Commencement Address by Reynold Levy, President of the Lincoln Center for the Arts
President Durden, fellow honorees, distinguished faculty, parents, relatives and friends, I count it a privilege to offer my warm congratulations and a spirited salute to all who graduate today, the Dickinson College class of 2013.
This is a rare and special day—for all of the graduates and their supporters who gather in this space. I am honored to share this singular occasion with you.
Now it is time for all of the parents of the graduates to stand and applaud your children and then to remain standing.
Now, parents, repeat after me, "Graduates, we love you very much. But not a penny more."
Let's try that again, loud enough so that your kids can really hear you.
Aren't you glad that's off your chest? You may be seated.
Today symbolizes a rite of well-deserved passage, and not just for the students present here. For this is the 14th Commencement over which President William Durden has presided, and it will be his last.
By all accounts, Bill, you have enjoyed an extraordinary tenure, rich in Dickinson accomplishments. The campus is enlarged and modernized; the curriculum, revitalized; the student experience, suffused in community service and overseas discovery; the faculty of uncommon quality. You led Dickinson with distinction. You have moved it from strength to strength and this class will be the last to have benefitted from your being at the helm for a full four years.
Ladies and gentlemen, please join me in a rousing round of applause for President William Durden, class of '71.
This day is special for still another reason. We should note that Bill's successor will be Nancy Roseman, Dickinson's 28th president and the first woman to hold that office. Bill, I am sure you are as thrilled by your successor as is the rest of the Dickinson community.
Today, I come before you to offer some advice not with answers, but with questions.
What I have learned in my professional life is the importance of working hard at formulating penetrating questions and then listening intently to the answers.
As you consider your future, please join me in thinking about the relevance to you personally of the questions Tom Friedman asks of nations, the better to predict their future, in his book The Lexus and the Olive Tree.
How wired is your country?
How fast is your country?
How much does your country weigh?
Does your country dare to be open?
How good is your country in making friends?
How good is your country's brand?
Is your country harvesting its knowledge?
Now, let's translate these questions and test their applicability to you and your future.
Are you fully conversant with technology and can you readily access important sources of data?
Are you quick to move and maneuver? At Lincoln Center, I am fond of observing to our staff that "being roughly right and on time or early is much better than being perfect and too late to matter." At Facebook, that imperative is put even more simply: "Done is better than perfect."
The race goes to the swift not to the fastidious. Do not procrastinate.
Are you weighed down by family tradition or habit or routine? Free yourself of the tendency to conform to the will or view of others. Follow your own path. Believe in yourself.
Are you open—to new ideas, fresh perspectives, different people?
How widely are you reading? Do you let too many days pass before introducing yourself to new authors, personalities you'd like to encounter, museums to visit and performing arts to discover? Do you enjoy traveling and encountering the architecture, food, customs and values of other countries, cultures and ethnicities? How well-worn is your passport?
The single most important quality in a leader is the capacity to learn and the curiosity to find out how stuff works. If Dickinson College accomplished anything, it was to offer you the chance to find exhilaration in learning and to experience the joy of understanding the origins of ideas and their import. Don't lose that sense of pleasure in solving problems and unlocking hidden truths. As with athletics, every day that you fail to exercise your intellectual capacities, they stiffen and resist renewed effort. Too much neglect will lead to atrophy, complacency and drift.
Don't let that happen. Stay alive and alert. Keep your mind as lithe and lively as you should your physique. It is not for nothing that we honor the Greeks who counsel us to maintain a "sound mind in a sound body."
In work settings, it is often observed that there are two types of employees—those oriented to transactions, getting things done, crossing off items on their to do lists. And then there are those who are inclined to develop relationships with others. The group too focused on their checklists of daily tasks runs the risk of treating colleagues as if they were only means to an end and not valuable and valued in and of themselves. Those who offer daily deposits into the ATM machine of relationship formation but rarely, if ever, request withdrawals, on the other hand, run the risk of being regarded as ineffectual.
