by Orlando Taylor '57
Leaving Denison and Entering the Global Community
Mr. President, Distinguished Members of the Denison University Board of Trustee, Platform Guests, Members of the University’s faculty, staff and administration, friends and families of the graduates, members of my family, ladies and gentlemen — and particularly the graduates of the class of 2009:
First and foremost, I wish to congratulate each graduate here today. You have labored in the academic vineyard of Denison University for four, or maybe even more years, and, today, you reap the reward for your labors — a degree from one of the finest universities in the United States — no, the world.
I would like also to congratulate those of you in the audience who have, in your own ways, made this day possible--faculty mentors and advisors, university administrators and staff, parents, family members, significant others, alumni and just plain friends that have walked with these graduates along their journeys. Without you — all of you — this day would not be possible for the graduates. Your collective presence makes this occasion a wonderful testament to the longevity and the continuity of excellence at Denison University. After all, it takes a village to produce a graduate!
On a personal level, I cannot begin to find the words to tell you how deeply honored I feel to have been selected to receive an honorary doctorate degree from this great university. I came to Denison 53 years ago — as a baby of course — at a very different time in our country’s history and at the university. Despite being one of only three Black students enrolled in the university at the time and living in what was then an all-white town, I found my intellectual and personal voice here and I learned lessons and gained friends here that helped to lay the foundation for my entire life and career. My world was refined and sharpened significantly by several members of the Denison faculty, especially Professors Lionel Crocker and William Hall of the Department of Speech and Professor Donald Valdes of the Department of Sociology. I knew these men for a relatively short period of time — just a few months — but each, in their own way, had a lasting impact on my intellectual life. I deeply regret that they could not be here today. In their honor, however, and in recognition of the vital role that current Denison faculty members play in mentoring and making a difference for today’s students, I accept this accolade with deep humility.
Today’s 2009 Denison graduates will join the ranks of over 1.5 million individuals who will obtain undergraduate degrees this year from American colleges and universities.
Some people will stop there, count you as a statistic and congratulate each one of you for being a member of yet another large class of men and women from the United States and around the world we earned a college degree from one of our excellent U.S. liberal arts colleges.
Still others will remark about the tough challenges that you will face upon receipt of your degrees today. They might focus, for example, on the current worldwide economic downturn, the difficulty that many college graduates are likely to face this year in securing a job, or simply the state of the world — from wars and rumors of wars to swine flu.
Yes, you will enter a hot, flat and crowded world in the words of the noted author Thomas Friedman and one filled with abundant challenges. But I implore you to focus on the half-full side of the glass and focus on the many, many opportunities that will be available to you with your Denison degree, whether you go on to graduate or professional school or to a job. Thus, in my view, the most important question that you should ponder today and the days ahead is: What will I do with my degree from Denison? I hope that you will consider the following as you seek to answer this fundamental question:
1. COMMIT TO A LIFETIME OF LEARNING. You get your degrees today at a time of the greatest explosion of knowledge and mechanisms for delivering and retrieving it than at any other point in the history of humankind. A few years ago, John Nesbitt, the futurist, estimated that information would double by this point in time of world history. What a daunting thought. If true, it means that a student entering Denison 4 years ago with knowledge of all the information in the universe at that time would learn rather astonishingly today that the amount of now known information in the universe has perhaps tripled since their journey started — and that information can be delivered faster and more efficiently than ever! And in just a few years, information may double or triple again. And this pattern will probably repeat itself throughout your lives. What this mean is that no matter what your final grade point average was, your Denison degree will soon be out of date. This means--and I hate to tell you this--that each one of you must commit to being a student for life. Not one necessarily enrolled in a college or university, but one who maintains a hunger for learning new things and one open to hearing and grasping new ideas and perspectives. Of course, it means at a minimum that you must go on to pursue an advanced graduate or professional degree so that you can begin your career journeys as competitive as possible and have the tools required for further learning — and success!
2. BE THE BEST THAT YOU CAN BE — EVEN GREAT! In his 2005 book, “Good to Great,” Joseph Collins describes the mindset that leads some good companies to become great companies, while other good companies continue to be good companies. Basically, Collins argues that good companies that remain good are those that are satisfied with doing those things that made the company good and that keep on doing those same things … if ain't broke don’t fix it. Good companies that become great companies are not satisfied with the status quo; they are open to making bold changes and to pursuing new directions based upon market forces, new technologies, new innovations and the creativity of their employees to advance beyond unimagined heights. Now for you, the graduates of 2009, I ask how you will morph from good to great. Oh, not greatness measured in terms of fame and fortune, but greatness measured in terms of how you use your Denison degree to make a difference in your community, your nation, or indeed the world! All of you are good. You would not have been admitted into Denison if you were not good and you would not be sitting here today as graduates if you were not good.
