Keith S. Hansen
Thank you President Córdova, you make us all proud. On behalf of the great class of 2012—the finest scholars of education and the greatest intellectuals of engineering—let me express my deepest gratitude for the privilege of addressing this class. Tonight is a particular honor for me and I don’t want my message lost so I've posted a link to the Sparknotes version of this speech on the Purdue website. I want to take a chance to thank the individuals who brought us to this very moment. The parents and families, professors and friends. Fellow Boilermakers, please stand, turn and join me in thanking them .
Tonight we gather to celebrate the greatness of our accomplishments at Purdue – not the closing of a chapter, or the end of our education. Our pride is based on the hard work that brought us to this day, on the knowledge that we are ready for the next step, and for the excitement of what lies ahead.
That is the true genius of our time at Purdue; that every challenge has prepared us for the months and years to come, that team-based projects have developed our critical-thinking skills, that pursuing our passions has cultivated our leadership abilities. That every semester has increased our self-confidence. We have learned how to learn and we can write what we think.
I want to begin by telling you the story of Dr. Kamyar Haghighi. Some of you may know the name, others may not, but he has influenced the lives of every one of us. Dr. Haghighi was the head of engineering education here at Purdue. He had the foresight to bring together friends from this side of the room and this side of the room to reform the fields of engineering and education. He's the reason the parents in this room were willing to send their kids to Purdue. He’s the reason we played with robots four years ago. And he’s the reason we use research on childhood learning to guide teacher education.
Five years ago Dr. Haghighi was diagnosed with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig’s disease, affecting his motor skills but leaving his brain intact. Over the next few years he became a prisoner in his own body. Soon he couldn’t move any muscles and was confined to a wheelchair. He lost his ability to speak and could only move his eyes and a bit of his head. One year ago this week Dr. Haghighi passed away. [PAUSE] His situation always seemed unfair to me—but he never felt sorry for himself, he was never bitter or angry. To him, the question of “Why me?” was very selfish and self-centered. “Why not me?” he asked instead. “Why someone else?” And that’s the greatest lesson he left. Instead of growing complacent or waiting for change ask yourself, why not me?
Every one of us should be proud of what we’ve achieved at this institution. Two hundred and sixteen classes of Purdue graduates have sat in these seats today. Many of those colleagues graduated during times of peace and prosperity. Each and every time, a new generation has risen up and done what's needed to be done. Today we are called once more—and it is time for our generation to answer that call. To use our education and put in the energy to make something great. To do something because you feel like you’re part of something good, something better, something useful.
Fellow Boilermakers, educators and engineers, I say to you tonight: we have work to do. Dr. Haghighi asked “Why not me?” and he's right. Why can’t we be the ones to engineer better medicines or make green energy economical? Why can’t we be the ones to make sure every, single child gets a good education? Why not us? We've already left our fingerprints on the world. Members of Kappa Delta Pi Honor Society in Education have run book drives, tutored children, and worked with women and children’s centers here in our own backyard through your Literacy Alive Program. Over 200 Boilermakers, including many of you sitting in this room, designed and built an INhome solar house that has one-upped the field of construction and re-imagined the entire future of affordable homes. As we step out of that door and that door and that door and even that door, we will step out with a Purdue degree. We will step out through the same doorway where Neil Armstrong stepped before us then went on to step on the moon. Where Don Thomspon stepped out 28 years ago and is now the CEO of the largest restaurant corporation in the world, McDonalds.
You had the will, had the drive, and had the focus to get through college. What’s important now is translating that drive into action, to not stay stagnant. So let’s increase AIDS awareness. Take a Health and Safety education major [POINT] and work with a Biomedical engineer [POINT] to find a solution. This, right now, is the most exciting period in human history. Today we stand at the intersection of humanities and science. Let’s work together, pursue our individual dreams but still come together as one Purdue.
And let’s never, ever, back down from what's right. Let’s never forget our time and the lessons we learned here at Purdue. That teamwork is crucial. That we went above and beyond to finish a project at 2 a.m. The late night cram sessions, the mid-day fountain runs, the nights at Harry's and the mornings at Triple XXX. Work with the friends we’ve made at Purdue to achieve what none of us thought we could do alone.
We’re all young and I'm in no position to give anyone life advice. What I can suggest, however, is to keep asking. And to ask differently. I dare you to be different. Do not comply. Keep asking the questions and don’t grow old. And above all, don’t get caught up in life’s fears.
Boilermakers! Tonight, if you feel the same passion and excitement that I do, if you feel the same pride and hopefulness that I do – then I have no doubt that we will paint the world black and gold.
Dr. Haghighi asked “Why not me?” It was his farewell message. “Why not me?” I now ask that question of myself. And now, as you graduate to begin anew, I ask that of you. “Why not us?” “Why not me?” Thank you all very much and Hail, Purdue.