I would like to thank the friends and family of our graduates for attending tonight’s commencement. Commencement addresses are a time for reflection and projection. Speakers will often reflect upon their own past to project how their experience might be an inspiration to the graduates who are about to embark into an unknown future.
My own reflection took me back to my graduation day in a northern California rainstorm. We graduates sat in our caps and gowns on the football field with our loved ones seated in the stadium surrounding us, much like this, but larger and outdoors. It rained, and rained, and rained, without even a hint of letting up. I thought that certainly each department’s speaker (and there were many) would realize just how miserable it was for us, and cut their presentation short. It never happened. The proceedings went on as planned, in what seemed like a very wet eternity.
What I can promise you tonight is that it will not be raining, at least not here, inside the Bell Center.
In preparing for my address this evening I began to research the history of commencement. There were a couple of things that stood out for me. The first thing was that Winston Churchill, then prime minister of Great Britain in the dark days of World War II, gave one of the most famous commencement speeches in history. His speech is famous for both its impact and its brevity.
The other thing that struck me was the optimism exemplified by commencement oratory. Even in Churchill’s words, one can find an optimistic message for the future. He said, “Never give in. Never give in. Never, never, never, never – in nothing, great or small, large or petty – never give in…” In 1941 this phraseology had very significant meaning to both Churchill and his audience in London. I thought to myself that I am neither a great man nor am I speaking at a time of great world crisis, but I could adapt Churchill’s words of wisdom to our present circumstance.
Never give in to that negative voice we all have inside ourselves. You know the one. It says things like: “This is not the time.” “You are not the one.” “This is not the place.”
Opportunities present themselves and that enemy within can defeat us before we begin. Never give in to that voice. I was offered an opportunity to volunteer at a museum and the voice said, “This is not the time to do unpaid work.” I ignored that voice and said “yes” only to find myself eventually employed by that museum. As serendipity would have it, I also met my beautiful wife at that museum.
Later, a friend mentioned that Lowell Bean needed researcher for a book he was writing. Again, that voice said, “Who are you to think you could work for the most well-known anthropologist in your field of study. You are not the one.” I rejected that voice of negativity and said, “yes” to one of the most rewarding experiences of my academic life.
I was told by a colleague about a one year contract teaching position at a community college named for a copper mountain. That negative voice in my head said, “What will you do in a place like that when the year is over? This is not the place.” I did not give in to the enemy within and here I am four years later a tenured instructor speaking to you at a commencement ceremony at the base of that very copper mountain.
I like the way Sheryl Sandberg stated it in a commence address she gave, “If you are offered a seat on a rocket ship, don’t ask what seat. Just get on.” She did not give in to her negative voice. Sandberg said “yes” to Google and rode in that seat to eventually become the CEO of Facebook. Our rocket ships will not all lead to Sandberg’s dream job. But I can tell you now, that by not giving in, by saying “yes,” and by taking my seat, I have rocketed to my dream job – teaching history and anthropology at Copper Mountain College.
On behalf of the faculty of Copper Mountain College I would like to congratulate you all. Be sure to never stop thanking the family and friends who supported you to this milestone. Be sure to be as proud of yourselves as we are of you. Most of all, never, never, never give in! I hope I did not keep you too long but at least it is not raining.