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UMBC’s Hrabowski to Speak at Commencement

12 April 2012 No Comment
UPDATE: In April, Dr. Hrabowski was named one of the world's 100 most influential people by Time magazine, joining luminaries like Oprah Winfrey and Mark Zuckerberg.



Freeman Hrabowski (Photo provided by UMBC)

If the graduating students filing into 1st Mariner Arena on May 18 are looking for an easy path into the working world, they aren’t going to find it from the University commencement speaker. Freeman A. Hrabowski III, PhD, president of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC), is adamant on this point.

“I don’t care how smart you are, nothing takes the place of hard work,” Hrabowski said recently on CBS’ 60 Minutes.

Hrabowski is Exhibit A of where hard work can take you. The only child of two educators, he excelled in school, making it to ninth grade by age 12 and to college by 15. A college graduate at age 19, with a PhD at 24, Hrabowski began a career devoted to higher education. Since 1992 he has been president of UMBC, ranked the No. 1 “up and coming” university by U.S. News & World Report in 2009, 2010, and 2011.

A proponent of diversity and collaboration, Hrabowski has found much common ground with University President Jay A. Perman, MD, and was delighted when Perman asked him to speak at commencement. 

“In his time as president, Jay Perman has demonstrated a remarkable ability to inspire UMB students, faculty, and staff while forging new partnerships across the state and region,” Hrabowski says. “It’s a great honor being invited to speak to UMB’s talented graduates, and I look forward to increased collaboration between our institutions in the coming years.”

Named Freeman after a great-grandfather who was the first in the family born out of slavery, Hrabowski traces his passion for inclusive excellence to his childhood in segregated Birmingham, Ala., where he participated in the children’s march organized by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. While leading the march, Hrabowski was arrested and spat upon by police commissioner Bull Connor and served several days in jail, an experience that transformed the 12-year-old.

“It was awful and yet it was rich,” he recalled on 60 Minutes. “It taught me that even kids can make decisions that can have an impact on the rest of their lives. And it also taught me the importance of getting support from each other.”

A culture of support is much in evidence in the Meyerhoff Scholars Program at UMBC. The program was created in 1988 when Hrabowski and Baltimore philanthropist Robert Meyerhoff teamed up to address the shortage of African-American males pursuing careers in science and engineering. Today, the 23rd class of Meyerhoff Scholars is studying at UMBC. 

Being tightknit is a staple of the program, which now includes young men and women of all races. At summer “boot camp,” each cohort of new scholars—72 in 2011—is required to learn together, study together, live together, and move around campus together—literally.

The teamwork pays big dividends, especially when the students get hands-on experience as research interns at one of the 76 companies and technology startups on UMBC’s campus.

“We have to teach Americans of all races and all backgrounds what it takes to be the best,” says Hrabowski, whom Time magazine named one of America’s 10 best college presidents in 2009. “And at the heart of it is the same thing we saw as kids—hard work.”

So, graduates, don’t expect the speaker to take it easy on you on May 18. Asked what he might address at commencement, Hrabowski breaks into the smile that is so familiar on the Catonsville campus. “I often tell my students and colleagues that success is never final,” he says. “Commencement is a time both to reflect on your achievements and to renew your focus on accomplishing your goals.”

To read more about the nationally renowned UMBC president, visit http://umvoice.com/2012/04/freeman-a-hrabowski-iii/.

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