Delivered by Steve Wall, District Chancellor on June 10, 2005
To have the privilege and honor of being your graduation speaker in this, my final year at Pierce College, is absolutely wonderful. The opportunity to know and work with literally thousands of students throughout my 27 year career at Pierce College has truly enriched my life beyond measure.
Before I begin my remarks I want to comment about a student who walked across this very stage last year to receive his Pierce College degree. His name was Craig Harris. I dedicate my comments today in his memory because I think Craig was a wonderful example of so many of our students and he exemplified so well the opportunities available at Pierce College.
Craig returned to school after being laid off by Boeing. He was in his early 40’s. He had a wife and a young daughter at home and another daughter who had recently married and was with her husband in the South. I got to know Craig because he was unhappy with a student selection process for an activities position with our student leadership team. Before the conversation was over we agreed we would stay in touch and he would let me know how he was perceiving Pierce College as an older returning student.
Craig went at his education with gusto. He consciously looked for every opportunity both inside and outside the classroom to challenge his thinking and develop his skills to pursue a new career in public relations work. Unfortunately, Craig got cancer during his final year at Pierce College. He did everything he could to not let that slow him down. In fact, one evening after he got out of the hospital after surgery, I ran into him, his wife and daughter in the hallway. He wanted them to see his college and demonstrate both to himself and his family he was capable of walking to class. He was eager to get back to school.
Even as Craig’s cancer began to sap his strength he kept looking for opportunities where he could use the education he had received, and the personal public relations skills he had developed, in meaningful ways. In fact, late last fall, as we were getting ready to do the official grand opening for the College Center Building at the Puyallup College, Craig volunteered to narrate a video about the building. He worked closely with our staff in the computer lab to finish that project. The video played continuously the day of our grand opening and I know Craig was so pleased to have been a part of such an important event in the development of our Puyallup College.
Unfortunately Craig did not win his battle with cancer but it was surely not from lack of effort. He did everything I can think of to stay positive and upbeat and fully engaged in pursuing his goals. He communicated often about how things were going and frequently expressed his gratitude for the opportunities he was granted at Pierce College. I hope all of you, our graduates, will approach your lives with the same sense of purpose and appreciation of the opportunities you have been given. I will never forget Craig Harris. He helped me reinforce the importance of what we do.
I want to talk with you this afternoon about some ideas I have and provide just a little advice as well. Because of your Pierce College education and your personal effort and commitments you have the tools you need to make a difference in this world. But I’m not sure you all believe that. In fact, I’m afraid that particularly our younger generation has become cynical about their ability to affect anything important in our communities. But I believe that Gandhi was right when he said, “We must become the change we want to see.” My hope for all of you is that you want to be part of shaping a new world where you are actively engaged in the important role of being good citizens.
Today I have a top ten list for you. It won’t be an entertaining David Letterman top ten. But it is a list I think is important and one that I think your Pierce College education has prepared you well to implement. The Pierce College core abilities of Critical Thinking and Problem Solving, Responsibility, Information Competency, Multiculturalism and Effective Communication have served you well in your studies at Pierce College and will serve you even better as you become even more active citizens.
I recently attended a meeting in Washington, DC where David Gergen, former advisor to Presidents Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton, spoke. He was speaking about former president Harry Truman who did not have a college education but was a very educated man. He was a voracious and active reader who formed his opinions by thinking critically about what he read. Harry Truman said, “Every leader is reader.” I hope you will all be avid readers throughout your lives and not simply rely on the soundbites you see and hear in the media to form important opinions. Those opinions require gathering ideas and information and then using the critical thinking skills you have developed to make informed judgments.
The key word here is “active” — and there are endless ways to do that. I know for some of you involvement directly in politics is not how you want to be involved. No problem. The number of community organizations and causes that could use the help of bright, energetic college graduates is endless. Find something you care about and volunteer. It will enrich your life as well as assist your community. And you will make a difference.
The world is getting to be a smaller and smaller place. The connections between what we do in the United States and here in Pierce County have strong ties frequently to the rest of the world. At some point, if you haven’t already, learn another language. It’s a great way to develop an understanding of another culture.