But what I want you to contemplate now is how to move from where you are today to where you will be in a few years. From not just being good, but being the very best that you can be — and maybe even being great! Greatness in terms of doing special things, new things, things never imagined before, achieving standards that perhaps have never been achieved before — and most importantly making a difference in the lives of others! I suggest you might begin by seeking to build upon that what you are really good at: through continued study, self-improvement and thinking outside of boxes and disciplines. And then, seek to build your career around things that you really love to do. Have fire in belly if you will for whatever you choose to do! Don’t just have a job, have a passion!
3. USE YOUR DEGREE TO ADVANCE HUMANKIND THROUGH YOUR CAREER CHOICES AND YOUR SERVICE. As all of you know, we live on a small planet and we face many of the same issues on a global scale. Issues of disease, literacy, poverty, climate, energy, environment, and so on. With your Denison education you have the intellectual tools that could contribute to the a reduction in illiteracy, cures for such deadly diseases as cancer and diabetes, better understandings of the cultures around the world, improvement of the environment, addressing issues of climate change, reduction of poverty and perhaps better relations among the peoples and the nations of the world! Wow, what an opportunity.
4. BE OPEN TO DIFFERENCE AND THINK GLOBALLY. Whatever field you are in, there are others around the world in that field, too. And they may have different perspectives and different ideas. The collectivity of ideas on a global scale will make this a better planet — and your familiarity with these other ideas and perspectives will make you a better person, a better citizen, and a better professional. Denison has provided you with wonderful opportunities to experience cultural diversity. I saw a sample of it yesterday during the Baccalaureate program in Swayze Chapel. I urge you now to build upon those experiences in your careers. Go out of your way to know and work with people different from yourselves. People who may be from another race, ethnic group or nationality, or speak a different language, or be a member of a different religion or political party. Remember that much of what we perceive to be “truth” is often merely a “perception” of truth viewed through a prism of culture. And it will pay off for you. Companies, our government, universities and school systems like people who can work across groups, continents and languages. The world will be your working place and your laboratory.
5. INTEGRITY. Tell the truth. Don’t cheat. Don’t fudge. Be honest. Be fair. Do these things at all times. Especially when no one is looking! Remember, you always know when you are not doing the right thing, even if others don’t.
Some of you will scale the highest mountains and others will work in the valleys of life. Among you may be future Nobel laureates, Guggenheim fellows, a kindergarten teacher — or maybe even a president of the United States. We don’t know. Whatever you do, commit to excellence, high ethical conduct, commitment to service, sensitivity to others who come from other cultures and faith in a higher being! But most of all, as you walk with kings and queens, never lose the common touch — and remember what you learned in kindergarten!!!
Also remember the words of Robert Fulghum’s “Everything I Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten.”
- Most of what I really need to know about how to live and what to do, and how to be, I learned in kindergarten.
- Wisdom was not at the top of the graduate school mountain, but there in the sandbox at nursery school.
- These are the things I learned:
- Share everything.
- Play fair.
- Don't hit people.
- Put things back where you found them.
- Clean up your own mess.
- Don't take things that aren't yours.
- Say you're sorry when you hurt somebody.
- Wash your hands before you eat.
- Live a balanced life.
- Learn some and think some and draw and paint and sing and dance and play and work every day some.
- When you go out into the world, watch for traffic, hold hands and stick together.
- And then remember the book about Dick and Jane and the first word you learned, the biggest word of all: LOOK.
- Everything you need to know is in there somewhere. The Golden Rule and love and basic sanitation. Ecology and politics and sane living.
- Think what a better world it would be if we all the whole world had cookies and milk about 3 o'clock every afternoon and then lay down with our blankets for a nap. Or if we had a basic policy in our nation and other nations to always put things back where we found them and cleaned up our own messes. And it is still true, no matter how old you are, when you go out into the world, it is best to hold hands and stick together.
A few years ago, James Watson, a Ph.D. recipient at the age of 22 and one of the discoverers at age 26 of the double helix structure of DNA, a discovery that led him and two others to a Nobel prize and a revolution in the field of biology, said the following at a graduation at Widener college in Pennsylvania. Never be the smartest person in a room — or think that you are. Watson probably was the smartest person in most rooms, but his point was that if you are indeed the smartest person there you are in the wrong room. You can’t learn anything new. You will not acquire knowledge that could guide you to greater heights and greater successes — and that knowledge may even come from the lowest paid or the least educated person in your midst. And if you think you are the smartest person in a room, people won’t like you and won’t want to work with you. And most success in the world is achieved through collaboration and teamwork.
Denison has prepared you well and society knows it and will expect much from you. When you say that you are a Denison alumnus it will mean something special to most people. So wear your Denison degrees proudly, and use them to make this a better nation and a better world. Congratulations, Class of 2009!