seal  President Jischke Speech

December 2003

Purdue University President Martin C. Jischke delivered this speech to the West Lafayette Commencement in December.

President Jischke encourages graduates to 'go forth' into their future

Congratulations to the Purdue University Class of 2003!

You have finally made it. Almost, at least.

You still have one last requirement to fulfill before receiving your degrees. And it’s an important one: Listening to the president’s speech.

But as soon as my talk is complete, your many long years of hard work, late nights and cold pizza are finally going to pay off.

Congratulations! And congratulations to the parents, family and friends of the Purdue Class of 2003!

You look even more exhausted than they do! All those long evenings many years ago spent reviewing their spelling words and checking their math are finally paying off!

This is a very important, special occasion.

I can tell you graduates that your parents, family and friends have been dreaming about this moment for many years, just as you have. You are making them very proud. And you should feel proud, too. You have done well. You have succeeded. Enjoy this triumph.

This is also a wonderful moment for our faculty. We are not eager to see our students leave. But commencement represents what our job as educators is all about. It signifies an end to our active involvement in the education of our students and the beginning of a test to see how well we've done.

If we have done our jobs well, these students will have successful lives as professionals and as active members of their communities.

I am always energized by these ceremonies and the promise and possibilities that await our graduates.

Tradition plays an important role in commencement programs.

Tradition is the reason we are wearing caps and gowns today. It is also tradition that obligates commencement speakers to challenge graduating classes to "go forth."

Going forth is an essential aspect of the commencement ceremony, and the words will be spoken countless times this weekend at graduation programs across the nation.

The problem is: No one ever tells the graduates exactly where "forth" is. You will not find "forth" on any road map or any globe.

The nearest any commencement speaker has ever come to defining the location of "forth" is comedian Bill Cosby, who tells graduates where it is not located.

"Forth," Cosby says, "is not your parents' house."

Today I can give you the final piece of information you will need from your formal education at Purdue.

I know where forth is. Forth is your future. And it is a very promising and exciting place to be going. What you are doing today is starting an incredible journey that will lead to a wonderful destination called the rest of your life.

You are going to face many great opportunities on this journey. You will also have many challenges.

I can promise you very little about your future. I can tell you there will be failures. There will be disappointments.

But keep working. There will be successes as well.

And in the end, it makes little difference how many times we fall. The only thing that really matters is how often and how fast we get back up.

Robert Hastings writes about the vision we have concerning our journey to the future.

He says that we all see ourselves as if we are on a train heading for a destination. We visualize that destination as the station where we will disembark from the train. The station represents the place where we will have achieved our goal.

What is your station in life?

Is it money and promotions? Is it a luxury car, a boat and a large home? Is it family, friends and community?

Perhaps your goal at the moment encompasses little else other than getting through this commencement ceremony.

The problem, Hastings says, is that there actually is no station in our future. And sooner or later we all must realize this.

The purpose of our journey is not to reach a destination, he says.

"The true joy (and purpose) of life is the trip."

Likewise, success is not a destination. Success is a journey.

Many a successful person would give up everything and go back to the beginning just for the sheer joy of doing it all again.

Your future itself is not a set, firm place.

John Schaar, a sociologist and professor emeritus at the University of California Santa Cruz, says: "The future is not some place we are going, but one we are creating. The paths are not to be found, but made. And the activity of making them changes both the maker and their destination."

The common vision of this life journey is that we start out with very little and acquire along the way.

At least I’m sure that is the hope of these graduates today. And their parents.

But there is another way to view this.

In 1908, the Purdue commencement speaker was Harvey Wiley. Wiley had been one of the first professors at Purdue before moving on to become the father of the U.S. Pure Food and Drug program.

In his commencement talk, Wiley told the Class of 1908: "No matter how successful you are in your careers, what wealth and honor you may acquire, you are richer today than you will ever be in the future. Rockefeller and Carnegie would gladly exchange all their millions for the youth that you possess."

Today, I can update what Wiley said almost 100 years ago.

Today, I can tell you that Bill Gates and Ted Turner would gladly exchange their billions for the gift that you possess: Time.

Today you are among the wealthiest people on the face of the Earth. But your fortune is finite.

The question before you in this quiet moment before you receive your diplomas is this: How will you now invest your wealth of time through the journey of your life?

The choices will all be yours. And you are well prepared for the decisions.

As Dr. Seuss said: "You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself in any direction you choose. You're on your own. And you know what you know. You are the (ones) who'll decide where to go."

Watching the evening news today, reading the newspapers, you must believe that where you are going is into a very dangerous, deeply troubled world. These are hard times in the United States and throughout the world.

But hard times are nothing new. Your parents and grandparents faced hard times. They persevered.

In truth, all times in history have been hard. And I believe that in spite of the problems of our age, we are alive at the most incredible moment in all of human history.

In this new century developments in medicine, science, engineering, and technology — to name just a few — are on the verge of forever changing the way we live, work and think.

One hundred years ago, at the start of the 20th century, the Wright brothers accomplished flight. Only 66 years after Kitty Hawk, Purdue graduate Neil Armstrong walked on the moon.

It is an incredible story that forever changed our lives and the world. But I believe even greater events await us in this new century.

You are among the luckiest people in all of human history, to be a part of the incredible possibilities that are just emerging today.

The key to this exciting future ultimately lies in education.

Early 19th century reformer Robert Owen saw all the enormous dangers and troubles of his day. It was a time of great poverty and social injustice when even children worked 15-hour factory days.

But Owen believed something better was possible.

He said: "I know that society may be formed so as to exist without crime, without poverty, with health greatly improved, with little, if any misery, and with intelligence and happiness increased a hundredfold: and no obstacle whatsoever intervenes at this moment — except ignorance — to prevent such a state ... from becoming universal."

Owen saw education as the means to accomplish his vision.

He said: "To train and educate the rising generation will at all times be the first object of society, to which every other will be subordinate."

Robert Owen had a son named Richard who shared his vision for education. Richard Owen became the first president of Purdue.

I am the tenth.

And I share the vision that education has the power and potential to change the world.

You are now the stewards of this world-changing gift of education. Make a difference during your journey to the future.

Use your education and your talents to impact other people. As just one person, you might not be able to solve the world's great problems. But you have the power within you to change the world for at least one person.

It has been said that to change one life is as if you have changed the world. And I believe that this is true.

This is the most educated generation in history. And you are among the best and the brightest of that generation.

You not only have an education. You have a Purdue education. It stands for excellence wherever you will go.

It is my hope that you will use your leadership to assume responsibility for other people and your community.

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."

On this great occasion, it is my hope that at Purdue you have learned more than how to make a living. It is my hope that you have learned how to live your life.

As you go forth on the journey to build tomorrow, your happiness and success will emerge out of what you do for others along the way.

"We make a living," Winston Churchill said, "by what we get. We make a life by what we give."

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

May your life journey be a great and giving one indeed!

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