Today my students are to be graduated from Daytona State. It is impossible to express how proud I am of each of you. I won’t be your keynote speaker and I may or may not even get to see you up close in the mass of humanity graduating. So instead I am writing this for my graduates and any others who wish to read. It is the keynote speech I would give if I was invited to my 2017 class. Enjoy!
Congratulations class of 2017 it is an honor to speak to you. I hope each of you are proud of the accomplishment we honor today. I know one thing: I am proud for each and every member of this graduating class!
Before you go, however, I have one last lesson. That’s right, a professor can never talk without trying to impart something. I promise, unlike my courses, this will only take a few minutes. Further, also unlike my classes, I promise none of this will be on any quiz! And no, please don’t contact me with any extension requests.
My last piece of advise starts with a question I am sure you have already been asked today and you will continue to hear: do you feel any different today? Phrased differently your grandparents, uncles, aunts, and everyone else who remotely considered friends or family is undoubtedly asking in some form this question: how does it feel today to be a graduate of Daytona State College? I heard this question often in my life. I think we all do. It is concentrated around birthdays, graduations, and life milestones. It is a disconcerting question because I think most of us are vaguely concerned by the answer. For me, at least, the answer was: I don’t feel any differently today.
Each of you probably feel similarly. I suspect most of you are vaguely haunted by the thought this is it. What we wish in our hearts we could respond proudly. That you would announce yourself a college graduate. You are profoundly different, you think, but you don’t feel any different. In fact, despite the monumental nature of your achievement you don’t feel any differently than you did yesterday. Or, for that matter, the day before. Again, if you are like me, this might have you feeling a bit sad on this joyous occasion.
I know that feeling all too well, because I experienced it myself. We have constructed a characterture of life that implies big moments will come and we will feel them. Graduation is one of those events. We are profoundly different after we graduate says the characterture. After the montage of college there is to be those profound conversations, deep lasting moments in our lives, marking our internal change forever. So the question, when it comes, how do you feel today, strikes us to our core when we do not feel any differently today than we did the day before. Isn’t today a day of radical transformation? We are left, perhaps, feeling a bit empty. Worried that somehow we are alone in this bit of existential crises.
So far I might sound a bit pessimistic, but I have good news! I have an answer for you. Prepare for profundity, especially families who have yet to here my pontificate, I have an answer: you don’t feel any different today from yesterday because … you aren’t.
Give me a moment to explain. You see, the problem is not with us, it is with the question. You are not here today because of what you did yesterday. You are here today because of what you have done over the course of many yesterdays. You are here because of all the cumulative years of yesterdays that constitute your college career. It is the culmination of this work we celebrate today.
True change comes in a small, incremental, evolutionary style. Life’s greatest accomplishments are won in small steps. You are here today because you made a lot of little choices. At the time they seemed rather pointless. They probably still do. You are here because you read the assigned materials.
Perhaps for some of you that meant reading too much Smith, Weber, Marx, or Neustadt from myself or Dr. Flota instead of binge watching House of Cards or Orange is the New Black on Netflix. For others you considered the deeper meaning of language and persuasion of Prof. Kester or Gunshanun instead of drinking cheap beer all weekend. You considered the nature of the profound, the nature of free will, and learned about cyber security and TCI/IP protocols instead of gaming for 16 hours straight. Or maybe you ignored the call of Bike Week to get in that last paper. These small, unimportant decisions? Together, collectively, they have changed you and explained you.
Here is the truth class of 2017. You are here because everyday you made a series of small, monumentally important choices. You are here because where others binged, drank, and indulged, you persevered. You see the truth is, you are profoundly different class. You just don’t feel it, because it happened slowly. It happened imperceptibly one day at a time. It happened like a runner who, each day, runs just a little more only to find themselves finishing a marathon. The marathon isn’t the defining moment. It was all those moments that came before it. The early mornings and the late evenings of running.
The lesson is this: life plays out one moment at a time. Greatness is achieved one day at a time. Novels, books, and programs are written one word at a time. Truth is painstakingly uncovered one act at a time. The world is changed, for better or the worse, by the singular actions of humanity played out in aggregate one day at a time!
If college has taught you nothing else I hope it has left you with this: to change the world comes not from moments like these, moments where we survey what has happened. Graduations, birthdays, etc. are artificial. We are here because you choose to, one assignment, one paper, one article at a time complete your degree. You are different as the culmination of all these tiny acts. You don’t feel any different because you are so profoundly altered you can no longer see the difference.
What now? I have a sacred charge for you class of 2017. I ask you to go forth from this auditorium and change the world. I ask you to change it by reading one more book when the world says watch one more movie. By recognizing the value of love over hate in a world of epithets.
What more, I am asking you to change it, not for me, or even for you, but for those who come after you. Change it for my infant daughter daughter so she will grow in a world where women have the same opportunities as men. Change it for my sons so that they will live in a world without boundaries. Change it for the yet unborn. Truly is the great generation that makes change, not for themselves, but for those yet to come.
I ask you to change the world one thing, one small, tiny, impossibly important task at a time. The world will not change overnight. You will grow weary, you will wonder if lending one small helping hand can do any good. But when those times come, remember this last lecture class of 2017. Remember that your college education was built one small act at a time. Remember and I promise you this: if each member of the class of 2017 does one small thing, one thing that cannot possibly change the world, together those acts will not just change the world, they will transform it.
Go class. Live life on purpose, each day, and in each moment continue looking toward the next goal. You have done it once. You can do it again. You have already made me proud. Now go make the rest of the world proud.
Congratulations class of 2017 and good luck!