RINDGE — New graduates of Franklin Pierce University left Saturday’s commencement ceremony with a mandate for the future: Challenge the status quo.

Under a clear blue sky, roughly 350 undergraduate, graduate and doctoral students received their degrees in the outdoor ceremony at the university’s Rindge campus. In all, Franklin Pierce granted degrees to 512 students this weekend between its centers in Rindge, Manchester and Goodyear, Ariz.

As Rindge undergraduate Valedictorian Eileen Savinelli of Goffstown addressed her fellow graduates Saturday, she emphasized the benefits of Franklin Pierce’s small community, from closer relationships with professors to the extracurricular and leadership opportunities.

She was grateful to work with professors who value “intellectual growth over academic grades,” she said, something she noted is not always common in the education system. And going forward, she challenged her peers to seek out genuine education rather than simply academic achievement.

“We still have time to change the way we think about learning, so embrace every learning opportunity. Value integrity over illusory success,” Savinelli, who studied health sciences, said. “And as far as changing the education system for the future — well, believe it or not, that’s completely in our hands.”

Whether pursuing careers in teaching, accounting, journalism or physical therapy, she argued that the class of 2019 must continue to teach and learn, for the sake of learning itself.

“We are the next generation of educators, and not just in our careers, but as future parents, community leaders, even as friends,” she said. “We have the responsibility to create a better system.”

The university conferred honorary degrees on three people Saturday, each of whom had additional words of wisdom for the graduates. The first was Mayor Joyce Craig of Manchester, who is the first woman to hold the position in the Queen City.

Craig never envisioned herself becoming a public servant, she told the crowd, but after advocating for better technology at her children’s school, she realized her actions could have an impact.

“It wasn’t my plan, but it’s the arena I belong in, because it’s where my passion lies,” Craig said. “My message for all of you graduating today is that while your plans are important, your passion, your perseverance and your ability to dare greatly are the qualities that will drive you in life and help you find happiness and success.”

When it comes to her own success, failure has been an essential part of the process, she said, pointing to her first run for mayor in 2015, which she lost by 64 votes. She was elected in her second bid for the position two years later.

“So when life tells you no, it’s important to find a way to keep things in perspective,” she said. “Because if you know what you’re capable of, if you’re prepared, and if you work hard, then life has a way of turning ‘no’ into ‘yes.’ “

Jamie Trowbridge, president and CEO of Dublin-based media company Yankee Publishing, also urged the graduates to approach their goals with persistence.

“There’s nothing inevitable about progress. No matter how much momentum you build up, there are always forces at work that are trying to slow you down. So change is not optional, not for any of us,” Trowbridge said. “You have to adapt to an ever-changing environment.”

Mayor Georgia Lord of Goodyear, Ariz., also received an honorary degree Saturday.

In addition to the honorary degrees, the university awarded its annual Honorable Walter R. Peterson Citizen Leader Award, which recognizes commitment to public service and higher education. Peterson served two terms as governor of New Hampshire and was president of Franklin Pierce from 1975 to 1995.

This year’s honoree, Martha Pappas of the Arthur M. and Martha R. Pappas Foundation, was unable to attend Saturday’s ceremony, but Barbara Morse, a co-trustee of the foundation, accepted the award and delivered remarks on her behalf.

Morse told the graduates that Pappas would encourage them to contribute their most valuable resource — time — to their communities, wherever they may be.

“She would say that giving is not about money or status. Rather, it’s a simple idea and very easy to practice. It’s about being intentional, and invested beyond your own personal needs,” she said.

“It is about wanting to make a difference.”

Meg McIntyre can be reached at 352-1234, extension 1404, or mmcintyre@keenesentinel.com. Follow her on Twitter

@MMcIntyreKS.