Purdue president urges graduates to look back with pride, ahead with passion

May 11, 2012

Congratulations Boilermakers! 

Through all-night study sessions and lengthy term papers, cold pizza and even colder walks to winter classes, you've done it.

Let's have a round of applause for yourselves, and your fellow graduates!

Your path to this stage began long before you set foot on campus. It began with a loving family, supportive friends and inspirational teachers. This day and your degree are their reasons to celebrate too. 

Please turn to them and wave; give them an enthusiastic and appreciative thank you! 

This is my fifth year at Purdue. By the time this weekend is over, I will have personally welcomed 33,000 Purdue graduates on this stage. 

The class of 2012 will be remembered as a class of difference-makers, a class of leaders who helped move Purdue forward.

Over the last four years you continued the Purdue tradition of problem-solving that began with generations of Boilermakers who preceded you. 

Consider the students from the class of 1912 who received their degrees almost 100 years ago today. Back then there was no central place for students to gather large enough to provide meaningful opportunities for student development. Purdue lacked a spacious facility designed to enrich student life outside the classroom.

George O. Hays, a student from the class of 1912, proposed a solution: a Purdue student union. The student government quickly endorsed his idea and before long, the student body launched a fundraising drive.

Following World War I, the push for a union merged with a desire to memorialize Purdue's fallen service members. In 1924, the Purdue Memorial Union was born.

Today its stained glass windows still symbolize the mixing of races and creeds; its black and gold cross still honor Boilermakers who fought and died in our nation's wars and conflicts. Yet, over the years it has accreted a post office, a credit union, food courts and entertainment areas, a hotel, an art gallery, financial services, and tourist attractions like a scale-model of the entire university. At the Union you can rub Abe Lincoln's bronze nose for good luck, eat at Pappy's ice cream shop, bowl at a glow-in-the dark bowling alley, and plan a wedding. At election time, you can vote there. The building has grown and adapted throughout the changing years and needs.

Like the class of 1912, you have identified needs of students today, envisioned solutions, and worked to make them reality. 

Working with your peers from other classes, you communicated the threat of alcohol poisoning and successfully lobbied the Legislature to embrace the Indiana Lifeline law. 

Through studies abroad and international research, you've responded to global needs in a flat world. You are already making your mark on the global world with your work in Haiti, Ethiopia, Cameroon and Kenya, Japan, Colombia, the Middle East.

You've done ground-breaking research in new fields of discovery and have business plans, patents and publications to your credit.

You have made an impact on the physical campus. The class of 2012 initiated a student success corridor, which will include a much renovated Recreational Center for fitness and wellness, and the Center for Student Excellence and Leadership, which is being built by the students, and for the students.

As noted by your fellow graduate Tyler Teykl, this center "will be a place all students will call home. It will be the epitome of the Purdue student experience. Engagement, involvement, academics, learning, and collaboration will all take place in this building. ... You can only imagine the new synergies and achievements that will take place once this building brings people together -the new ideas and successes (that) will flow over and out of this beaker."

Along the student success corridor there will be a new building for interdisciplinary student projects, a new classroom and a library building. Because of you, Bailey Hall for the Purdue Musical Organizations will be a reality soon.

You have done all this and more. The class of 2012 would make the class of 1912 proud. You continue their traditions and make ones of your own.

I thought long and hard about what I would leave with you on this, my own commencement weekend at Purdue. I, like you, will be moving on to the next chapter of my life. I, too, am a member of the class of 2012.

I listened to a few YouTube commencement speeches to see how others have captured this important moment of transition.

I realized quickly that the most popular commencement speeches are by comedians - like Stephen Colbert, Jon Stewart, Will Ferrell and Ellen DeGeneres. It helps to take the world less seriously, at least for a few moments, on such a solemn occasion. And then to reflect on lessons learned.

The other widely listened to YouTube speech is that of Steve Jobs, who transformed the world with his marketing and design. Many of you have some of that in your pocket right now.

What are common among these well-known and much appreciated icons are three things:

They admittedly graduated from the school of hard knocks, learned how to fall and how to pick themselves up. Take Steve Jobs, who was fired from the company he started. He said, "I'd been rejected, but I was still in love. This freed me to enter into one of the most creative periods of my life."  

They did something no one else has done by finding a way to express their passion uniquely, guided by instinct and driven by an inner zeal. Take Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart, who have challenged audiences with an uncommon twist on the daily news; and

They approach the world with a sense of wonder and gratitude. Take any poet, any musician, any scientist.

Boilermakers - my advice is to embrace what lies before you with energy and confidence. Pick yourself up when you fall, rely on your friends for support. Imagine and invent your own path.

Wherever you are on this great planet, you will find your way home. You will always be a Boilermaker.  Stay connected and return often!

Congratulations, class of 2012! Hail Purdue!