About Thomas R. Rochon

Publications and Speeches

Back to "Commencement Remarks"

Commencement 2012Commencement 2012
May 20, 2012

Take the First Step

We come to that moment when we say goodbye. This is a moment of transformation in many respects, including in your relationship to Ithaca College. You will continue to see your classmates, some of whom will be among your closest friends for the rest of your life. You will come back to campus from time to time for alumni reunions and perhaps for other events. You will drop in and say hello to your favorite faculty member. One or two of you might even become trustees of the College, in which case you will one day be my boss!

No matter what path you take in life, you will always have a connection to Ithaca College. IC will always be listed as one of the first lines on your résumé. When you encounter fellow alumni you will immediately feel a special bond even if you have never met them before. Friends and co-workers will ask you what it was like to be a student here. And when you come back to campus you will feel a special kinship with certain buildings, and with the views of the lake, and with the students who then be here. You will be eager to show all the campus and the town to your partner and your children, and they will tolerate your enthusiasm because they will sense how important this place is to you.

But things will never be the way they’ve been while you were a student here. You already know that, which is why you spent much of Senior Week reflecting back on your experience. You have also been busy deepening your relationships with fellow students in preparation for the transformation that will occur as of noon today.

This is a moment to look back but it is also a moment to look ahead. What a time to be a new college graduate! The news these days is full of stories about how tough the job market is for members of the class of 2012, and I have no doubt that many of you will participate in those struggles. I respect that unfortunate fact, but I want at the same time to focus my remarks on the other part of the story. This is an absolutely amazing time to enter the world, even with all the insecurities that brings.

In the four years most of you have been at IC as students, the world around us has shifted measurably. Dictators who had been in office for decades and who appeared to have enough muscle to last forever are now gone. The global economic melt-down happened while you were here. Trillions of dollars in wealth disappeared. Ninety-eight corporations – nearly 20 percent – of the Fortune 500 list when you began as freshmen are no longer on that list.

An African American was elected president of the United States while you were here, and that was truly a watershed moment in American history. Four years later he is standing for reelection and although there are heated debates about jobs and health care and taxes and wars, as there are in any election campaign, the fact of the president’s race has receded deeply into the background. Yesterday’s breakthrough is today’s new normal.

In the time you have been on this campus, people have founded companies now worth billions of dollars, they’ve put new technology in the hands of tens of millions of people, they’ve started social movements, and they’ve generally kept it mighty interesting to read the news every day. I know you are already accustomed to the dizzying pace by which the novel gets incorporated into our everyday experience because that has been characteristic of the pace of change throughout your lifetime. This will continue to be the case.

Talk to your elders and the perspective they may give you is that the world is going to hell in a hand-basket. Where is the security; what can we count on?

Fortunately, you start with a much cleaner slate. The status quo may be pretty shaky, but the status quo is not what your future depends upon. Your future instead depends on … you!

You may feel like an outsider to the world you are entering. You may feel like the low person on the totem pole, who must struggle even to be noticed. You may be concerned about what you will do next and what, in turn, that will lead to.

But consider the fact that there has never been a better time to be a new entrant onto the stage. You are graduating from college at a time when hierarchy and established authority have never been in more dubious control. You are an independent thinker at a time that calls for fresh approaches. You are adept at communication at a time when the media of communication have never been so open to anyone who has something to say. In just the few years you have been on the IC campus there has been a revolution in what can be said, who can say it, how it can be disseminated and who will find it.

Whether you look at the economy, or at the institutions of society, or at the power centers of government, things have never been more open for the insurgent outsider to be heard and to make a difference.

Mike Wesch, a professor of anthropology at Kansas State University who focuses on how technology is changing our culture, puts it this way: “We are moving from a world in which the greatest advantage is to be knowledgeable—that is knowing a lot of stuff—to a world where it is important to be knowledge-able—capable of finding, sorting, analyzing, criticizing, and ultimately creating new information and knowledge.”

It may look like your elders are in control of things and that you have no opportunity for participation or for influence. But look more closely and you will see that a lot of your elders are throwing up their hands and asking “Now what do we do?” They are going to look to you for answers. And you are going to be Ready!

I’d like to close on a very personal note. Most of you arrived on the Ithaca College campus a few weeks after I did, in August 2008. Like me, you may feel that was an eternity ago and that you can barely remember your life before Ithaca College. Like me, you may also feel at other times that you arrived just yesterday. How can it be four years already?

We arrived together and we grew up on this campus together. Consequently, the class of 2012 will always be very special to me. Now you are leaving, having accomplished your goal. I am staying behind, still having work to do. Time will tell which of us is getting the better end of that deal. But I will follow your path through life with deep interest and with a desire to be of help whenever I can. You are going to create the world that I and others will inhabit ten and twenty and thirty years from now! I will watch with awe.

It is with awe and great joy that I send you off with a personal message from me to you, albeit one that is borrowed from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Please look at the back of your medallion. I hope you will think of this message whenever you are unsure of your next step in life, or whenever you doubt that you will be able to create for yourself the life that you want. When that happens – when not if – you have only to “Take the first step in faith. You don't have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step.”