Saturday we honored 800 members of the Class of 2013, their families and friends. It was a fitting celebration of what they have accomplished in their time at PhilaU.
These are my hopes for the members of their class, and for all Philadelphia University alumni:
Graduates, you came to Philadelphia University from 29 different states and 11 countries. You majored in 43 distinct disciplines, became All American athletes, published authors, and founders of commercial and not-for-profit ventures. You have patented intellectual property, designed award winning products and apparel, created unique structures and materials, and have served in clinics and hospitals. You have volunteered thousands of hours in communities from Philadelphia to Haiti.
You have served internships at institutions as varied as Target, Armani Exchange, and the National Economic and Social Rights Initiative.
Many of you leave here to work for great companies from Nordstroms to Verizon. Some of you are going to medical school, law school, or to study for masters degrees in business, psychology, medicine, engineering, environmental science, and many other disciplines.
But all of you, now and forever, will be a member of the class of 2013, bound by the experience of growing from adolescent to adult and from student to professional – an experience that is lived out uniquely at Philadelphia University.
I ask you to imagine the possibilities held in today’s commencement. You have spent countless hours in our classrooms, labs and studios, under the tutelage of our faculty, and today, we reflect on the futures you have designed for yourselves. This is a time we invoke the city upon the hill of John Winthrop, the pursuit of happiness promised by our founding fathers, and the American dreams of de Tocqueville, Adams and Martin Luther King.
Historically, the American dream is a universal concept manifested in a culture that embraces anyone who takes the challenge – pilgrims, pioneers, homesteaders, immigrants, inventors, entrepreneurs, innovators, civil rights leaders – they all the bear the torch and testimony of the Dream.
I’m tempted to quote comedian Art Buchwald. Speaking before the graduating class of Holy Cross he said: “As you can clearly see, we’re leaving you a pretty perfect world. Don’t screw it up.”
Things are, perhaps a little less cut and dry for the class of 2013, and we should acknowledge it as so. You will not be immune to the economic difficulties and political tensions of our world today. In the face of these challenges, I ask: Are you prepared to inherit the Dream? More importantly, do we have faith in this generation to Dream? Do you have faith in yourself?
You leave this campus to engage in a world rife with change. And yet, this chaos may be your greatest stroke of luck yet.
When the circumstances of civilization are in flux therein lays the greatest opportunity to live a productive and fulfilling life, to make the proverbial “difference” in a world desperate for leadership.
As a Philadelphia University graduate you have been trained to be an opportunity seeker and a problem solver. You have the knowledge and skills of a professional. You have the energy to work hard and stay the course for the long run. What you need to decide is how much courage you have for the journey and risks ahead. Look into your heart and ask the question: With all the gifts I’ve been given, do I have the courage to make a difference?
While youth knows little of time and mortality, you will speed through life. Don’t waste it on trivial thinking. Don’t be slowed by convention. Don’t let other peoples’ inhibitions mute your passion.
I do not suggest you rush forward without thought or concern. You have spent years as an undergraduate tuning your brain to be full of thought, and have returned to the classroom for post-grad degrees. You are people who believe in the power of thought and education. You must think deeply…and act decisively.
A personal confession… Virtually every time I have acted decisively in an ambiguous and risky situation, no matter how deeply I thought about the required action, I have been afraid. Afraid of failure, afraid of pain, afraid of loss. But I have been buoyed by Nelson Mandela’s statement that courage is not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave person is not one who does not feel fear, but one who feels it, conquers it, and acts in spite of it.
My point is thought without action is frivolous. Action without thought is dangerous. You define yourself by your words and deeds. Think and act like a person who is a leader in their profession and you will create value in this world.
We are proud to call you the Philadelphia University class of 2013. We are proud of what you will accomplish. Do not fear, so much as dream.