5/13/2017 Wanda M. Austin

Wanda Austin: Change, Challenge and Choice

2017 Commencement Address by Dr. Wanda Austin '75

Remarks as Prepared

Chairman Washburn, President Porterfield, members of the board, faculty, parents, distinguished guests, and last – but certainly not least, Graduates of Franklin and Marshall College, it is my honor to be here with you today to celebrate this momentous occasion.

I can honestly say, I’ve been where you are…and when I sat there, I had no idea what would come next.

Graduates, you are now part of the legacy of this college. A 230-year-old legacy that has been built upon a commitment to inspire and prepare young people of high promise and diverse backgrounds to love learning, to think critically and independently and to comfortably engage in collaborative thought and debate so that you can discover solutions to the world’s most pressing challenges. 

A commencement is a culmination as well as an inauguration – a closing of one chapter and the start of the next.

Some parents thought this day would never come; some students think it happened all too fast; and the faculty is filled with amazement as they reflect on the transformation that has occurred within each member of this graduating class.

So, I commend and congratulate all of the degree candidates today because you are going out into a world that needs you.  Graduates, you are the future leaders, the future critical thinkers, and the future of our country.

But you did not get here by yourself.  So it is also important to take a moment to praise and congratulate the parents, siblings, spouses, partners, family and friends who have provide the inspiration, moral support, personal sacrifice and cold hard CASH critical to the achievements we are celebrating today.

Also a special thank you and congratulations goes to the staff and faculty at the College for providing the leadership required to ensure your success

To members of the faculty a sincere thank you:  The students you have trained – collaborative leaders with great decision-making skills and problem solving abilities are the people we admire and need to work in industry, government and academia.

Graduates, why don’t you give them a round of applause.

You are now filled with excitement and anticipation for the future, as you should.  You have achieved a major milestone in life. I am confident that each of you will accomplish great things as you fulfill your own personal and professional missions.  You may not have a detailed plan for what happens next but you’re hoping it will be good.  But we all know, hope is not a strategy.  You have some big decisions to make. 

The one thing I can promise you is that whatever your strategy is, the world around you in going to change. As you embark on this next chapter in your life, know that you have been prepared to address the changes that the future will bring but keep in mind that with every change there will be challenges; and with every challenge you have a choice.  How are you going to show up; how are you going to speak up, whether or not you are going to stand up; and in fact who do you choose to be.

Today I will specifically address the changes, challenges, and choices that the world holds for you and indeed for all of us, in the future.

But, before I move on to that topic, I have a confession to make. I don’t remember much about my own commencement address and I was warned to keep my remarks brief because 1) and I suspect that some of you are anxious to get to the celebrations; and 2) Generation Z has a reputation for being mobile natives, completely digital social media super users.

So, I have the Twitter version of the commencement address and you should feel free to tweet about it. 

So here are 10 important pieces of advice I would offer to graduates in this changing world:

Starting with #10:

  • 10. Get a job –
  •   9. Anticipate change and embrace it – the world is going to change, again and    again
  •   8. Be a source of solutions and new ideas
  •   7. Vote!
  •   6.  Make peace not war
  •   5.  Do what you love
  •   4. When one door closes look around to find and prepare for the one that is about to open
  •   3. Think globally.
  •   2. Failure is a prerequisite to success and finally …
  •   1. Get a job – have a plan to be self-sustaining

Now, I have to admit that a few parents sent me text messages to specifically request the first and last items, so I felt compelled to include them on the list.

So, that is the social media-friendly version of my remarks. If you’d like to get back to your phones now, go right ahead. But, in all seriousness, I do have a few more important messages to share that I hope you’ll take to heart.

So let’s talk about the challenges and choices you will face. The great challenge is that you will, in the course of your life be faced with an endless set of choices.

Let me go back 57 years, to 1960 for just a moment – the year that John F. Kennedy was elected President and promised to lead America to new frontiers.

One of those new frontiers was space. It was President Kennedy who first vowed to put a man on the moon and the whole nation was energized.

The pioneers at the dawn of space took President Kennedy’s words to heart. They started designing, building and overseeing the rockets, satellites and systems necessary to make our country preeminent in space.

It was never easy and nothing was ever taken for granted.

