President William B. Eisenhardt
Cal Maritime Commencement Speech
April 28, 2012
Class of 2012, here we are, you and I, a bunch of short-timers! And I expect that you thought to hear someone illustrious up here today. Well, so did I! But she eventually withdrew and I was asked if I would consider being the commencement speaker, and I consider it quite an honor to stand here before you.
So I began to think about this and realized that I had sat through at least 35-40 college graduations, and I know I must have sat there at times thinking about what I might say to new graduates if I had the opportunity. I remembered my college graduation speaker, but I remembered him for who he was not what he said. I remember my wife’s’ graduation speaker, but that’s because he was fired not long afterward.
I do remember one Governor speaking about the value of a dollar, And then not too long after another Governor speaking about how to spend a dollar and not to worry if your checkbook or budget didn’t balance….hmmmm. And they weren’t from CA! I also remember Noel Paul Stookey of the famous folk singing group Peter, Paul, and Mary because he composed and sang an original song for the graduates and I thought it was a wonderful gift from his heart.
But, I’m not a politician and I’m unsure about the value of a dollar in today’s financial climate. Also, as my wife and children will emphatically attest, you really don’t want to hear me sing. So, I searched for some common criteria in all those graduation speeches that I had heard to find what differentiated good ones from others in order to help me out, and I soon realized that the most common factor in those good ones were that they were brief!
Therefore I‘ve winnowed and condensed my graduation messages into a top ten list. This will serve two purposes; one, it keeps me from wandering and helps me stay on track and; two, it allows you to keep count of how many more of my thoughts you have to endure.
And I’ve practiced a bit, but I’m reminded of an incident in one of my classes some years ago. It was a class that required students to give an oral presentation. A student who was due to present his in a few days in class asked me if I practiced giving my lectures ahead of time to try to make them better. I replied “Regularly”. “Oh” he said. And as he turned away I distinctly heard him mumble, “Well, practice probably won’t work for me either.”
Anyway, here’s my TOP TEN LIST FOR GRADUATES!
#10. Continue to learn. Remember the 50 in 5 rule, which states that 50% of the technology you have mastered now, will be obsolete or at least outdated in 5 years. Just think, five to six years ago there were no i-phones or apps, and a 42” flat screen TV was considered HUGE.
But what is an overlooked ingredient in this “rule” of technological change are the human issues first brought forth by Alvin Toffler in his pivotal 1970 book Future Shock: that the most difficult thing for us regarding technological change concerns the human propensity to resist change. He speculated that the conflict between realizing that change is necessary and our inner urges to resist change when coupled with the ever-increasing pace at which change occurs today would be one of the major challenges to humankind in the century.
Combine that with what David Weinberger describes in his recent book Too Big To Know about the sheer volume of information available through technology, and the light speed at which such can be distributed, and we all have a challenge in front of us.
So, if you don’t continue to learn you probably won’t be able to keep up and may increasingly feel alienated from the world around you including, perhaps, some day your own children. Continue to learn.!
#9. Teach a little, share what you know. You rarely realize how little you know about something until you try to teach it to another. The effort of teaching both helps to clarify issues in our mind and sharpens our human interaction skills. Try it, you might even enjoy it! Who knows, you could even be sitting over there as a CMA faculty member some day. (point)
#8. We are captives of our experiences. As Aristotle proposed thousands of years ago in his treatise Ethics, “Every act and every inquiry and similarly every action and pursuit is thought to aim at some good” And if so, that then implies that what is “good” in our life is determined by what we do, we therefore define ourselves and our society through our actions. Actions speak louder than words. So Act Wisely.
#7. In choosing those experiences, don’t limit yourself by them. Build in some challenges and be open to opportunities. Who knows where life may take us? If you had asked me 46 years ago in my senior year at the Naval Academy if I saw myself as a future college president, I would have thought that future outcome quite unlikely. Work in a college!!! Are you serious?
Well, life is full of the unexpected. LOOK AT ME NOW, be prepared for it. Keep your life and mind open to future possibilities. You never know you may be up here as president of CMA some day...
#6. Experience and Celebrate the diversity in life. It will enrich yours beyond belief. Life is like a tapestry or painting with all kinds of colors and differing techniques that give it meaning. Although thought provoking, for most of us, a blank canvas is a pretty boring thing. One of the most life changing events for me occurred when I was a very young officer of 22 years living in Viet Nam, the Philippines and Thailand. People who looked very different than I, who spoke and wrote a language I could not then understand, were still, I realized, very much like me. They loved their families, wanted to get ahead in life, enjoyed music, were often religious and appreciated good food. But their concept of family, life, music, religion and good food were a bit different than mine, yet very understandable. And in some ways preferable to the way I had thought them to be.
