Graduating.

by unfinishedthinking

Someone quoted me to me today.  It was a slightly pompous quote about “how life is measured.” (Yikes.)  I couldn’t remember where I said it, so I tracked it down using the Spotlight function on my Mac.   Turns out it was exactly where you’d expect to find a slightly pompous quote:  it was in a graduation speech.  I delivered the commencement address at VCU in 2010.  Rereading the speech, I cringed a few times.  Maybe I was a little more than “slightly” haughty.   Of course, I once again talked about me, me, me and my cancer.  But I also talked about my curiosity.  Here’s an excerpt from that talk.   

         I am an incurable optimist. I am energized in my efforts to make my company better and my family happier.  I’ve become insatiably curious.  I want to know everything — and I want to know it now.  I go to TED conferences, New York TimesTalks and Google events.  I want to see all the small, interesting movies — and I don’t want to waste my time at the predictable blockbusters.  I want to read every magazine and newspaper.  I want to do things that mean something.  I want to learn…

         Life is measured only superficially by heartbeats, breaths and brainwaves.  Life is doing.  It’s learning and it’s engaging and it’s thinking. 

         We have entered a time that demands continuing, lifelong education. Today’s young scholars don’t need to know their multiplication tables, the capital of Wyoming, the date of the Magna Carta or the structure of the government in Kenya — all of that information is available to you in seconds on the computer phone in your pocket.  You don’t need to memorize facts the way my generation did. What you do need to know — even more than we did — is how to think.  How to put information into a meaningful context.  You need to have a philosophy about how to apply the lessons of science and history and math. It’s hard for all of us to be open-minded enough these days to make progress possible. Liberals, conservatives, moderates, Democrats, Republicans, Libertarians, even independents have their beliefs set in cement these days. I’m guilty of that — and so are many of you. Yours needs to be the generation that’s smarter and deeper than that.  Today’s event is called a commencement because the real learning begins today.

If I have one lesson for you today, it’s to be attentive to and active in society’s smart discussions and debates.  There’s no one right way to think.  There’s no one right opinion to hold.  From now on, the grades don’t matter.  Maybe they never mattered.  The learning is what matters. I tell you, that is your obligation to yourself and to all of us:  go out and find your education.  Get it out of books, computers, libraries.  Get it out of your experiences.  I didn’t learn how to learn until I was long out of school.  Don’t make that mistake.  Learning isn’t what’s served up to you — it’s what you go out and get.  Go out and get it…

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