UW System Pres. Kevin Reilly Commencement Speech
UW System President Kevin Reilly Commencement Speech at the
University of Wisconsin-Parkside, Sunday, December 16, 2012
It's a pleasure to be here at UW-Parkside This is one of the fun parts of my job, days like this.
This is a grand day, isn't it? Let me start out by congratulating the members of the graduating class of 2012...You've done it! You have achieved something that is bestowed, you should know, on only a small percentage of the human race. With your brand, spanking new baccalaureate degrees, you are mighty accomplished--and privileged--people. And--not to put any pressure on you-- the future really does lie in your hands!
As an aside, I have always found it interesting that at most graduation ceremonies, the commencement speaker is charged with telling masses of students dressed in more or less identical caps and gowns that individuality may well be the key to their success...
But don't worry. I won't take too long to give you that or other advice. Instead, I'll take my cue from President Lincoln, who said in the opening line of his Second Inaugural Address, quote: "At this second appearing to take the oath of office, there is less occasion for an extended address than there was at the first." I assure you I am fully aware that what Lincoln said in his Gettysburg Address, which turned out not to be true, will be utterly true of my commencement remarks today: "The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here."
My heartfelt congratulations go out to each and every one of you, nonetheless, as well as to all the family members and others who have waited for this day with almost as much anticipation as you. Make sure to thank these people, graduates, profusely for all the support and guidance they have given you over the years to help you get to this moment. After all, you can't imagine the sense of relief they are experiencing. Actually, this mightn't be a bad time for your last soft-touch opportunities to ask for money! And look: they're here instead of watching the Packers and Bears! Even more dedication!
On this day, as you move your tassels to the other side of your mortarboards, you are gaining a place in the wonderful and dynamic community of University of Wisconsin alumni. You are taking your place among some of the world's most capable and respected citizens.
Many of you graduating today have inspiring stories to tell, I know, about overcoming significant obstacles to earn your degrees. Some have had language barriers. Others have worked extra hard--and extra hours--to finance your education. And many of you, more than 60%, in fact, are the first in your families to achieve a college degree. Talk about trail blazers!
As college graduates, you are all, by definition, risk-takers--and I applaud that. The late Lee Sherman Dreyfus, who served as Wisconsin Governor and, before that, Chancellor of UW-Stevens Point, would have applauded you, too, for the risks you have taken to be here today. He believed that the makings of a true leader lie in a willingness to take chances, once telling a group of graduates like you, I quote: "Absolutely dare to risk, don't be security-conscious. We are descended, we Americans, from risk takers!"
I'm sure there were times along the way when you wondered if the risk was worth it. Even now, I know many of you may be apprehensive about the uncertain economic environment that awaits you.
There will always be uncertainties, of one sort or another. None of us can possibly know what the "Next Big Thing" will be, what changes lie over the horizon. Ten years ago, I wager not many of us would have imagined that on such a big day, the family video camera would be sitting on a shelf in the closet, and instead, this historic occasion would be chronicled by hundreds and hundreds of cellphones!
I'm here to break it to you that the diploma you're receiving today doesn't mean you have all the answers. That was what you were supposed to believe in sophomore year! That isn't part of the deal when you are graduates. But it does mean you are much better equipped to find those answers...or even to find more questions!
To help you thrive in whatever future lies over the horizon, the dedicated faculty and staff here at UW-Parkside have worked hard to arm you with the necessary knowledge, skills, and habits of mind to greet each day with confidence--an enlightened readiness for what the future, with all its unknown challenges, might hold. Your fellow students have also played a part in getting you here, whether that's sitting up until the wee hours of the morning arguing Keynesian economics, or helping you memorize lines for a performance at The Rita. In the classrooms, labs, dorms, and coffee shops here at UW-Parkside, you've had the chance to rub elbows with people from all sorts of diverse backgrounds, who've enriched your experience here with their differentness, just as you have enriched theirs.
Whether you knew it or not, most of you have had a big cheering squad behind you all along the way, your family, friends, and neighbors, and maybe even people you've never met, those who are counting on the knowledge and skills you'll one day bring to the classroom, the construction site, the doctor's office. For those of you who may have lacked that kind of cheering squad, well, even heartier congratulations to you.
