Before I begin, I would like to thank President Simone, Provost Stan McKenzie, Vice President of Academic Affairs Kit Mayberry, and Vice President of Student Affairs Mary-Beth Cooper for the opportunity to say something to my graduating class.
And while many of you will forget what I am about to say—probably sometime early next week—it is still a rare honor to stand before you today and deliver your student convocation address.
So here it goes: the clichéd graduation speech on “doing something with your life.” I have spent a lot of time thinking about this topic—roughly twenty-one years. And after that brief bit of life experience, as well as four years of undergraduate education, I still feel less than qualified to deliver any officially sage-like advice to you on the “doing something with your life” topic.
And so for this exercise I will rely, in part, on a conversation I had with my mom during the summer following my sophomore year at RIT.
Here’s the story: I was on co-op at the Arctic Region Supercomputing Center in Fairbanks, Alaska. One sunshine-filled evening, my mom started up an instant messaging conversation with me. After going through the usual “your dad did this, your sister did that,” she asked me about my plans. I decided to tell her about what I had just done the previous night,
which was: nonchalantly snuck into a bar, down the street, that wasn’t checking IDs.
Being the under-21 college student, when I relayed this to my mom I placed heavy emphasis on the conversations I had, while in the bar. There was one particular conversation, with a grad student from Germany named Wolf, which stuck out.
Wolf told me about how he stopped studying physics in Berlin, after two years, in order to start studying medicine. At the time, he was on an exchange program, mid-medical-degree, at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks, to work on a thesis concerning Genomics. His plans were to, then, return to Germany and finish the clinical work for his M.D. And, after all that, he hoped to go back to studying physics again.
Besides Wolf’s academic path sounding less-than-straight, and even a bit insane from a career-oriented perspective, his aspirations were, and still are, inspiring to me. His dedication to learning as much as possible, in a variety of fields, in order to generate new knowledge and benefit those around him—is something I find extremely impressive, and indicative of something I find to be of utmost importance: the idea of learning as intrinsic to one’s life, work, and goals.
In other words, being a lifelong learner.
I’ve had the opportunity, as I’m sure you’ve had, to work with, and meet, many other lifelong learners—among peers, coworkers, professors, administrators, and of course family members.
All of us here in the Gordon Field House are aware, that when your eager hands accept the RIT diploma now due to you, your education does not, in fact, stop. But lifelong learning is more than just this simple truth. And although, I can’t exactly present you with a comprehensive, universal definition of lifelong learning, I can give you a few things that I believe it is and isn’t.
Obviously, lifelong learning isn’t staying in school forever. Nor is it simply reading the newspaper everyday. However, it is reading multiple news sources, to try and get the real picture of current events; it is picking up a little sign language to get a sense of the vibrant culture, alive just next door; it is going to hear a lecturer you don’t agree with, in order to at least understand his argument.
Lifelong learning is about actively engaging in, and with, your life. And most importantly, it is about learning what your values are and how you want to be remembered.
Wolf was a lifelong learner and by relating his personality and ambition to my mom, she helped me investigate what being a lifelong learner really means.
I had just finished telling her how I couldn’t be satisfied with what someone would call (quote/unquote) “traditional goals,” when my mom replied:
“Right now you are a taker not a giver. When we begin our education that is how it has to be. You are preparing to give back, but you need to get a lot first. Learning feeds your spirit…
“You will have to have your own definitions of work, success, and failure and no one else needs to understand them. Everyone just needs values to feel good about themselves at the end of our lives. If people remember you were a good person—kind, useful, worthwhile to spend time with—what greater accomplishment is there? Think about what it takes to meet those criteria—it is a huge task—but the most worthwhile.”
Congratulations Class of 2006 and Thank You.