The timing couldn't have been worse.

Just as Merrimack College President Christopher Hopey started his introductory remarks just after 10 a.m. on Sunday, the skies opened up.

Hopey and other dignitaries were under an enormous canopy over the stage, but everyone else, including 780 undergraduates and another 540 graduate students, were on their own.

Organizers quickly ran out of ponchos and resorted to handing out plastic bags. 

Umbrellas sprouted up all over the Duane Stadium football field as friends and family sitting in plastic chairs on the artificial turf and hundreds more in the bleachers sought to stay dry.

But it didn't last long, and did very little to diminish the spirit of the crowd. As ceremony came to an end and the last of the diplomas were handed out, the rain had stopped and the sky started to clear, giving the chilly graduates a chance to dry out and warm up.

Undergraduate student speaker Paige Sorensen of Plymouth, Minnesota, one of the original members of the women's Div. 1 hockey team, told her classmates: "Through everything we have experienced and accomplished at Merrimack, we should each hold our heads high knowing confidently that we have been prepared for lifetime success. Though it may sound cliche, with all of the many firsts ahead, each of us will enlighten minds, engage hearts, and empower lives."

Graduation speaker Jeff Selingo, an best-selling author who writes a column for the Washington Post, said graduates need not be afraid of making bad decisions.

"If you feel like the stakes are high and you make the wrong decision, you feel like your life is going to be ruined," he noted. "Tough decisions rarely have the life and death consequences they seem to threaten. ... I found what I thought was a really bad decision was actually a really good decision. Whatever your path in coming years, your own tough decisions are likely to have unexpected good consequences. I urge you to have patience." - 

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