Purdue News

August 5, 2006

Purdue President Martin C. Jischke made these comments during commencement ceremonies on the West Lafayette campus.

Purdue president tells grads commencement is just beginning of their journey

Welcome to all the family and friends who have joined us today from around Indiana, the nation and indeed, the world.

A special thanks to the graduates who have made this gathering possible: without you we wouldn't be here today!

When baseball and malapropism legend Yogi Berra was inducted into the Hall of Fame, he opened his remarks by repeating a statement he had once made at an event held in his honor. He said, "I thank everybody for making this day necessary."

We thank these graduates for making this day necessary.

Your many years of hard work and success are a cause for celebration. We are actually celebrating even more this morning than the conferring of degrees. We are celebrating your potential. We are celebrating your future, which I believe holds tremendous promise. You are the hope for tomorrow.

This program today is not meant to celebrate an ending. This is a beginning. That is why this ceremony is called a commencement.

The poet T.S. Eliot said: " … to make an end is to make a beginning. The end is where we start from."

When you leave Elliott Hall this morning to join family and friends for photos, congratulations and hopefully some cake and ice cream, you will start the rest of your lives.

I believe your education at Purdue has prepared you well for all the wonderful opportunities that lie ahead. I believe you will be able to use your education to make a difference, not only in your own lives but in the lives of other people.

One of our goals has been to light within you a love for community service that we hope will burn strongly throughout your lives. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said: "Everybody can be great because anybody can serve. You only need a heart full of grace; a soul generated by love."

As we gather today for this celebration, we take great pride in the fact that Purdue University's leadership in higher education has now touched three centuries.

In the United States, we think of that as a great length of time. But in many other parts of the world, the history of higher education reaches far deeper into the past.

One of the older universities in all of Europe is Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland. It was chartered in 1592. Trinity College has had a huge impact on history, having educated some of the greatest writers, philosophers, political leaders and scientists who populate history. Among its famous alumni are Samuel Beckett, Edmund Burke, Oscar Wilde and Oliver Goldsmith, to name just a few.

As part of the history of Ireland, it is with great pride that the Trinity College opens its doors to tourists. Among the great buildings on the campus and always the highlight of every tour is the Trinity College Old Library. The library dates back to the establishment of the college in 1592.

One of the great treasures kept on display at the Old Library is the Book of Kells. The Book of Kells contains Christian gospels written around the year 800. This comes from an age when there was not a great deal of learning taking place and when knowledge and information gathered in preceding centuries was hand copied and saved in books for future generations.

It was an incredibly lengthy and difficult process to hand letter the books, as well as to make the vellum pages and the binding. When it was all done, what they had for their efforts was one book.

And then they had to start the process all over again to make another. This painstaking hand transcription of books helped preserve knowledge and civilization through the Dark Ages.

The main chamber in the Trinity College Old Library is called the Long Room, and for good reason. It is longer than two U.S. football fields.

The Old Library houses 200,000 of the oldest books in the college's 4 million volume collection. This old collection of books rests on two open floors of shelves that reach all the way to the high, arched ceiling. Marble busts of the great thinkers dating back hundreds of years line both sides of the single aisle that passes through the middle of the Long Room of stored information.

It was widely reported that the appearance of the Jedi Archives in the movie "Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones" was inspired by the Long Room library at Trinity College.

If you have seen the movie and the Long Room, you can't help but notice the resemblance. And we know Trinity College didn't steal the idea from "Star Wars!"

Trinity College actually considered legal action against the film, but wiser heads prevailed. You might say the force was with them, so they dropped the issue.

The wood paneling throughout the Long Room in the Old Library is dark, and covers of the books are tanned with time. The room has a deep, rich and somewhat musty smell. It is the smell of knowledge — centuries worth of information in many of the most important books of the ages.

As you walk down the center aisle and look at these two-story high stacks of books, you can't help but be impressed. And yet, as impressive as it all is, the old books within this collection focused on science, engineering, technology, medicine, geography and much more, are often wrong and even more often, incomplete. Science and technology as it was known centuries ago is far different from what we know today.

Sir William Osler was a 19th century British physician. He was highly respected in his day. He was speaking at a medical school commencement ceremony when he told the graduates: "I have a confession to make. Half of what we have taught you is in error. And furthermore, we cannot tell you which half it is!"

It is funny. It was also true.

A great deal of what medical students were taught in the 19th century has been proven untrue.

In the next 100 years, the world will change in ways that we cannot imagine. Just 50 years ago we had no idea what a major role computers would play in our daily lives. Today we have no concept of the most dramatic changes that lie ahead.

Knowledge is not a constant. It changes and evolves, forever building and expanding on what has been known and understood before.

You have received at Purdue one of the finest educations available in the entire world. But like the Old Library at Trinity College, over your lifetime the knowledge stored in you today will need constant updating, re-editing, new editions.

Your education is not complete with the awarding of these degrees. Indeed, your pursuit of knowledge is now just commencing.

One of the central missions we have worked to accomplish at Purdue is to teach you how to learn, and perhaps even more important, to instill within you a lifelong, unquenchable thirst for learning.

With computers, the World Wide Web and access to unlimited knowledge, this is being called the Information Age.

If you Google "Trinity College Ireland" on the Web, in just more than one-tenth of a second you receive 8.5 million sites of information. It's mind-boggling. Or maybe in today's terminology it is "mind-goggling!"

But there is another name we could give our time. This could equally be called the Age of Misinformation. The World Wide Web, with all the great knowledge it has to offer, is also filled with misinformation and half-truths. And it circles the globe at incredible speeds.

More than any other time in history, we must equip ourselves well to find and separate truth and knowledge from the noisy misinformation of our time.

Libraries filled with books like the Long Room at Trinity College are often used to represent universities, culture and knowledge.

Barbara Tuchman, a 20th century American historian, said, "Books are the carriers of civilization. Without books, history is silent, literature dumb, science crippled, thought and speculation at a standstill.

"Without books, the development of civilization would have been impossible. They are engines of change, windows of the world, lighthouses erected in the sea of time. They are companions, teachers, magicians, bankers of the treasures of the mind. Books are humanity in print."

Albert Einstein had a slightly different viewpoint. He said, "Knowledge exists in two forms. (First) lifeless, stored in books.

"And (second) alive in the consciousness of men (and women). The second form of existence is the essential one."

The collected knowledge of our time is within you today. It is my hope that knowledge will always stay alive and active in your minds, changing, evolving, growing, ever open to new ideas and possibilities. Education is a lifelong process.

On behalf of the Board of Trustees, the administration and our faculty, congratulations to the Class of 2006!


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