West Lafayette Commencement

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Purdue President Jischke calls graduates to service

West Lafayette Commencement
Elliott Hall of Music
May 2003

It's wonderful to see all these graduates seated here, wearing their commencement uniforms.

It's been said that a graduation ceremony is an event where a commencement speaker tells hundreds of students dressed in identical caps and gowns that expressing individuality is a key to success. So let me just confirm that expressing individuality is a key to success. And you can start tomorrow morning, when I expect you will be dressed quite differently.

Of course the wearing of caps and gowns is a time-honored tradition in academia, and an important part of the commencement ceremony. It dates back to 12th century Europe, when faculty wore long gowns and even hoods in the classroom, probably for warmth as much as distinction.

Today at commencement, we continue this wonderful tradition with our graduates for a number of reasons - including so we know to whom we should hand the diplomas. No cap, no gown, no diploma!

I have two congratulatory messages this evening.

First, the obvious: It is to the people seated here today who have struggled and suffered and experienced tremendous emotional and physical drain to reach this wonderful moment.

I'm talking, of course, about the parents and families of these graduates! Congratulations! Your students made it! You made it! You survived!

I fully understand the joy you are experiencing. My wife, Patty, and I have a daughter who will be graduating this weekend. I am eagerly looking forward to it.

Second, congratulations to our graduates. I haven't forgotten you.

This will be a day you will never forget. It will be among your lifetime memories. You have worked hard and succeeded. We all join with you in celebration of this important occasion.

I hope you will always remember and thank the people who supported you and helped you along this long road of education. Also remember that whatever your future plans, this is not the end of your education. This is a commencement. Your lifelong learning is just beginning.

In a few moments you will receive your diplomas. To many people, this diploma is recognition for a job well done. And it is. To many people this diploma is an honor. And it is.

To many people this diploma marks the key to their future, the starting point for a whole new, exciting life. And so it is.

But as each of you steps forward this evening to receive your diploma, you are accepting more than recognition, honor and hope for your future. You are accepting responsibility. It is a big responsibility. And you must meet this responsibility for the rest of your life.

Viktor Frankl was a World War II Holocaust survivor. During the war he spent time in four German concentration camps, including Auschwitz. He lost his entire family.

Partly as a result of his suffering, Frankl, who died in 1997, developed an approach to psychotherapy known as logotherapy.

Frankl lectured extensively, including visits to the United States from his home in Vienna. When he talked in this country, he had an interesting request for the people of America to consider. He asked us to erect a statue on the West Coast to balance the Statue of Liberty in New York City.

Frankl wanted the Statue of Liberty on the East Coast to be complemented by this new work on the West Coast that would be called the Statue of Responsibility.

This is what he said: "There is no such thing as freedom (or liberty) all by itself. Freedom is always preceded by responsibility; they are connected to one another. It is a mistake to pursue freedom without the consideration of responsibility."

American humorist Will Rogers had a very short and simple way of expressing the same thought. He said: "This is a great country. But you can't live in it for nothing."

The price of freedom and liberty in this great country is responsibility. You are among the best and the brightest of your generation. You are the best-educated generation in the history of the world. You have had the opportunity to learn from the finest faculty in the world on this beautiful campus. You have been given the potential to be a catalyst helping to energize this nation and world.

It is now your responsibility to use that potential well.

As you receive your diplomas today, you are accepting a leadership responsibility, a responsibility to volunteer in your communities; to take an active role in the government, political and civic processes. You are accepting a responsibility to participate in parent-teacher organizations, school boards, community councils and commissions, art councils, civic action and neighborhood groups, labor organizations.

You are accepting a responsibility to support Purdue so that it can offer future generations the same benefits that have been made available to you. You are accepting a responsibility to run for public office when you are needed. We need the best and brightest in community, state and national positions of public trust.

You are accepting a responsibility to conduct yourself in personal and professional life according to the highest ethical standards you have learned at Purdue. With this diploma you are accepting a responsibility to people; to help them overcome hunger and poverty; to help them find opportunity and a better life.

"You must give some time to your fellow ... men and women," Nobel Peace Prize winner Albert Schweitzer said. "Even if it's (just) a little thing, do something for those who need help, something for which you get no pay, but the privilege of doing it. For remember, you do not live in a world all your own. Your brothers (and sisters) are here, too."

This is among the most important lessons we have worked to teach you at Purdue. You have learned this lesson well. And you are up to this responsibility! I live and work among you every day. I know you.

I have learned through my many experiences with you all that you are capable of accomplishing. I have the greatest confidence in your ability to succeed. You are needed in this world today.

In your many years of study, you have read a great number of thick, important, scholarly books or, perhaps, you've read the Cliff Notes. One of those great books has a timeless message for us to remember at this turning point in history, even though the vocabulary in this book is sometimes difficult for even the most learned among us to understand.

I am talking, of course, about "The Lorax," by Dr. Seuss. Perhaps you haven't read it recently, so let me remind you what it says: "Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It's not."

It is time for you to make a difference.

And I have a promise for you. You will find that in serving other people, you will learn a great deal in return. You will find that in serving other people, a great longing within you will be filled.

In the "Declaration of Independence," Thomas Jefferson wrote about "the unalienable right" to the "pursuit of happiness." He did not tell us how to succeed in that pursuit. Viktor Frankl did.

He said: "As for the pursuit of happiness, the more we make it a target, the more widely we miss. Happiness is, and will always remain, the unintended effect of meaningful activity."

American educator Booker T. Washington had this advice: "If you want to lift yourself up, lift up someone else."

On behalf of the Board of Trustees, the administration and our faculty, congratulations to the Class of 2003!

We wish you great success.

And we wish you lifelong happiness; the happiness that always emerges from the meaningful activity of lifting someone else.

Thank you.