In 1998, at my first commencement as dean at UW-Barron County, I spoke of the accelerating pace of change. On May 22, I delivered the address at what was my last commencement. In those 15 years, the rate of change in our world has continued unabated. What follows is an abbreviated version of my remarks.
Change is the very essence of life. As George Carlin said, “Even the future will be a thing of the past.” The constant changes in the world will challenge you to change along with them, whether you like it or not. We hope that we have helped you to be ready for those changes. The need for critical analysis and clear, effective communication that a liberal arts education provides will be every bit as important in tomorrow’s world as it was in yesterday’s and is in today’s.
But what should be the constants in our lives? They are the old-fashioned virtues. Family—those who love you even when you are at your most unlovable. Friendship—in the old fashioned sense. Be there for your friends, and they’ll be there for you. Respect—love your neighbor, and do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Not one of us is the center of the universe. George Carlin noted that we fail to recognize this: “Ever notice that anyone driving slower than you is an idiot, but anyone going faster is a maniac.” Honor—be true to yourselves and your own values. Patriotism—love your country, but without fearing to question and object when your it does something you regard as wrong. Hunger for knowledge—strive to keep learning. Never let your curiosity fail you. A sense of humor—especially to laugh at your own foibles. The famous author Anonymous said: “Blessed are they who can laugh at themselves for they shall never cease to be amused.”
The world changes around us. We can’t stop it. Often we need to change with the world or be left behind, and sometimes we just have to live with that change, but we don’t have to change who we are at our core. We must examine ourselves and determine what makes us who we are ad refine and build on the best of those characteristics.
Lily Tomlin said that she always wanted to be somebody but regretted that she hadn’t been more specific. All through your life you will be working on the project of you. Like her, you will want to be somebody. What you do with the foundation of who you are at your core and what you make of your opportunities to grow and learn, such as your time here at UW-Barron County, will determine whether you will be a person who has an impact, a person who stands for and does good in the face of the obstacles thrown up by change and sometimes by people less concerned about doing good. Dare to be somebody you would admire. Dare to aim high, and dare to act to achieve your aim. As an old, Dutch proverb has it, “No matter how well you aim, if you don’t shoot, you’ve already missed.”