May 10, 2002
Purdue University President Martin C. Jischke delivered this speech to the graduating class on Saturday (5/10).
Commencement speeches are a lot like road construction
We are at a very important moment, and I am certain its meaning is not lost on these very well-educated new graduates.
It means that after all the work, the study, the reading, exams, labs, papers, pressure, worry, late nighters, all-nighters, all-weekers, bad coffee and cold pizza, there is now one and only one thing standing between you and your diploma.
Commencement speeches are a lot like road construction.
They appear every spring. They seem to take twice as long to finish as they should. And they make us wonder if we've taken the right road!
Well, I promise you, you're on the right road the road of education.
And Ill get the job of my speech done as fast as I can.
Speaking as a university president who has been through this often, I can tell you there is no happier time on campus than commencement.
It is a celebration of success. It is a celebration of people.
We have a great deal to celebrate in these wonderful graduates. All of us at Purdue University are very proud of what you have accomplished.
I hope your Purdue University experience has been both beneficial and fun. I am confident it has left you well prepared for the great future that lies ahead. And I am confident there is great hope for tomorrow.
Americans and people throughout the world have lived through trying weeks and months since September 11. During the past eight months, some people have felt despair.
James Allen wrote: "Many thinking people believe that America has seen its best days."
Those words strike hard.
Allen wrote them in his diary on July 26, 1775.
He was very wrong about America then. And anyone who slips into that despair today is equally mistaken.
Recalling Allen's words, former President Ronald Reagan said: "There are still those who believe America is weakening; that our glory was the brief flash of time known as the 20th century; that ours was a burst of greatness too bright and brilliant to sustain; that America's purpose is past.
"I utterly reject those views," Reagan said. "That's not the America we know.
"We were meant to be the masters of our destiny, not the victims of fate."
"Masters of our destiny" those are powerful words.
You came to Purdue to receive an education so that you could become the masters of your destiny. You came to Purdue because you understood that the key to your destiny is education.
Thirty-two years ago, a young man who grew up in northern Indiana was celebrating his commencement from Purdue just as you are today.
His grandfather was a farmer, and his father worked in the steel mills good, honest work.
But this young man had a dream. He wanted to do extraordinary things and he has done them.
His name is Jerry Ross.
Last month he launched into space for a seventh time more than any other person in history.
Education gave Jerry Ross the power to master his destiny. Education has given you the power to master yours.
It has also given you the power to impact the destinies of other people; of communities, this nation and the world.
And this is more than a power. This is a responsibility.
Speaking in West Lafayette earlier this year, Kweisi Mfume, president of the NAACP, said: "Understand your potential! Each of you has the ability to provide leadership and create change. It is our responsibility to make this place better than we found it, or we fail to make use of this gift we call life."
One of the central missions of land-grant universities such as Purdue is to teach students their responsibilities to the world around them.
Before coming to Purdue, I was president of Iowa State University.
I realize mentioning another university in a commencement address comes dangerously close to treason. But this story is short. Bear with me.
The words of Iowa State alumnus M. J. Riggs, class of 1883, are etched in stone in the university's Memorial Union.
The words are: "We come to college not alone to prepare to make a living, but to learn to live a life."
It is my great hope that Purdue has succeed in preparing you not only to make a living but to live a happy, productive life. And the road to that life is service.
Albert Einstein said: "The aim of education must be the training of independently acting and thinking individuals who ... see in service to community their highest life achievement."
Purdue has joined 421 other American universities in a national pledge of higher education.
It states in part: "This country cannot afford to educate a generation that acquires knowledge without ever understanding how that knowledge can benefit society or how to influence democratic decision making."
You are among the best and the brightest. You can be a catalyst helping to energize this nation as Purdue has sought to teach you a love for lifelong service.
Shirley Chisholm, the first African-American woman elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, said: "Service is the rent we pay for the privilege of living on this earth."
As these diplomas are handed to you, you are receiving more than a recognition. You are receiving a responsibility.
You are receiving a responsibility to volunteer in your communities; to take an active role in the government, political, and civic processes.
You are receiving a responsibility to participate in parent-teacher organizations, school boards, community councils and commissions, art councils, civic action groups, labor organizations.
You are receiving a responsibility to run for public office when you are needed.
You are receiving a responsibility to people; to help them overcome hunger and poverty; to help them find opportunity and a better life.
A great American educator, Booker T. Washington, said: "If you want to lift up yourself lift up someone else."
The images of September 11 still linger in our national consciousness.
Ramon Suarez was a New York City policeman that day.
He was 45 years old. He worked out twice a day. He coached his daughter's elementary school track team.
On September 11 he was on transit duty at a New York City subway station. When he learned what had happened, he could have stayed safe and secure right where he was. But instead, he hurried to the heart of danger and darkness.
On the morning of September 11, Ramon Suarez was seen helping people escape the World Trade Center towering infernos.
He was never seen again.
His story was part of a Pulitzer Prize-winning feature in The New York Times titled "Portraits of Grief."
But Ramon Suarez is not a portrait of grief.
He is a portrait of courage; a portrait of responsibility and service. He is an inspiration to us all.
Today, you have many opportunities.
But the greatest opportunity you have received from your education at Purdue University, is the opportunity to serve your fellow men and women.
If anyone asks you where the hope of tomorrow begins tell them: "It begins with me."
On behalf of the Board of Trustees, the administration and our faculty, congratulations to the Class of 2002!