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Morse tells graduates "expect the unexpected"

A legacy lives on in Michelle's Law

U.S. Congressman Paul Hodes makes his remarks at Plymouth State University Commencement exercises this Saturday as PSU President Sara Jayne Steen and keynote speaker Ann Marie Morse look on. On behalf of the PSU community, Rep. Hodes presented the Granite State Award to Ann Marie Morse for her exemplary public service for the benefit of students and their families in New Hampshire and across the nation. Marcia Morris. (click for larger version)
May 21, 2009
PLYMOUTH—"Don't mess with a mother with a passionate cause."

That is AnnMarie Morse's motto. More than that, it is the message of her life's work since the terrible day in December 2003 when her daughter, Plymouth State University student Michelle Morse, was diagnosed with cancer.

"If you had told me six years ago, that I would be standing before you giving the keynote address at PSU graduation today, I wouldn't have believed it," said Morse, "But one of life's lessons that I have learned is to expect the unexpected. The only question is, will you be ready?"

As difficult as it was, AnnMarie Morse was ready. At the time of Michelle's diagnosis, her family was told that if Michelle took a leave of absence from her full-time studies at Plymouth State in order to pursue the aggressive course of chemo therapy she needed to fight her disease, she would lose her medical insurance coverage under her family plan.

Michelle made the decision to stay in school and finish her studies while undergoing treatment, suffering exhaustion and side effects. "She lost weight, lost her hair, but never lost the will to live," said her mother. Michelle graduated from Plymouth State University in 2005.

"We didn't understand how anyone could expect Michelle to remain a full time student and a full time patient. I was told that if I didn't like it, then I should change the law." recounts Morse. With that began what AnnMarie calls a "daunting but most rewarding journey" to change the law, first in New Hampshire, then at the federal level. What has become known as "Michelle's Law" was signed by Governor John Lynch on June 27, 2006. Sadly, Michelle was not present to witness the event. She passed away November 27, 2005, just shy of her 23rd birthday.

U.S. Congressman Paul Hodes was on hand Saturday Morning at Charles Currier Field to congratulate PSU graduates and to present Ms. Morse with the prestigious Granite State Award for exemplary public service at Plymouth State University's 139th Undergraduate Commencement Exercises.

"We reserve this award for those who have made exceptional contributions to the state of New Hampshire and its citizens," said Representative Hodes. "You have been a determined advocate and have succeeded in a great cause. You have given new meaning to the word lobbyist by fighting for the enactment of Michelle's Law here in New Hampshire in 2005 and then carrying the fight to both the U.S. House and Senate. After the President signed Michelle's Law, it became the law of the land in October of 2008."

"After Michelle's death there were days filled with sadness and there is a hole in my heart that will never be filled," said Morse. "On the other hand, there have also been days that have been filled with great pride in the milestones achieved by enacting Michelle's Law. Bonds of friendship have been made. I am a very different kind of person. I don't sweat the small stuff. I see the glass half full instead of half empty. And I know that life can change in an instant. I have learned to expect the unexpected."

Plymouth State Provost Dr. Julie Bernier presented this year's distinguished teaching awards. The Plymouth State University Distinguished Adjunct Teaching Award was given to Joseph Mealy of the Department of English. "You make writing interesting and fun for your students," said Provost Bernier. "You have established an environment that allows students to take risks, make mistakes and succeed on their own. You have provided opportunities for students to confront new ideas while developing their own."

The Plymouth State Univeristy Distinguished Teaching Award was presented to Cynthia Vascak, Chair of the Department of Art and Professor of Art Education. "You excel at building compassionate learning communities and a safe environment for student creativity," said Bernier in presenting the award.

For her part, Vascak challenged the students with a task, quoting from Lewis Carroll's The Adventures of Alice in Wonderland. When Alice complains to the queen that there is "no use trying to think the impossible", the queen replies, " I dare say you haven't had much practice. Sometimes I believe as many as six impossible things before breakfast."

"Seek out the impossible and keep dreaming," said Vascak. "Practice dreaming the impossible at least half and hour a day, and know that you can make the impossible, possible."

Finally in conferring the degrees and awarding 875 diplomas to the graduating class, PSU President Sara Jayne Steen had a task for the students too. Inside each folio handed to a graduate containing a diploma, she had tucked a postcard addressed to herself. "A year from now, I hope you mail it. Tell us where you are and what you are doing," said President Steen. "You are all an important part of Plymouth State, now, next year and in the years to come."

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