I’d like to thank President Ainlay and Mrs. Judith Gardner Ainlay for hosting me and for their gracious hospitality. I’d also like to thank Mr. Mark Walsh, Chairman of the Union College Board of Trustees, and the entire Board of Trustees of Union College for their dedication to furthering education. I’d like to recognize and thank Dr. Therese McCarty, Vice President for Academic Affairs and Dean of the Faculty for making this day a possibility for all of you.
I’d also like to congratulate the faculty, staff and of course all of the wonderful parents joining us on this occasion. And I’d like to give special recognition to G. Bingham Powell for receiving an honorary doctorate of humane letters.
Graduates, I’m getting to you.
I sat where you are eighteen years ago to the day and told myself I am going to find out what in the hell is going on out there in the world.
Well, I’ve returned to report back what I’ve learned, because I know it’s looking a little scary right now from where you're sitting: Despite what you may have heard on the news, It’s all going to be fine. In fact, a cultural renaissance of creativity, quality, adaptability, sustainability and tolerance is just beyond our reach. And I’m sure we are going to get there.
There is a growing under–current coursing through the inner fiber of our country that is “awake.” This culture recognizes that they know what they don’t know and is inclined to ask lots of questions. They recognize that we should no longer accept the status quo. They also tend to be more inclined to experiment while tolerating failure at the same time. They are leading the way to the renaissance through a new culture of ruthlessness and compassion.
I believe, in this renaissance, we will get a lot more of everything, for a lot less cost, with a lot more quality. And I believe you are the people who will lead us into it.
Here’s what I mean: fifty percent more learning in a quarter of the time, twice as much food for ninety-percent less of our resources, huge increases in health with a collapse in cost, energy efficiency through adaptation of our natural surroundings and a sixty percent reduction in crime for mere pennies, just by taking the time to re-establish a community covenant.
This way of thinking cuts across all industry’s and identities, because those doing it share a single mission; to turn fearful and unsustainable cultures into a joyful sustainable culture.
This culture looks like Derek Sivers, a professional musician turned entrepreneur who figured out that we learn at a much faster rate when we’re not scared to fail. He’s been inspiring people to do what excites them since 2008.
This culture looks like Colin Archipley, a Marine Sergeant with a hydroponic farm using the latest technologies to grow organic produce in California while providing returning combat veterans training and jobs. His farm provides twice the amount of food using ninety-percent less resources.
This culture looks like Dr. Jeffrey Brenner, a doctor from Camden New Jersey that was able to reduce healthcare costs in his community by targeting the group of people causing the largest burden on the system by implementing simple measures like paying high school students to take senior citizens out for walks or ensuring they took their medication on a daily basis.
This culture looks like David Kennedy, a criminal justice professor reducing crime in urban communities by locating and engaging the most violent offenders and simply asking them to stop shooting people.
What the music entrepreneur, Marine sergeant, doctor and criminal justice professor all have in common is their culture; It’s a mission-first, leave-no-man behind culture. They are awake and asking questions. We need you to join this culture, to help lead us into the renaissance through your collective collaboration, innovation, experiments, and excitement.
The world is opening the door for us to experiment and be part of the genius solutions this time is crying out for. It is only when those who wake up and ask questions inside this mission culture that the genius will be revealed.
And their work is but the tip of the iceberg. It is you who are the heroes of your own stories You are the real force. You are the richest people in America, because the most valuable thing is time and options. Few in the world have more time and more options than you.
In fact, unlike any other time in the entirety of human civilization you are all able to pursue any and every avenue you choose to explore. We need you to go out there and use collective collaboration to build your own experiment, to be fearless and use your creativity to author your own stories. Throughout your lives and across your careers continue to see the world as open and unexplored as you do right now. My generation sees the world changing but our learned behavior trained us to walk before you leap, and to speak softly but carry a big stick.
Throw out the rule-book; dive head first, scream from the rooftops and don’t worry about the size of your stick.
Talk with each other, learn from each other and collaborate with each other to help clean up the mess. It doesn’t matter if you’re an environmentalist or a history buff, a political science major or a law student - a musician, an author, a thespian or an animator - You’re arrival into this world is perfectly timed. Don’t worry about the negative headlines or the unemployment numbers. These are measurements of an archaic system incapable of keeping pace with the rate of change taking place across our country. You won’t read about the stories of the musician entrepreneur, the Marine Sergeant, the doctor, and the criminal justice professor or see them in the news. But I can tell you it’s happening, because I’ve met these people. There are innovators all across our country inspiring new methods and creative solutions to solve age-old problems. They are heroes.
I challenge you to seek them out, to talk with them, work with them and learn from them. Share this knowledge and these experiences with others. You will see, as I have, that there is a burgeoning culture that has been awakened from a general malaise. People are occupying, studying, researching, investigating, challenging and resolving new maps for their future. New technologies are upgrading old techniques that visionaries are using to get to the center of our most troubled areas.
We are challenging the culture of our longest standing institutions like education, healthcare, and energy to work differently. We no longer accept that because it’s the way it’s been done before means that it’s the best way to do it. Take a piece of our universe and resurrect it, change it, shape it into something that no one’s seen before.
You can choose to lead us into this renaissance, unleashing waves of explosive growth. I want you – and your parents – to be embrace failing. If you’re not failing, you’re not trying and that is our greatest risk. So let’s fail our asses off as we experiment with unprecedented tools and connections in this new paradigm of joy and genius that we can choose for ourselves daily if we experiment, learn and fail.
There is no single person or entity capable of solving all the problems, or making everyone’s lives better. We get to define what we want our culture to be, and how we act defines who we are as a culture.
The relationships you’ve made here make you stronger. You’re ability to stay connected to these people is unprecedented. You are never alone, constantly connected to the world around you. While you will physically be detached from this place and these people, you will take the most important pieces from your last four years into your next experiment, your next step, whatever that may be.
We’re all looking forward to hearing your ideas and most importantly, seeing what you do. From one Union College grad to another, let's be honest – if you can make it through four winters in Schenectady, you can change the world. With that, I wish you luck and my heartfelt congratulations to the Class of 2012.