Student Commencement Speech

Andrew Foster

Spring Commencement, 2011

    Members of the Board of Trustees, President Wong, faculty, staff, families, guests, and my fellow graduates... I ask you, what can any commencement speaker say, that hasn’t already been said? 

    By now, students have heard every cliché bit of advice and platitude out there.  We already know that we need to work hard, never give up, and be kind to others.  We know that even Dr. Seuss thinks we’ll succeed (98 and ¾ percent guaranteed).  So, I won’t bother with advice or tired expressions... I’ll offer only a simple observation and reminder of who we are, right now, on our graduation day.

    Together we have shouldered backpacks, studied notes, and passed exams.  We’ve endured empty bank accounts, crazy roommates, and all nighters.  And we did this all to have our name read in today’s ceremony while wearing these funny caps and gowns.  So, here we are... we did it.  Of course, as graduates, most of us will search for an elusive job; but for many of us, that just won’t be enough.  Why is this?  Well, I think it’s because of who we are.

    My fellow graduates... we are young or young at heart, and idealistic.  What people say about college graduates is right.  However, it’s important to point out that unlike many of them; I say this with complete pride.  We look out to a world of violence, sickness, and greed.  We see sorrow and suffering.  And it’s when we see these things that we believe something quite beautiful-- we believe that we might be able to fix them.  We have yet to compromise with the realities that await us.  We have yet, to accept defeat.  May it forever be so...

     After all, it was a young and idealistic college graduate named Albert Einstein, who at age 26 published four papers that have forever changed the world.  At that same age, Jay Forrester created the first computer which arguably has become the most important invention of our time.  At 26, Martin Luther King Jr. led the Montgomery Bus Boycott.  These are only a few examples, but the list of young and idealistic people who changed the world is long... and it’s getting longer.

     As we move on from college, we must persevere.  The challenge is to put our ideals into practice and resolve differences between what is and what should be.  Obviously, this will not be an easy task.  There are many ways our resolve will be tested.  In fact, it’s likely our first test will arrive in the form of opportunity.

    We will have a choice between ideals and dollar signs.  We will make a promise to ourselves that we will not give up our dreams for a paycheck.  We tell ourselves, it may not be the perfect job, but it will only be temporary and we’ll work there just long enough to pay off student loans... then the mortgage, and of course we’ll have to start saving for retirement, maybe even our children’s college education.  Insidiously, our life style of comforts and responsibilities may lock us into a path that was only meant to be temporary.   I’ve heard this predicament referred to as being locked into “the golden handcuffs.” 

    Many of us sitting here today will be caught — slowly and systematically. Unfortunately, by the time we realize it we may no longer be young, and we may no longer be idealistic.

    Here’s the good news: thankfully, it appears it is also possible to be older and idealistic.  I say this because I’ve seen people who are.  I have seen them lecturing in classes, working in hospitals, and running local businesses.  If you talk with them, some have taken the direct route, never straying from their path.  Others had to develop dexterity like Harry Houdini to slip out of the golden handcuffs that bound them.  Either way, they are still out there continuing their work to change the world. 

    So, it looks as if the only real danger is in losing our ideals.  If we can hold onto them, we keep our edge, our creativity, and our passion.  We won’t accept things for how they are and we’ll maintain a drive to develop new solutions and new ideas.  I honestly don’t know a surefire way to hold onto our ideals, I’m only a graduate like the rest of you.  But, I’m guessing we will all have to figure that out on our own.  I do think our education will help, however, because I believe Jean Piaget when he said, “The principle goal of education is to create men and women who are capable of doing new things, not simply repeating what other generations have done.”

    So now we set out on paths of which we cannot see the end.  We must take courageous steps into trials unknown.  Fellow graduates, now is our time to stand tall...  and we can, because we are educated, young, and idealistic.  Congratulations graduates!