| Dr. Arthur L. Scott, president of Northampton Community College, delivers the Commencement Address on May 19, 2012 |
Thank you—it is an honor to be with all of you this morning and I really appreciate the kind words and of course the honorary degree. Our two institutions have a long and strong history together and complement each other well as we try to make this region a better place to live and to work.
Personally, and Father O’Connor may not know this, but when I was looking to break into higher education in the mid-seventies, I served an internship at DeSales, then Allentown College of Saint Francis de Sales, and soon after , was offered my first job at Northampton Community College. I learned a great deal when I was here and the experience served me well. I also should mention that when it was announced that I would be the next President of Northampton, Father O’Connor was one of the first people to call and congratulate me—so we continue to be linked in many ways and this honor today brings me full circle and I truly appreciate it.
It is equally an honor to have this opportunity to speak to the graduates of the Class of 2012. Congratulations—it is an important day for you as it marks a significant milestone and it is nice to see so many enthusiastic friends and family here in support of you. I know many of you are very anxious to move on to the next phase of your life while others are thinking college life is pretty good and you are trying to figure out how you can stay a little longer. Of course mom and dad may have something to say about that, but regardless of what you are thinking about today, know that many people are proud of you. You have accomplished a great deal and right about now, you should feel excited about yourself and what lies ahead of you. You are at the beginning of an incredible journey.
My message to you this morning will be short……but hopefully it will also be pointed……..because what I’d like to do with this opportunity to talk to you is to ask you for your help. That’s right, your help.
Help not for a particular cause or organization, but help in general to make our world a better place. I’m a member of the Baby Boom Generation……the generation that was so big in number, we made an impact on societal behavior at every stage of our lives. Now many of us are retiring and I can tell you that, while we may have been confident and cocky along the way, we sure did not do a good job of leaving this world in better shape than we found it. In this country, we’re leaving you with greater debt than we inherited, a planet that needs your environmental consciousness, a country where honest debate on ideological differences is difficult to conduct in a civil manner and a political system that many would argue is broken. Doesn’t that just make you want to go out and leave the security of DeSales University?
Before you get too despondent I would argue that the current situation can either be used as an excuse not to extend yourselves or it can be the motivation that gets you started. I’ve spent my entire career, nearly 40 years, in education. And I’ve been blessed to meet students throughout its entirety. They were and are just like you—full of hope and optimism and ready to tackle the challenges before them. They, like you, give me great hope for the future of this country and this world.
Because, when I talk with college students, I come away knowing that we can do better…..better politically, better economically, better educationally, better with relationships, better at parenting, better with how we respect differences and better with how we communicate with each other. The list is endless. We CAN do better
….but we need your help. Already, your generation has taught us a great deal. You have been phenomenal in terms of volunteer and service efforts. You are taking better care of the planet than your parents did. You are more accepting, than my generation, of others who may be different or less fortunate and you have rallied around some very worthy causes. What we need is to take all of your talent, all of your energy, your ideas, and your perseverance, and direct it toward some of the major issues facing our country and our society today. Peter Likins, a former president of Lehigh University, once said that volunteering…..becoming civically active…..is the rent we owe for the air we breathe. It’s a line I’ve always remembered because it speaks to the responsibility each of us have for making the world a better place.
Malcolm Gladwell, in his best-selling book The Tipping Point wrote “look at the world around you--it may seem like an immovable, implacable place. It is not. Make the slightest push—in just the right place—it can be tipped.” We need you to push. If I were your age, I might start by pushing our federal and state legislators so that they re-discover the art of compromise and the ability to find middle ground on issues. As a famous politician said about 8 years ago….We are not a red or blue nation…..we are one nation under God…..but the partisan politics of our federal and state government have made cynics of many of us and some would contend, have prevented the enactment of any far reaching social, economic, environmental or educational legislation.
When a piece of legislation does get enacted, the other side spends all its energy on trying to get it repealed. This is not how our founding fathers envisioned the way we would be governed. As a public, we need to demand better and as educated citizens, you can and should help. Be part of the solution and insist upon civility and respective discourse. As you have learned in the years you have spent at DeSales, having divergent viewpoints comes with an educated populace, so let us acknowledge that honest, smart people can disagree, but let’s work to find common ground. I am not sure when our fear of differences started but I know our lack of tolerance for anyone or anything that is different is at an all-time high, especially with my generation.
We need you to become leaders with a vision that promotes hope and that speaks to a future that includes a peaceful co-existence that is not gained through force and humiliation but instead through understanding, appreciating and honoring differences. What a horrible, sterile, and uneducated world we would live in if we only interacted with people like us. Think of your own life—what have you learned from a friend from a different state, a different country, or a different race. Whether you become a teacher, a doctor, a community organizer, or the best parent in the neighborhood, surround yourself with individuals who offer different perspectives and respect those different views. Continually learn from them and when you do, you will become a better person, more educated and more effective in whatever path you decide to take.
I know it is much too early to be thinking about your legacy, that is something you think about when you are about to retire like me, but I ask that you reflect a moment on when you felt the most satisfied or when you were the most proud of something. I suspect that your thoughts will include times when you have assisted someone, when you have helped someone along the way. I urge you to leave a trail of individuals who remember you and thank you for all the help you gave them, for the kindness you displayed—what a great legacy that would be.
I am reminded of my own mother who died in 2005. My mother had a very successful nursing career working in public health in some of the roughest neighborhoods in Paterson, New Jersey. One of the lessons I learned from her was kindness—she was always kind to everyone. But I guess I never internalized just how kind she was until her funeral. The mailman, her doctor, the neighborhood grocer, the man who delivered the oil to the house, repair men who worked on her house…..they all came to tell stories and how kind this 90 year old woman was, how she helped their kids or grandchildren. As a son I could have not been more proud. Kindness, like other good qualities, come from within…..from your soul.
In their book, Brains on Fire, Igniting Powerful, Sustainable, Word of Mouth Movement, the authors Robbin Phillips, Greg Cordell, Geno Church, and Spike Jones, talk about the soul being the key ingredient to success. They write “soul can’t be replaced by your technology platform, it can’t be duped by your influential blogger outreach strategy, and it can’t be duplicated by a hollow effort to build a community because that’s really just another push mechanism with the illusion of engagement. Soul is immaterial, full of emotion, and comes from people—not platforms. Soul begins deep within the recesses of your chest. It’s wrapped in what you stand for, and it permeates every aspect of what you do and say.”
The book I just cited was published fairly recently and speaks to today’s technological society, yet its core advice can be traced back generations. I found a comparable piece of advice in an old Cherokee story…..you may have seen it…..it was making its rounds on the internet not too long ago and it goes something like this. One evening an old Cherokee told his grandson about a battle that goes on inside of people. “My son,” he said, the battle is between two wolves inside us all. One is evil…..it is anger, envy, jealousy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority and ego. The other is good…..it is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindess, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion and faith.” The grandson thought about the old man’s word for a minute before he finally asked…..”which wolf wins?” The old man answered, “The one you feed.”
So graduates—go out conquer the world, I am confident that you can help us all be better…..if you are guided by what is inside you—by your values. Feed the good wolf. Then when you reach my age and reflect on your life, may your legacy be measured by how you made the world a better place and the many people you helped along the way. Thank you and good luck.
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