Purdue president to graduates: Seek opportunities, embrace change

August 4, 2012  

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. - Congratulations, graduates! This is a special day for you, for your families and friends, and for all of us at Purdue who have watched you grow your skills, experience, confidence and aspirations during your time here.

College is indeed a time of transformation. If you don't think you've changed that much, just ask your families. I'm sure they've marveled at how you've developed intellectually and socially since they waved good-bye and drove away from campus that first year.

For those of you who are earning your baccalaureate degrees this summer, your earliest days at Purdue may seem long ago. You probably sat in this same hall at Boiler Gold Rush wondering whether you would be able to fulfill the rigors of college and meet the high standard of excellence that is Purdue.

The anxious young freshmen who sat here several years ago have grown, and today we celebrate as you become the future leaders of our communities and corporations, of our academic institutions, and our government agencies.

We also commemorate our proud graduate students whose hard work has earned them master's, doctorate and professional degrees. You came here wondering if you could be the great thinkers that your advisers wanted you to be - could you keep up with your peers?

What if they found out what you were really like? I think nearly every student goes through the Imposter Syndrome for at least a little while. But the Purdue experience has changed you, too.

You've mastered your chosen areas of study. You've created new knowledge, made significant advancements through your research, and helped design useful tools that will assist others.

Emily Cook has earned a Master of Science in biomedical engineering. Her work at Purdue will help amputees control their prosthetic devices through a miniaturized, radio-frequency-powered, implantable electrode that speaks to targeted muscle sites.

Arthur Chlebowski, also in biomedical engineering, has earned a Doctor of Philosophy degree. He has designed a device that one day may continuously monitor the intraocular pressure of the eye. This will give ophthalmologists better tools for diagnosing and monitoring patients with glaucoma, a disease that is expected to affect nearly 80 million people worldwide over the next 10 years.

Among you may be a best-selling novelist, a hotel manager, an inspirational teacher, a compassionate nurse, a cyberforensics genius, or a crop scientist who will help farmers around the world gain greater yields from land that struggles to produce.

Purdue graduates are impacting and improving peoples' lives.

All of our graduates today have learned new levels of confidence, independence and responsibility. These leadership skills weren't all gained in the classroom. Many were learned in the organizations you joined, the athletic teams you participated in, and the volunteer time you gave to our community.

Your confidence also came from the enduring love and support of your friends and family. Let's bring up the house lights so you can wave to your parents, siblings, grandparents, and friends and thank them for all they've done for you during your Purdue years.

Some of you may have noticed that I've been through a few changes of my own lately. Less than a month ago, I was Provost Sands; today, I am honored to be entrusted with the responsibility of acting president for this extraordinary institution.

I've also been an undergraduate, a graduate student, an industrial researcher, a professor, a graduate student adviser (in fact, two of my students are receiving their doctoral hoods today), a research center director, and, perhaps my most important role, the parent of college students - all Boilermakers, by the way - two graduated, two still here.

As I've moved through the changes of each new role, I've picked up a few tips that I'd like to share with you on this special day:

First, repeat what works.

You have been taught and mentored by some of the finest faculty in the world. Internalize the skills and traits that you found effective in them and apply them to your own life.

Whether you are going on to a faculty position at another university, starting a company, or joining a Fortune 500 corporation, you can always draw useful information from the people around you. I encourage you to watch and learn from others who are more experienced, and remember, someday, young people will be learning from you.

Next: Be patient, but seek opportunities.

The researchers in the audience know what I'm talking about when I say that sometimes you need to be very patient before you're able to reach your ultimate goal.

When it comes to your career, it may take a while before you find work that interests you fully. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the average person born in the latter years of the baby boom - that's 1957 to 1964 - held 11 jobs from ages 18-44. That's 11 jobs in 26 years. That's a lot of changing - and a lot of opportunities. We expect that your generation will change jobs just as much, if not more.

But although change is sometimes tough, or even scary, every new position can be viewed as a step closer to something you really want to do or an opportunity to make a greater impact.

You might graduate from a college that begins with, for example, the letter "P." Then you might go on to earn a law degree and become a corporate leader somewhere in Indiana. Perhaps then you'll lead a federal government agency and work for the president of the United States. You might go from there to become the governor of a great Midwestern state - maybe even Indiana again. And, then, who knows, someday you might even end up as the president of another university with a name that coincidentally also begins with the letter "P" and happens to be the greatest institution in the entire country. It could really happen!

Through your life, each step, over time, will lead you closer to something you will love to do - something you were meant to do - something that will make a bigger difference. Be patient and seek the opportunities as they present themselves.

And when a door opens for you and your immediate reaction is: The opportunity is too early, too much of a jump or not in the original plan, think twice before saying, "No, thanks." Don't be afraid to jump in over your head, repeatedly.

The main message I want you and your families to take away today is this: Change is good.

It leads to personal growth. It helps you refine what type of person you want to be and what you want to do with your career. It often leads to more money. Or you might even discover that money is not a major criterion for you, after all. Maybe for you it is autonomy or a sense of higher purpose, or the opportunity to master your field.

And there is something else that is good about change: It is something you can count on. It will be a constant in your life.

So, graduates, get ready for a big change.

But as you do, remember one thing: No matter how many cities you live in or positions you hold, or how many times you completely change careers, one thing will never change.

You will always be a Purdue Boilermaker.

Congratulations, graduates.

Hail Purdue!

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