In fact, while NASA engineers were helping to put a man on the moon, they often felt a sense of awe, wonder, challenge and accomplishment. And by the way, I hope that many of you have seen “Hidden Figures.”

As it turns out, because of that film, now we all know that there were a lot of women who played key roles in the success that we achieved. They weren’t in the history books back then, but those history books are being rewritten today.

Today, we have the same opportunity we did in the 1960s. We have that same ability and opportunity to reach for a sense of awe, wonder, challenge, and accomplishment in America and around the world.

New technology can take us there. Innovative thought can take us there. Inclusivity and fairness can take us there.

But you must use your power of intellect to enhance our world. To overcome the challenges we now face and to leverage your education for global good.

Today, the political environment around the world is dynamic. Our sense of security and our sense of stability are challenged each day.

Even though we are all keenly aware of the significance of science, technology, engineering, arts and math (STEAM) for our health and prosperity, respect and appreciation for fact based science and reason is not guaranteed.

I suspect that fake news and alternative facts were never accepted by your Profs.  So you will be able to quickly detect what’s real and what’s not.

Throughout your college career our country has been at war, and you have witnessed violence in unlikely places: against the youngest among us (Sandy Hook elementary school, Newtown Conn 2012); on college campuses, in churches (Charleston, SC June 2015); at public gatherings (2013 Boston Marathon) at airports (Ft. Lauderdale 2016, LAX 2013) in movie theaters (Aurora, Colorado 2012); at holiday parties (San Bernardino, CA 2015) and in night clubs (June 2016 Orlando, FL).

Unfortunately, I could go on and on. These are just some of the events that have taken place in the past five years. But you have also witnessed compassion and healing of communities that could easily have been ripped apart by grief; where the instigator hoped to provoke negative behavior and undermine our system of justice, but instead, provoked strength, courage, compassion and resolve.

We’ve used technology, creativity and innovation to keep would-be foreign and domestic terrorists at bay. I wish I could tell you that these issues and incidents are all in the past, but in fact I know as you do, that this is our present and unfortunately these challenges will be part of our future. But I can tell you that we aren’t defined by negative events. We are defined by our response to them.

So what does this have to do with you?

Let me share with you a little of my personal story and why I became a CEO.

But I simply knew I wanted to make a difference, to solve relevant problems and make things better. The F&M community encouraged me to pursue that dream

My education opened doors for me that my parents could not have imagined that I would be able to walk through.

And it all turned out ok. 

Being a CEO has given me the opportunity to travel around the world, work on eye watering projects, meet lots of talented people and to learn from their success and failure, and from my own. 

Understand that there will be roadblocks and obstacles in your journey; I experienced my fair share; but it is within those difficult moments, those moments of self-doubt that we figure out who we truly are and what we’re really made of.  Use your challenges, your successes and your failures as fuel for achievement and personal growth.

Today, you are accepting a degree that you earned, but you are also accepting a commitment to be our engaged, informed, critical thinking leaders of the future.

It is guaranteed that the world is going to change, again and again.

As you work your way through the infinite possibilities that will create your life story, you’ll have new, possibly even conflicting information available to you every day. New leadership opportunities will be presented for your consideration. But you get to make the choice.

So, my advice to you is, going forward, embrace the change.

Look for it, anticipate it, prepare for it and leverage it to get the outcome that you value. Choose to lean in, engage and push for the changes necessary to achieve your goals within the complex and changing world that will surround you every day.

Perhaps the biggest contribution you can make is to help the world become a more thoughtful, measured, sensitive and respectful place.

Make certain that your voice is being heard because your ideas are extremely important and well-formulated.

You are the leaders, the critical thinkers who will define the world in the future.

Don’t look around for someone else to do it … because you are as well prepared as anyone else on the planet to engage and determine what will happen on a global scale.

Wherever we are today as a nation, as a society, as humanity -- you have the power to make it better.

It’s up to each of us – whether we’re riding a rocket or not – to travel as far and wide as we can in pursuit of our dreams.

If you are willing to engage, I know that you can each make a difference on this planet of ours.

We desperately need solid, smart, sensitive and dedicated people in positions of influence and leadership to advance the interests of society.

Class of 2017, we need you!

Class of 2017, I applaud you!

And I thank you for allowing me to be part of your graduation ceremony. Go Dips!

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