How good are you at balancing the short-term, got-to-get-it-done-now, with the longer-run process of investing in the establishment of close friends and colleagues? Are you building a support network, keeping in touch with those who can help you think through a problem, meet a potential employer, offer leads to customers or clients? Winning friends and influencing people is a lifelong process. Do not neglect it.
As of 2010, the average American held 11 jobs between the ages of 18 to 46 alone. What this means is that who you are, the qualities of heart and mind you cultivate, the knowledge you deploy, your capacity to work well with others, and to communicate exceptionally well orally and in writing are far more important than what job you may hold at any given time.
Invest in yourself. Build your personal brand, a reputation for delivering results, for reliability, innovation, creativity and just plain, old-fashioned hard work. Over time, as your experience broadens and deepens, so too will your reputation.
Perhaps most importantly, are you replenishing your knowledge, keeping up-to-date with fast-paced developments in the fields of your choice, becoming acquainted with its admired leaders and skilled protagonists?
As you become comfortable and conversant with the areas of endeavor that attract your attention, self-confidence, poise and self-awareness will grow. And so will your ability to move from challenge to challenge and job to job with relative ease and comfort.
If you are intellectually curious, highly motivated and willing to take risks, there is not a better place to be than in America to find very satisfying and rewarding work. Dickinson has prepared you for it. Of that I am certain.
I have focused on who you are and can become, but what you should also consider are the things you like to do. What makes you happy? What work do you find fulfilling? With what group of professionals do you wish to collaborate?
Now is the time to pursue your bliss and realize your dreams.
As you do, my wish for you and indeed for all those assembled here, is that you pursue a life filled with meaning and that you leave plenty of room to help others. That means becoming involved in some form of public service—in government or in the nonprofit sector, as a full-time employee, volunteer or donor. Or it might mean engagement in the political process as an active citizen.
After all, as we sit here today, there are almost 20 million Americans who are unemployed, or are being compelled to work part-time or have given up looking for employment at all. More than 47 million Americans are on food stamps. Rates of child poverty, malnutrition and incarceration are higher than at almost any time in our country's history. You can help fix these things.
Two billion people on this earth live on less than $2 a day. Millions of people each year die of waterborne and other entirely preventable or treatable diseases. We can eliminate aids and malaria and cholera from the face of the earth, just as we did polio. We can.
Overwhelming evidence attests to the undeniable reality that we are experiencing global warming and its associated tornados, hurricanes, tsunamis and floods. We are not helpless in the face of this trend. Hardly.
We have the knowledge and the skill to address these conditions. You can help repair them and many others that threaten to tear the fabric of our common humanity. These challenges may seem daunting, but your parents' generation helped to defeat communism, to set South Africa on a course of freedom post-apartheid, to advance the cause of feminism, environmentalism, gay and lesbian rights, and the movements to stop smoking, to wear a seatbelt, to not mix driving and drinking. No small accomplishments.
Now is your moment, and my generation has left plenty of problems for you to address and challenges to seize. Wasn't it thoughtful of us to allow you to live lives not just of comfort but of consequence?
Please preserve for yourself the time and space to do just that. Not simply for the victims of poverty, war, disease and environmental distress, but for yourselves. In reading the words that Julius Rosenwald, the founder of Sears and Roebuck, uttered in 1923, I offer you and your families a wish for true fulfillment and commitment. Here are the questions Mr. Rosenwald had on his mind. I'll leave you to consider them:
"Shall we devote the few precious days of our existence only to buying and selling, only to comparing sales with the sales of the same day the year before, only to shuffling our feet in the dance, only to matching little picture cards so as to group together three jacks or aces or kings, only to seek pleasures and fight taxes, and when the end comes to leave as little taxable an estate as possible as the final triumph and achievement of our lives? Surely there is something finer and better in life, something that dignifies it and stamps it with at least some little touch of the divine?
"My friends, it is unselfish effort, helpfulness to others that ennobles life, not because of what it does for others, though that is hardly unimportant, but more what it does for ourselves. In this spirit, we should give of ourselves not grudgingly, but gladly, generously, eagerly, lovingly, joyfully, indeed with the supremist pleasure that life can possibly furnish."
Thank you very much.