Graduate Commencement 2002

Address by President David E. Maxwell
May 19, 2002


In the early colleges of colonial and 19th century America, the president-usually an ordained minister-gave the commencement address, in which he (it was always a he) attempted to place the students' collegiate education in a moral and ethical context. To put it more bluntly, it was an opportunity to provide the students with a set of instructions on how they should lead their lives if they wanted to meet with the president's approval.

I have not taught a course in my three years at Drake University, so you've managed thus far to avoid being subjected to my view of the world-but you haven't escaped. I'm going to offer you a bit of instruction that is part moral, part practical in the hope that I can make a small contribution to your Drake education as you prepare to leave us. I think in the private sector it's referred to as "just in time manufacturing."

There's a saying from one of the Greeks that "The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing." I suspect that as you complete your education at Drake, you feel pretty fox-like-that you know many, many things, but I'm going to suggest one big thing to you that I hope will inform your many things in the years to come, so that you can be a hedgehog and a fox. Those of you who have seen the movie The Graduate (an apt reference given what we're doing here today) will remember the advice about the future-the one big thing-given to Dustin Hoffman in 1967, "Plastics, young man, plastics." Well, he was wrong — it was technology, retail, and financial services. So the one word I'd like to give you, the one big thing, is change.

You have spent at least the past several years preparing yourselves for a career, and that preparation has been based on a set of assumptions about what the world would be like when you graduate. I suspect that you've noticed that some of those assumptions are no longer valid-that things have changed while you toiled in the academic trenches. The world around us is changing with incredible rapidity-tens of thousands of people are entering professions that didn't exist five years ago, technology is transforming the way people think, learn, and do business, virtually every aspect of business has become global, and the demographics of the United States-who we are, where we come from, and where we are going-is changing before our eyes.

I hope that you've recognized during your time at Drake that-as students in graduate programs-we have not just tried to prepare you for your job, but rather to educate you for your careers, and for your lives. And that entails acquiring a set of intellectual skills and abilities, perspectives, and knowledge that give you the ability not just to confront change, but to manage it, to exploit it, to create opportunity, knowledge, and progress out of change.

But most of all-and here comes the moral instruction part-I'd like to urge you to be catalysts for change, to make change happen. The consequences of not making change happen are dire: as Professor Irwin Corey, a magnificent double-talk artist of my childhood who billed himself as "The World's Leading Authority," said, "If we don't change direction soon, we're going to end up where we're going."

Let me close my remarks by giving you my reaction to a book that topped the Business Week best-seller list for a long time, Who Moved my Cheese? Aside from the fact that I'm astonished that someone can sell millions of copies of a book of 24 point type and cartoons at $20 apiece, I'm most disturbed by the message-that you need to be prepared to respond to change, to react to change productively. Its focus is reactive, passive. As I said a minute ago, I certainly hope that your Drake education has prepared you to respond to change, but I also fervently hope that we've prepared you to do more than that-that you've developed the ability to look ahead and make change happen. I wish I had the time to write a sequel called Move Your Own Darn Cheese.
It is my hope that you will go out into the world with a sense of healthy dissatisfaction, with a hunger to find the things that are broken and fix them.

 So let me leave you with that instruction-with that request-I hope that your Drake education has prepared you for what you want to do, and for who you want to be. But I hope that we've also encouraged you to be hungry for change where it is needed, to be anxious to find the broken things and fix them, to find the status quo unacceptable-to make change happen. I do believe that it is possible to be both happy and dissatisfied at the same time-as long as you're doing something about the things with which you're dissatisfied. So as you go forth, I wish you the very best-be happy, and fix things.


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