Saturday, May 17, 1997 - 2:30 p.m.
Schools of Management;
Pharmacy, Nursing, Health Sciences;
President Steven C. Beering
Ladies and Gentlemen, members of the Class of 1997 ---
We continue today an ancient tradition of assembling in formal convocation to recognize
those among us who have reached a significant milestone on the road to knowledge
and high accomplishment. And . . . I get to give you one last lecture. No quizzes,
no exams; the rest is "open book" from here on out.
As president of the University, one of the questions I'm often asked is: "What is
the most important thing the university does?" There are many possible answers to
that question, and all of them would be right, because a university does so many
things. No individual really knows what all the institution's jobs are, and even those who
are on campus every day, or who work in one of our regional campuses, or in one of
our hundred locations abroad, have a limited working knowledge of all the activities
that we encounter regularly as an institution as a whole.
Now, some people would approach the question from a philosophical perspective. The
poet, John Masefield, -- in lines that I keep posted on my office wall -- argues
that the university guarantees that there will always be a place where reasoned thought
prevails. I agree with that point, but it doesn't fully answer the question.
In thinking about my remarks for this weekend's four commencement exercises, I tried
to address the question of what is our most important task. The best answer I can
offer you is that: "Universities build the future."
That statement may seem immodestly encompassing, but I believe it is true -- not just
here in West Lafayette, but on this university's other campuses, and in places like
Ann Arbor and Champaign, Cambridge and Oxford, Berkeley, South Bend . . . and in
Let's consider what occurs just on this campus. More than 35,000 students study here.
In fact on any given day, more than 52,000 people live, and work, and study here.
They come from all fifty states, every province in Canada, and over one hundred foreign nations. Most of them arrive as high academic achievers who have been heavily
recruited by numerous other academic institutions. Some come from families with
the resources to send them to the most expensive private universities. Some barely
scrape by financially. They borrow money; they work part-time; they rely on the support of
families who make great sacrifices to send a son or daughter to college.
These are great differences. Yet on this campus, the differences won't really matter
in the long run. Each of you has had an equal chance to succeed, and miracles have
happened. Students blossom intellectually under the guidance of inspired professors. They rise to challenges they never dreamed they could meet. And, by the time they
arrive in this building for this culminating event, every one of them has the skills
and the potential to succeed as a professional person and as an individual. Most
importantly, each of our students will wake up tomorrow morning as a graduate of a great
university -- and that will make everything else incidental.
But, the education of a new generation is only part of the University's challenge.
The same faculty members who teach in the classroom and laboratory are also committed
to extending the frontiers of knowledge in their respective disciplines. The juxtaposition of basic research and undergraduate teaching is a uniquely American concept.
Yet, it is the reason that our universities are the envy of the world, and it finds
its best expression in a land-grant institution like Purdue.
Our new graduates have learned not just what is in textbooks, but what has been developed
in the months and days since those books were published. The men and women who have
been teaching you have been evolving new theories of business and economics, reconfiguring the landscape of science, developing new medicines and discovering new treatments
The standard of living we enjoy -- from the food we eat to the gadgets that entertain
us in our homes -- the rapid progress of technology, and the bright promise of our
future are all made possible because universities constantly are creating new knowledge and preparing new generations to be productive citizens.
But that is not all. This university also works closely with business, industry,
agriculture, and state, local, and national government -- even foreign lands -- and
we find ways to transfer new knowledge and technologies to the workplace and solve
problems that are delaying progress.
During the period of European history that sometimes is called the "Dark Ages," the
leaders of monasteries made the decision to preserve knowledge. They quickly realized
that knowledge is not static. It is a living thing that constantly moves forward,
and therefore it must be cultivated, like a garden. This reality led to the development
of the university as a place where knowledge and culture are not only transmitted
but constantly created. What better place then to build the future?
We also build the future through our children, and this afternoon's ceremony has special
significance for all our parents here -- and for Jane and me. Our three sons and
their wives -- each of whom has a place as a daughter in my heart, and each of whom
is here this afternoon -- have among them, thus far, earned eight Purdue degrees.
Today John will receive the ninth -- a Master's degree in Management.
I am deeply proud that the Beering family and the Purdue family are interwoven in
this special way. And I am proud of each of you graduates in this room. You have
met many challenges. You have overcome many obstacles. And every person who crosses
this stage today has achieved something very special. Yet, it is only the beginning.
Your greatest achievements lie ahead, because YOU are the future.
On behalf of the trustees, the administration, and our faculty, I congratulate each
of you, the Class of 1997, and wish you the best of continued success.