Commencement 2011 - Commencement Address
"The Best-Kept Secret" by David H. Bayley ’55, B.A., M.A., Ph.D.
I'm very grateful indeed for this honor. It means a lot. I want to thank especially the faculty, who I know voted and supported me for this. I do this because it was people very much like you who inspired me to this career. You are my role models, just as I am sure you are role models to many people in this group. Thank you very much for this.
I have to tell you, in all honesty, I am a little bit worried about this. I'm worried for this reason: I already won a degree on my own from this place. And I have a feeling that there's a group of people here who looked at me and said, "You know, it looks as if the effect of that first degree is wearing off on old Bayley, and maybe we need to give him a booster shot to keep him going." In any case, I am very grateful.
Let me turn now to the class of 2011. Congratulations on your graduation—you've earned it. This is not an easy degree to earn, and you've put in a lot of very hard work. Congratulations as well to the people behind you, who've supported you in so very many ways. This class would not be here but for you.
Now, under all of this congratulations, I want to say something: I think that, in your hearts, you're very glad to be here, of course, and to celebrate on this occasion. At the same time, having sat where you are, I know that there is another emotion inside you. And that is a kind of anxiety. And the question is: where do you go from here?
Next year it's out on the streets! Some of you, you will realize, have the comfort of going on to business school or medical school or whatever it may be—at least they're not out there. But for many of you, you don't even have that reassurance. And even those of you who are going on to graduate school and professional schools, you're not sure that that is the career and the place that you want to be.
It's like the old song in West Side Story, is there "a place for us"? And I know you're all asking that at this moment. You have good reason to ask that question. Let me say, and it's not just because we have a dismal economy—nothing we can do about that, at least not this morning—but, you're quite right in your anxiety, in the sense that at this moment, despite your Denison education, you are, as yet, unfinished. And you're not quite sure you have what it takes, especially in skills, to find a place in our society.
And try a little mind game with me, and let's see if I can demonstrate that—it goes like this: Imagine that Friday of this week, the Klingons are going to destroy the planet Earth. You, however, have a warp-10 spaceship. And you will be allowed to colonize a replacement Earth, but there's a condition, and the condition is, you have a choice to make between two groups of people to take on your spaceship. You can take this group, the Class of 2011, or, you can take all of that group—500 of them behind you—to recolonize a planet Earth and re-establish a civilization. Which group would you take? Think about it for a moment—I don't think you need to take very long.
The group behind you has an advantage: They can heal the sick. They can plant crops. They can draw constitutions. They know how to desalinate water. They can do lots of practical things. Can you? You're not sure, and you hope so. Now, why am I dwelling on your anxieties? This is supposed to be a happy occasion. I'll see if I can fix that.
I'm going to tell you what I think is the best kept secret of this graduation. And that is that the best years of your life will not have been spent at Denison. Sure, you're going to always find this a precious place. You're going to return regularly for your class reunions. You're going to give a ton of money—Dale hopes. That will happen. But at the same time, there are other things that are going to happen to you.
They are these sorts of things: A child is going to wake up in the middle of the night, crying, with a bad dream. You're going to go and sit on the beside of that child. You're going to push the hair off the sweaty brow. You're going to kiss the child, and the child will turn over, and the bad dream will have gone away. You're going to be a doctor, and a woman is going to come into your office with a lump in her breast. You're going to diagnose it as cancer. You're going to find a course of treatment, and the cancer will go into remission. You're going to be asked by your church to head up a committee to replace the pastor that has served you for so many years. You're going to get a paper by a student, and you're going to say to yourself, "This paper needs a lot of work." And you're going to work with the student, and you're going to ask that student to give you papers regularly, and by the end of that student's college career, that student is going to be confident that they can write.
You are going to find money to help people, or to help your community establish an after-school program for disadvantaged children. In your law firm, you're going to be asked at some point to head up a special committee to settle the longstanding dispute between two very senior and very stubborn senior partners. You're going to be asked by a fine university sometime to give their commencement address, and you're going to wish they'd chosen somebody else.
You're going to go into business, and somebody is going to ask you to look into the future and head up a team on product development in a very uncertain age of what's coming down the pike. You are going to be brought plants by your relatives, your family, your neighbors, and they're going to say, "This plant is sick. Will you please take it in and make it well?" And you'll be able to do that.
And lastly, some of you will run for public office. And you will give a voice to the voiceless, the excluded, and the disadvantaged.
This will happen to you. It won't happen immediately—it will start slowly. But it will grow, and it will increase in its speed, until, at about the time you are 50 years old, you will come home some night, and you will say, "Is there no other adult in this room but me?" This will be your "stop the planet, I want to get off" moment. The fact is that when you're at that exalted age—and you're saying, "Is there no other adult?"—the fact is, that in your heart, you wouldn't have it any other way.
And that's the point of what I'm saying to you. What is going to happen to you in the future is that people you are going to begin to recognize that people are dependent upon you. The people that you respect, that you love and admire, and live with. When that happens, when you find others dependent on you, you, at that point, will fit. You will know your place. And it will happen. And so my advice to you this afternoon is this: Be patient with yourselves. It's difficult to engineer this. Take your time, but follow the promptings of your heart, consult the comfort of your gut, and the insights of your mind. And you're going to be fine.
And so what I say to you is, and this is another way of putting the best-kept secret:
- Adulthood is wonderful.
- Come on in.
- You are going to find it.
- You are going to love it.
Thank you very much.