Purdue President: 'Find passion, apply yourself and have lofty goals'

December 19, 2010

Purdue University President France A. Córdova made these comments during commencement ceremonies.

Congratulations, graduates! We are so very proud of you.

There are days in our lives that are so significant that they remain with us forever. I hope this day will be one of those for you.

Today, 1,429 of you will accept your baccalaureate diplomas, and 408 will receive your advanced degrees. For each of you, this milestone represents the end of a long journey that has taken a great deal of hard work.

For many of you, the Purdue student experience has come to a close. It has been an experience full of unforgettable moments that you will take with you.

When I came to Purdue a few years ago I was given a "bucket list" of 20 things that students said I must do at Purdue. Hopefully, each of you has fulfilled your own bucket list.

Have you had a milkshake at Pappy's? Rubbed Abe Lincoln's nose at the Union? Walked to class in minus-29-degree wind chill? Have you helped the Paint Crew cheer a basketball or volleyball team to the Sweet Sixteen? Taken a cell phone photo of our new Nobel Prize winner? Enjoyed a dramatic production of "Hair" or "Amadeus?" Have you sledded down Slayter Hill on a cafeteria tray? Attended Lady Gaga's show – twice? Have you greeted the larger-than-life bronze statues of Amelia Earhart and Neil Armstrong? Have you run through a fountain?

If you haven't done any of those, then how about this list: Have you invented a new biomedical device that will save lives? Performed with a Purdue band in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City? Built and raced a solar-powered or electric car? Have you designed a snow-blowing robot? Piloted an airplane out of Purdue's airport? Have you helped build houses for the needy in another country? Participated on the women's golf team that won the NCAA championship – the first time ever for a Big Ten school?

This class of graduating Purdue students has done it all, and they've done it well.

Professor Ei-ichi Negishi was honored last week in Stockholm, where His Majesty the King of Sweden presented him with the Nobel Prize, a diploma and a document confirming a monetary prize.

On October 6, the day the Nobel Prize was announced, cameras and news reporters from all over the world flooded Purdue to see Dr. Negishi. Reporters from both America and his native Japan asked him the same question: What advice would you give to young people today?"  

Without hesitation, he said, "One has to have this fundamental confidence. With that, all young people should have a high dream – higher the better – loftier the better."

He went on to say that one should not pursue the Nobel Prize, but instead should pursue one's passion. Use creativity and originality for exploration. "If you understand well," he said, "you will excel."

Dr. Negishi pursued his passion for chemistry and proved to us that commitment to excellence brings great reward.

There have been other unforgettable moments during your time here. We made history one month ago when the man who landed the Eagle on the moon met the man who landed an Airbus on the Hudson River. And both men are Boilermakers.

Astronaut Neil Armstrong came to campus to honor Captain Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger for safely landing an airplane on the Hudson and saving 155 lives. Armstrong talked about Sully's singular moment – "out of options, out of time" he called it – and how Sully was up to the challenge, executing a water-landing without a valid license for operating a sea-plane!

Captain Sullenberger talked about taking the controls of the airplane the moment the engines failed. He did it automatically, he said. It was what he was trained to do. And that was his message to us: Train well. Become an expert in whatever you do, and if the unexpected arises, you will be prepared for whatever comes. In closing his remarks, Sully hoped that each of us could find a way to use our lives to make a difference in the world.

Many of our faculty, staff, students and alumni are making a difference every day. Purdue faculty member Dr. Gebisa Ejeta won the 2009 World Food Prize; faculty member Dr. Phil Nelson won the award in 2007. No other institution has won two World Food Prize awards – considered the Nobel Prize of Agriculture.

Dr. Nelson's work has been described as having a "monumental impact" in improving the way the world stores and transports its food supply. Dr. Ejeta's work with sorghum has dramatically enhanced the food supply for hundreds of millions of people in sub-Saharan Africa.

Dr. Ejeta spoke to the Spring graduating class of 2010, where he said, "There are many rewards in being an alumnus of Purdue University, but with those rewards comes responsibility: a responsibility to uphold the legacy of this great institution and use the excellent foundation you have received here as a springboard … for a life of accomplishment, dedication and service."

Service to others is central to the lives of our World Food Prize winners, and it is a core value on which this land-grant institution was founded. Your class – the class of 2010 – has donated tremendous amounts of time and money to people in need – to support our local community and to help those as far away as the Haiti earthquake and Pakistani flood victims. We commend you, and we know you will continue to serve as you go forward in life.

As you think about the future, reflect on this: No other graduating class at any other institution will receive advice from a Nobel Prize winner, the "Hero on the Hudson," the first person on the moon, and two World Food Prize Winners … because no other institution can claim such accomplished individuals.

Remember what they said and you will be successful in life: find your passion, apply yourself well and have a lofty goal.

You have something in common with these great Boilermakers. You have all shared the unforgettable experience that is Purdue.

Congratulations, graduates.

Go Boilermakers! Hail Purdue!