My point is: no matter the uncertainties, have faith that you have already passed a major test by getting to where you all are today. By committing to doing the work, by putting in the time, by your willingness to take on new challenges, to make sacrifices in order to achieve something big, by your willingness to consume unbelievably large quantities of Mountain Dew and Red Bull...you have shown that you've got what it takes to succeed!
Now, it's all about, as Mike Falbo said, what you do with what you've got.
Years ago, one of Ripley's famous "Believe It or Not" cartoons pictured a plain bar of iron worth $5 and pointed out that if you forged the iron into horseshoes, it would then be worth $10.50. If you used the iron for making needles, it would be worth $3,285. And if you turned the iron into watch springs, the value would soar to $250,000. There's a big difference between $5 and $250,000. Again, the difference is what you do with what you've got.
Today, as we celebrate your risk-taking, it is also important to remember why you took all those risks in the first place. Yes, getting a good job is part of what's driven you. But for many, there is an equally strong drive to improve lives, build stronger communities, and expand intellectual horizons.
Here at UW-Parkside, recognizing the connections--seen and unseen--that we all have with others around us is part of what makes this campus special. Indeed, UW-Parkside has been named to the President's Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll for the past seven years! Through the Center for Community Partnerships and the university's students, faculty, and staff, UW-Parkside is nationally recognized for its strong commitment to serving local communities. I hope you keep that with you.
It is your thoughtful contributions to the public good that will truly make a difference. Perhaps you'll serve on the local school board, or write letters to the editor of your local newspaper to express your opinion. Maybe you'll volunteer to build a playground, start a non-profit, or run for public office. Perhaps you'll return to one of our UW System campuses one day as a faculty member, ready to inspire the next generation of college-going students.
This is not to suggest that there will not be disappointments or roadblocks along the way. The trick, though, is to know, and to believe, that there is power in persistence--most especially in the face of withering difficulties. It might pay to remember that Dr. Seuss' first children's book was rejected by 23 publishers. That Michael Jordan was cut from his high school basketball team.
In the end, I certainly hope that at the base of what we have provided to you is the knowledge and perspectives to help you recognize what is true and good and beautiful in your lives.
This brings to mind the story of a hotshot investment banker who was taking a much-needed vacation in a small fishing hamlet somewhere on Lake Michigan, perhaps not too far north of here...
While strolling along the waterfront, this banker came across a fisherman in a small boat. The boat had several large, fresh fish in it. Lake trout, I think.
The banker was impressed by the quality of the fish and asked the fisherman how long it took to catch them. The fisherman replied, "Only a little while." The banker then asked why he didn't stay out longer and catch even more fish?
The fisherman replied that he had enough to support his family's immediate needs.
The banker then asked "But what do you do with the rest of your time?"
The fisherman said, "I sleep late, fish a little, play with my children, take an afternoon nap with my wife, stroll into the village each evening where I sip wine and play guitar with my friends. I have a full and busy life, sir."
The banker scoffed. "I am an Ivy League MBA, and I could help you. You could spend more time fishing and with the proceeds buy a bigger boat, and with the proceeds from that bigger boat you could buy several boats until eventually you would have a whole fleet of fishing boats. You could open your own cannery. You could make millions."
"Millions, sir? Then what?"
To which the investment banker replied, "Why, then you would retire. You could move to a small fishing village where you would sleep late, fish a little, play with your kids, take an afternoon nap with your wife, stroll to the village in the evenings where you could sip wine and play your guitar with your friends."
The point is, be ambitious, by all means. Aim high. Chase your dreams. But along the way, don't forget to really live, to appreciate the things that matter to you. Live a life with balance and perspective.
Graduates, that's my wish for you--that your University of Wisconsin-Parkside education helps you find a balance and perspective in your life that is uniquely yours, despite the almost identical caps and gowns! And since we began with President Lincoln, let's conclude with him. May you continue to tackle every exciting opportunity ahead of you with daring, confidence, and dedication. I also hope that you do so guided by "the better angels of your nature," as Lincoln called them. I hope that your education here at UW-Parkside has given those better angels reason and rein to roam across all your ambitions and dreams. May your futures be worthy of the best of those dreams. Way to go, graduates!