The old joke that goes, “What do you call a person who speaks three or more languages? Multilingual. And what do you call a person who speaks two languages? Bilingual. And what do you call a person who speaks one language? An American.” It’s not really a very good joke because it’s not funny. We need to live in a world which is based more and more on a mutual understanding of other cultures and my fear is that we as Americans are not well-prepared to do that. Use your good learning skills to become more aware of the cultures around you and look for opportunities to be a part of bringing them together.
Develop a passion for something you care about and realize that you can make a difference. It doesn’t need to be big, but it does need to matter. There are countless examples of time where one person’s ideas and can-do attitude has led to the creation of something that has made a positive difference in the lives of many. Follow your passion and make a difference in the communities where you live and work.
It seems to me that living in this world has gotten more and more complex. I know you are entering a more complex world than I did when I got my first college degree in 1967. Figuring out what’s important is complicated but I’d advise each of you to do just that and then make sure you are spending your time on what’s important to you. The balance between work and play, work and family and friends will vary for each of you. Maintaining that balance will be important if you are going to be valuable contributors to the various communities in which you are engaged.
Have people in your life who can provide solid support and who are willing to give advice and engage in discussion of issues you are trying to solve. Everyone needs a sounding board from time to time. If you can find someone you respect for their wisdom and integrity who is willing to be a sounding board for you, jump at the opportunity. The lessons you can learn can serve you well. Sometimes a mentor can just be someone you observe, someone you may want to emulate. Having role models will help ground you. Remember though, a role model is not someone to copy. There is only one you.
Winston Churchill once said, “We make a living by what we get but we make a life by what we give.” I hope that is a message you will take to heart.
For those of you who will be or already are parents, being a mentor to your own children may be the most important thing you will ever do. Ensuring they have the Pierce College core values as the underpinning of their learning would be a very good place for each of them to get to. If each of us will take as a goal to help ensure that each succeeding generation is better educated than we are, we will ensure that our children and grandchildren are equipped to meet the next big challenges we will face in our communities, in our country and around the world.
Be open to new ideas and flexible enough to change your mind on occasion as you learn something new. You are entering a time when the course of your lives will be substantially different than the generations who have come before you. Futurists are now predicting that you will change careers or job stints as many as fifteen times in your life. When I was going to college the expectation was that once you completed your degree you would go to work in your chosen field where you would spend the rest of your life. Now the cycle is more likely to be that you will need to go to school, go to work, go to school, go to work throughout your lives in order to stay up to speed, given the rapid rate of change and increase in the use of technology. As long as you remain flexible and open to learning it should be exciting to keep learning new things throughout your life. Also, with the increased life expectancies most of you will see in your lifetime, the stimulation of new learning will be very important to ensure an exciting and productive life.
It seems to me that we have gotten increasingly more personal in our discourse with other people. The exchange of ideas more often now is the exchange of personal attacks. Differences of perspectives, while frequently difficult, are what makes the world such an interesting place. It will cease to be fascinating, however, if we cannot adopt an approach which allows for the free exchange of ideas and seeks to find common ground where decisions can be made. Civility is not a sign of weakness; it is rather a philosophy which values another’s point of view and takes into account that another person can look at the same set of information you have and develop a different perspective. The democratic principles on which this country was founded depend on civil discourse. Become a model for it. Others will follow your lead.
The list I have presented probably seems awfully serious and I guess it is. But I also believe that it is possible to “Be a reader, an active citizen, think globally, make a difference, seek balance in your lives, seek important friendships and mentors, be a teacher, commit to being a life long learner and foster civility” and have a good time in the process! It will all depend on the attitude you develop. I am confident that this group of students has the stuff to make very positive contributions to our world and enjoy the process.
Congratulations to all of you! We at Pierce College are proud to have you as one of our graduates.
And thank you to all of our graduates, families and community members, administrators, faculty and staff here this afternoon. You have certainly enriched my life and I will be forever grateful for the opportunities we have had to work together.