech was framed around the letters in "Vermont”, and to each, he attached key ideas. The "V" in Vermont, he said, was for victory: "This is a victorious day," he said.

On the theme of victory, the director stressed the importance of acknowledging the collective efforts that contributed to the graduates' success, pointing to the support of parents, family, friends, teachers, mentors and the dedicated faculty of UVM. He called upon the graduates to stand and express their gratitude to these individuals who have played a vital role in their achievements, saying, "It is because of them that you are victorious today."

Director Panchanathan then underscored the power of collaboration, the value of working together, and embracing teamwork to achieve progress. He challenged the graduates to extend their success to others, especially those who might not have had the same opportunities and advantages in life – a reference to the NSF's priority of the "Missing Millions" in STEM and creating equal-access opportunities for all.

"There are so many still left behind," said Director Panchanthan, imploring the graduates to find, “20 to 25 young minds, mentor them, lift them up – particularly from those communities that don't have the chance to see this amazing potential that all of you have realized."

Before concluding his speech, Director Panchanathan encouraged the graduates to stay curious and to keep transforming themselves — representing the "T" in Vermont — and their communities. He said that it was graduates’ responsibility to "uplift others," so that each and every person across the country can contribute their talents toward this nation’s great success.

At the conclusion of the ceremony — where an estimated 3,383 graduates received degrees, including 2,645 bachelors, 493 masters, 133 doctoral and 112 medical degrees — the director participated in a recessional.

Over the course of his weekend visit, he met with many UVM graduate students, professors and members of leadership, including at the Honorary Degree Dinner at the Silver Pavilion and the President’s Luncheon at Waterman Manor.

Earlier this year month, the university received a five-year, $20 million investment from NSF in support of a groundbreaking data science project called the Science of Online Corpora, Knowledge, and Stories (SOCKS). Funded through the Established Program to Stimulate Competitive Research Infrastructure Improvement (RII) program, SOCKS will focus on developing new approaches to quantifying and measuring a range of different texts through massive data collection, natural language processing and large language models. The project will help researchers understand exactly how stories evolve, spread and impact society and bolster research infrastructure at UVM and across the state.

For more about the commencement and speech, see the article, "Nation’s Top Science Leader Speaks on the Spirit of Excellence," in UVM Today.