So I urge you not to turn away from those who appear or act “different” but to look and see what you can learn from them to better your lives. (Pause) Just ask any parent whose heart has grown to love all their children, as different from one another as they may be, if their life has not been the richer for it.
#5. Cherish all living things. Life is extraordinarily precious. I hope you never have to experience a personal tragedy or a war to learn this. But those who have, can understand what I am trying to say.
Youth often seems to think of them selves as immortal (and infallible), and, therefore, can become insensitive about just how fragile life is for all living things. This world is complex and we are not alone in it, nor can we survive in it without human diversity and without other species of life. Be careful how you treat the living, and particularly, your selves. Life in this world is much more interrelated than we like to admit.
For example, just recently we learned that an species of coral contains an enzyme that appears to retard Alzheimer’s disease. And yet those coral reefs with what gifts they can render unto us are dying due to humankind’s careless disregard for life in the sea. Cherish all life.
#4. Be involved in the life around you, extend a hand. Society usually works well only when those who are members take an active part in it. One of the lessons to be taken from a small community like CMA is just that. The campus functions best when those of us in it extend a hand when needed and have the grace to take one extended to us in our time of need.
But I don’t just mean this in terms of volunteering time or giving blood, (and those are important helping hands indeed). But also in terms of publicly lending the community your moral strength and sense of values. It is an obligation of citizenship to do so. Extend your hand, contribute; we won’t survive as a nation if you don’t, and the nation and community you define will be the one my grandchildren and your children grow up in.
#3. Work on giving and earning respect. We know that one of the greatest human motivators in life is to be appreciated for what we do and who we are. To be afforded respect from others signifying that we, too, have a legitimate role in life is to be cherished far beyond being popular or well liked. And to afford others respect for who they are, no matter whether you like them or agree with their views of the world, is a mark of an educated and civilized person. And, in my mind, one of the key ingredients of successful leadership.
#2. Be yourself. Whatever values and principles you adopt (and some will change over your lifetime) live by them. One of the few things in life that you can truly control is your personal integrity, and it’s not always easy to do. Bear with me a moment and, as an analogy, think of a big wall space and tagging or graffiti. If you care about that wall space you often have to be ever vigilant against tagging. It takes some real effort for someone to decide to deface that wall the first time and once tagged you must act to erase it quickly.
But if left alone, the second tag will come more easily, and the third even easier, and so on. Pretty soon the wall is thoroughly marred and everyone just resigns them selves to accept the blemished wall as is.
Integrity is a bit like that wall. You have to be ever vigilant against that first time you act against your set of values and principles, and that can be hard in today’s seemingly immoral world. It’s far easier to compromise a little here and a little there until, bit-by-bit, one day you realize that you don’t really know what you stand for, or worse, you don’t seem to stand for anything in life.
A colleague of mine once described our value system as the line in the sand that we draw and know we shouldn’t cross. Oh, we edge up to it now and then. But if we cross back and forth across the line, it becomes blurred and disappears. Pretty soon we start to ask ourselves. Where’s my line? Where do I stand? What do I stand for?
Trust me, it really feels good to look in the mirror in the morning and respect who you see there. Be true to yourself. Your integrity will provide guidance and comfort in a world that rarely presents issues as simply right or wrong. And integrity helps earn respect from others as well.
And now, the blessed moment I know you all have been waiting for! -Number One on the Top Ten List is: (drum roll)
I have no real number one! We must all find our OWN way in life. How else can we “be ourselves”? To imply that I, or anyone else has THE best advice for you is to refute Aristotle’s’ idea of free will. After all is said and done, after all your friends, acquaintances, counselors, astrologers, tarot card readers (and graduation speakers), tell you what you should do, YOU have to make decisions, from both here (head) and here (heart) and live by them.
You certainly have made some already. By choosing Cal Maritime, for example, you have, to paraphrase the American poet Robert Frost, taken “the road less traveled”. I mean, after all, how many students decide to go to a college of less than 1000 students and live behind a gate wearing drab khakis? And as for that “less traveled” road? Don’t you WISH you had traveled down Maritime Academy Drive a lot less!
But Cal Maritime is a unique and a less traveled educational experience, and as time goes by I think you will realize that in choosing it you have indeed “acted wisely”
Well, right about now, you’re probably thinking, hurry up Mr. President, let me put that “less traveled road” in the rear view mirror …
OK, But I would like to point out that many of you are sitting over a compass rose, the four points of which we use to help define the mission our institution – intellectual learning, applied technology, leadership development and a global perspective. And we use the compass rose to remind you that Cal Maritime graduates do not merely go where life takes them they navigate their own destiny.
So, as has been my tradition at our commencements, I wish you “fair winds and following seas” as I, too, continue to navigate my destiny and “graduate” from this academy with the class of 2012. From my wife Kathryn and me “God bless and farewell."