Thank you.....Greetings to:
- President Fogel
- Dean Grasso
- honored guests and
- to YOU our accomplished graduates.
It is an honor to be here today.
In preparing for today, many memories of my own years of graduate studies came to mind...and some ways in which I can identify with your experiences:
I studied part time at UVM, in my mid-20s, working full time for Community College of Vermont.
My focus was clear—learn about the profession in which I had landed...its social/historical context, best practices, theory behind those.
I attended for 3 years.....every Wed afternoon.....independent studies in the summer.
Vividly remember those lovely sunny, winter days when I whined--longing to ski rather than write that paper!!!
Memories are of lively class discussions, wonderful faculty. UVM was a great experience and contributed significantly to my 36 year career in higher education.
Made the decision to attend full time. Took a leave of absence from work.
Moved to Cambridge MA, lived in a res hall...commuted to VT just about every weekend.
Completed my coursework in 2.5 years...returned to VT and to work at CCV and to write my dissertation..
A commuting marriage during grad school turned out to be practice for almost 19 more years of my life, when, as a college president, my husband and I lived in separate communities.
Enough of the resume...let’s talk about you
You worked diligently and sacrificed much to get here. You altered some aspects of your life to fit graduate study into it, and you relied on the support of many to guide you through this journey.
Graduates, congratulations!!!!! on reaching this significant milestone
The words of Ralph Waldo Emerson are apt for today:
“We wake to find ourselves on a stair: there are stairs which we seem to have ascended; there are stairs above us...which go out of sight”
This significant achievement is not the end ...it is not enough to define your life...it is not the top of your staircase.
As you ascend those stairs that lie ahead, in the spirit of the words of the protagonist in The Mermaid Chair (by Sue Monk Kidd) “astonish yourselves”.....astonish yourselves in these three ways:
- in living life as an expert learner
- in doing Good Work, and
- in committing yourself to a lifetime of social and civic responsibility
First: Live Life as an Expert Learner
The challenge before you all today is balancing your sense of achievement with your lifelong commitment to learning...to regard yourself as an “expert learner”, not an “learned expert”.
In your graduate studies, you delved deeply into your respective fields. With graduate degrees in hand, there is a temptation to narrow one’s focus...narrow one’s identity...regard oneself as a “learned expert”.
According to the dictionary, each of you is now a “specialist”, an “authority”. That is all well and good as long as you don’t adopt that as your identity, or allow others to do that to you. As you look out from here, you need to ask yourselves: “How do we continue to deepen our knowledge without becoming narrow? Without limiting our vision...our sense of the world...without falling into a trap of “knowledge for knowledge sake” or the sense that we have the answers, rather than the next set of questions?
I urge you to don the mantle of “specialist” or “authority” with humility. Today we all commend you for the expertise you have developed in your respective fields of study. Tomorrow, however, you will do yourselves and UVM proud, if you reframe that concept and consider yourselves expert learners. This change in perspective reflects what is true—you do know more that many about a particular area of study. But this content—no matter how deep—has a short half-life. What will live on, and what no one can take from you, is your intellectual curiosity and your capacity to put your well-developed habits of mind to work to keep learning. Learning is our lifelong journey—a journey you have just begun and are well equipped to enjoy.
Second: Do Good Work
Howard Garner and colleagues, in their book “Good Work”, counsel us to “do Good Work”, which differs from being good at the work we do.
You and I both know that you will put your newly acquired knowledge to work.
Knowledge is a very valuable commodity....certainly no need to convince this audience of that. However, its value is only realized when it is shared....when it is used to build community and to enhance the condition of humankind.
How will you make that happen--consciously? How will you keep your hunger for knowledge robust and your hunger to put that knowledge to work for the benefit of humankind always in the forefront?
Whatever the nature of your work, commit to doing “Good Work” and not just to working well. Be diligent, be creative, expect the best of yourself and others. Help others develop their gifts and talents as many have done for you. Make decisions based on their broad impact, understanding why the work that you do matters.
Once again I turn to Gardner et al.:
“It has always been true that some people do their work expertly but not very responsibly. People who do good work...rather than merely following money or fame alone or choosing a path of least resistance when in conflict, they are thoughtful about their responsibilities and the implications of their work. At best, they are concerned to act in a responsible fashion with respect to their personal goals: their family, friends, peers and colleagues; their mission or sense of calling; the institutions with which they are affiliated; and lastly the wider world—people they do not know, those who will come afterwards, and in the grandest sense, to the planet....” (page 3)
You live a world where greed of a few took down the world economy...where dictators and despots rule many nations...where lawbreakers are more celebrated than lawmakers. These folks are good at what they do. They do not do Good Work.
Do “ Good Work” that engages you intellectually, creatively, and socially...work that energizes you and brings you a deep sense of satisfaction. I urge you, from time to time, to step back from the day to day and ask “what difference does this work make?” “How does what I do serve the greater good?”—always seeking to understand and commit to its ultimate value.
Third: commit yourselves to a lives of social and civic responsibility. Be a Giver not a Taker.
In the years ahead, there will be increased expectations for you to contribute professionally due to your advanced level of knowledge and expertise. You will rise to positions of responsibility and leadership, whatever the nature of your work. While responding to those expectations, you also need to step back and ask “what else?”
Who am I besides a chemist, an English scholar, a PT, a high school teacher, an investment banker? What are my interests beyond my profession? What am I being asked to do? Asked to contribute?
You have a responsibility to put your gifts and talents to work outside of the workplace, in whatever arena you choose. That commitment to give back requires conscious and deliberate attention to questions such as: ”How can I make a difference?” “How can I be sure to be more of a giver than a taker?”
Be mindful of your privilege and find ways to serve—be that through acts of volunteerism, through your action on the election ballot, or through service on boards. Be deliberate about incorporating service into your life, not as an “extra’ or “twould be nice to do some day” but, rather, as an essential element in the life of a highly educated and thoughtful person—a person of conscience. You must find time for this....
As William Sloane Coffin observed in his book “Credo”:
“ Socrates had it wrong; it is not the unexamined but finally the uncommitted life that is not worth living”
In order to be effective at the three challenges that I have laid out for you, you need to live a full life. Living a full life requires that you develop yourselves physically, emotionally, intellectually and spiritually—to fully realize your gifts and potential. This is your responsibility...no one else will do it for you.
So...living a full life becomes your number one assignment in the months and years ahead. If you attend to this as well as you have attended to your studies at UVM, you will:
live life as an expert learner, who engages in Good Work, and who is a giver not a taker
I conclude with words of Sue Monk Kidd:
“So few people know what they are capable of. At forty-two I’d never done anything that took my breath away and I suppose now that was part of the problem...my chronic inability to astonish myself. (p2)
Now, graduates go out there and make the University of Vermont proud....