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You’ve made a fine start on life

Commencement 2013

By The Mercury

Here’s what we hope a commencement speaker tells area high school graduates this weekend.

First, congratulations on getting this far. You can be justly proud of your accomplishments to date. You have persevered through more than a dozen years of formalized school training, all of it designed to challenge you. You have survived and many of you have thrived. Be as proud of that as your parents, teachers and loved ones are of you right now.

Second, do not get so swept up in the above that you lose sight of this. As astonishing as it may seem to you now, the only thing you have done to date is laid a foundation upon which you can construct your future success. Pertaining to your ultimate career goal, you have actually learned very little that will serve you deep into your personal futures. That future extends a half century, and experience warns that many of the paradigms destined to shape your professional futures are yet to be developed. Indeed, you may eventually have a hand in developing them.

This is especially the case if your intended field is any aspect of science, technology, or engineering, where the sum of knowledge is expanding logarithmically.

Many of you will never for a single moment put to use any of the advanced concepts your troubled over in chemistry class, or geometry. You may never again be required to read or analyze Shakespeare. Yet there was a point to those assignments, and the point was to school you in the ways and means of problem-solving. This is the single most important takeaway from your high school experience: the ability to learn how to learn. As amazing as it now sounds, this is what you will be doing literally for the rest of your life. That’s why it’s called a “commencement” ceremony.

Third, from this day forward, you are what you make of yourself. That largely goes for better or for worse. Yes, there is such a thing as fate — both good and bad — but it only very infrequently governs, and at any rate there is no value in planning upon it.

You have two assets you can draw upon under any circumstances. Those are your inherent talent and your applied effort. The first may have some limitations, but the second manifestly does not. Success in life is largely the product of talent multiplied by effort. You learned something akin to that in math.

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