President Young, distinguished members of the faculty, esteemed guests and graduating class of 2007, I express to you my sincere appreciation for the privilege which is mine to be a part of these services. I am honored to be here today.
I am-and have always been-proud to say that I graduated from this university. Although many of the beautiful buildings which grace this campus today had not yet been built when I attended classes here, I walked the same ground you have walked and learned many of the lessons you have learned.
The world has changed much in the intervening years. When I graduated in 1948, we had no calculators, no cell phones, no I-pods or MP3 players. There were no personal computers, no laptops, no webcams, no video games. The internet did not exist. There was no e-mail. There were no digital cameras, no video cameras. Television was in its infancy, and most of us had never seen one. World War II was raging, and cars were scarce, so buses and streetcars provided much of our transportation.
You, on the other hand, have been surrounded by the technology and the affluence of modern times. You are living in one of the most precious and privileged periods of all human history-a period of change and challenge and infinite promise.
Today you will lay aside cap and gown-the traditional symbols of academic accomplishment-and will look back with pride on your achievements and will look forward with hope for the future. Tomorrow you will enter the classrooms as teachers, the halls of justice as attorneys, the corridors of hospitals as physicians, technicians and nurses, the high rises and plants of industry as businessmen and women. You may go on to graduate work before you embark on a career, but you will leave this chapter in your life and will move on.
Whatever your pathway may be, I suggest three guideposts to assist in your respective journeys through life. They are easily remembered-true friends to every traveler.
First, glance backward.
Second, reach outward.
And third, press forward.
Let us consider each in its turn. First, glance backward. As you look at your life thus far, you will learn from past mistakes, whether they be yours or those of others. You will recognize also that many people have helped you reach this point in your life. Give thanks to them-your family, your friends, your teachers and others. Express gratitude to those professors who have planted the seeds of learning and curiosity in your fertile minds and have instilled within you the skills and knowledge you will need to succeed.
When I was a student here, I witnessed such an expression of gratitude from a former student to his teacher. My swimming coach, Charlie Welch, who perhaps aided more young men than did any other man I know to learn swimming and lifesaving skills, was calling the roll of our swimming class at the University of Utah. His voice resounded from the plaster walls. The gym door opened that day in 1944, during World War II, and there entered a young man in Navy uniform. The sailor came up to Charlie and said, “Charlie, excuse me, but I want to thank you for saving my life.”
Charlie lifted his eyes from the roll card, put the pencil in his pocket, and asked, “What’s that?”
Again the sailor said, “I want to thank you for saving my life. You once told me that I swam like a lead ball, yet you patiently taught me to swim. Two months ago, far off in the Pacific, an enemy torpedo sank my destroyer. As I swam my way through the murky waters and foul-tasting, dangerous film of oil, I found myself promising, ‘If I ever get out of this mess alive, I’m going to thank Charlie Welch for teaching me how to swim.’ Today I came here to say ‘thank you.'”
Twenty young men stood shoulder to shoulder and never uttered a word. We watched the great tears of gratitude well up in Charlie’s eyes, roll down his cheeks, and tumble upon his familiar grey sweatshirt. Charlie Welch, a humble, prayerful, patient, and loving teacher, had just received his reward.
The lessons you have learned from the faculty on this campus may not be put to the test so dramatically, but they will enhance your life and your career.
I have suggested merely a glance at the past, for it is not practical to think we can return. Some of you may be familiar with Thornton Wilder’s classic drama Our Town. If you are, you will remember the town of Grovers’ Corners. In the play, Emily Webb dies in childbirth, and we read of the lonely grief of her young husband George, left with their four-year-old son. Emily does not wish to rest in peace; she wants to experience again the joys of her mortal life. She is given the privilege to relive her twelfth birthday. At first it is exciting to be young again, but the excitement wears off quickly. The day holds no joy, now that Emily knows what is in store for the future. It is unbearably painful to realize how unaware she had been of the meaning and wonder of life while she was alive. Before returning to her resting place, Emily laments, “Do human beings ever realize life while they live it. . .every minute?”
May all of us learn to appreciate the gift of life that we have been given, and may the lessons we learn as we glance backward help us to live more fully each day of our present, for such becomes our future.
Now that we have glanced backward, let us reach outward. To find real happiness, we must seek for it in a focus outside ourselves. No one has learned the meaning of living until he has surrendered his ego to the service of his fellow man. Service to others is akin to duty, the fulfillment of which brings true joy.
We do not live alone-in our city, our nation, or our world. There is no dividing line between our prosperity and our neighbor’s wretchedness. Try as some of us may, we cannot escape the influence our lives have upon the lives of others. Ours is the opportunity to build, to lift, to inspire, and to lead. We cannot be careless in our reach. Lives of others depend on us. The power to lead is indeed the power to mislead; and the power to mislead is the power to destroy.
Your leaders at the University of Utah, from President Michael Young through the ranks of each professor and instructor, have left their imprint upon you. They reached outward and touched your lives. They understand that the mantle of leadership is not the cloak of comfort, but rather the robe of responsibility.
And while we reach outward, we have the responsibility to press forward. Whatever part you choose to play on the world stage, keep in mind that life is like a candid camera; it does not wait for you to pose. Learning how to direct our resources wisely is a high priority. We don’t have to keep up with change-we have to keep ahead of it. As Ralph Waldo Emerson observed, “You are sensitive to a thousand influences…instructed by the past…invited by the future. You are not born equal-you are born unique. You have powers that have come to you from a host of ancestors. Your strengths are greater than your weaknesses. Finding our strengths, our unique powers, should be a purpose of the journey of life.”
Increasingly we hear from leaders in business, industry and government that it is easy to find people who can do what they are told but that it is difficult to find people who know what to do without being told.
In our chosen fields, the obstacles confronting us may be mountainous in their appearance-even impassable in their challenge to our abilities. Press forward we must, for we understand full well that complaining is not thinking. Ridiculing is not reasoning. Accountability is not for the intention but for the deed. No person is proud simply of what he or she intends to do. Let us not be deceived. Like the mice who voted to place a warning bell around the neck of the cat, we may mistakenly feel that the problem has been taken care of simply because we have discussed it. Machines are not creative or imaginative, nor even responsible. They are simply tools, and tools do not work and serve mankind until skilled hands take them up. Because our tools are growing in complexity and in potential usefulness, we must grow in order to use them both profitably and wisely. Let us not be frightened. Rather, let us be challenged. Only the human mind has the capacity for creativity, imagination, insight, vision, and responsibility.
My young friends, may you understand the real meaning of commencement. You, here and now, with diploma in hand, commence the next stage of your lives.
You will continue learning after you leave today, for to cease learning is to cease existing. And the best way to prepare for your future does not consist of merely dreaming about it. Great men and women have not been merely dreamers; they have returned from their visions to the practicalities of replacing the airy stones of their dream castles with solid masonry wrought by their hands. Vision without work is daydreaming. Work without vision is drudgery. Vision, coupled with work, will ensure your success.
Graduates, will you follow the guideposts? Will you glance backward, reach outward and press forward? The choice is yours.Your future is bright. It is challenging. It awaits you. Safe journey. Safe journey.