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This speech was given during the winter commencement ceremonies on Dec. 17, 2000, in the Elliott Hall of Music

In February of 1900 Theodore Roosevelt,-- the Governor of the State of New York and hero of the Spanish American War,-- made his thoughts on the upcoming presidential campaign crystal clear. Roosevelt said he could not and would not accept the nomination of his Republican Party for vice president of the United States.

In fact – he said William McKinley, the Republican president who was seeking a second term,-- had a "chocolate eclair backbone."

One year later-- Roosevelt was sworn into office as vice president of the United States with his good friend President McKinley at his side. Twentieth century American politics was off and running-- and continues on its wild course to this very day.

I tell this story today because it is how the century began. And you are the last Purdue University graduating class of the 20th century. According to no less an authority than the U.S. Naval Observatory, the 21st century begins January 1, 2001.

Now – I know many of us celebrated the new century and the new millennium last New Year's Eve. But this is what the U.S. Naval Observatory says -- and I never argue with people who have 95,000-ton aircraft carriers at their disposal. So you are it!

Your commencement will always remembered as the last of the 20th century, one of the most remarkable periods of all history. A century that profoundly changed agriculture and engineering and veterinary medicine and technology.

In 1900 a group of your soon-to-be fellow alumni sat at this university and went through ceremonies remarkably similar to this one today. The entire 20th century lay before them. What thoughts must have passed through their minds that day as they daydreamed through the commencement speech?

Did they think about air flight? It was a subject of interest at that time, but there were no aviation technology students in the class. It would be three more years before the Wright Brothers found the "right stuff" at Kitty Hawk.

A few lucky members of Purdue's Class of 1900 – born in the age of horses and buggies-- lived long enough to watch a fellow Purdue graduate walk on the face of the moon. Life changed remarkably in that century.

In 1900:

• the average life expectancy was 47 years;

• only 14 percent of U.S. homes had a bathtub;

• only 8 percent had a telephone;

• the average U.S. wage was 22 cents an hour, a veterinarian made between $1,500 and $4,000 per year, a mechanical engineer $5,000;

• only 144 miles of U.S. roads had been paved;

• only 6 percent of all Americans had graduated from high school;

• 10 percent could not read or write.

In 1900 there was no Scotch Tape! How did they wrap gifts? Most women washed their hair only once a month – and used borax or egg yolks for shampoo -- which may explain why they only washed their hair once a month.

The Class of 1900 had a motto. It was:

• "Principle not expediency."

And they had a Class Yell:

• "Hilly – Billy – Bally – Boo!

• Zip – Zarry – Zah!

• 1900 Old Purdue,

• Rah – Rah – Rah!"

And if you think that's funny - the class of 1901, or nineteen naught-one, called themselves – the "naughty-ones."

Looked at 100 years later, these seem like innocent times, don't they? But, we can only wonder how the Purdue University Class of 2100 will look back on us.

You will see changes in your new century even more dramatic than those witnessed by the Class of 1900. One hundred years from now people will look at this turn of the century, and they will be appalled at how we lived. You will be the ones who will help to bring about these changes.

When the Class of 1900 graduated, scientific breakthroughs were happening all around them.

In 1900:

• Thomas Edison invented the nickel-alkaline storage battery.

• The modern pendulum seismograph for the detection of earthquakes was invented.

• German physicist Max Planck announced the basis of the quantum theory in physics.

Members of the Class of 1900 witnessed all of this, looked to their futures, saw the incredible possibilities and worked to see many of them come true.

The National Academy of Engineering recently listed the top achievements during the 20th century. They are a stunning glimpse into the progress of man.

Here they are:

  • electrification,
  • automobiles,
  • airplanes,
  • water supply,
  • electronics,
  • radio and television,
  • agricultural mechanization,
  • computers,
  • telephones,
  • air conditioning,
  • interstate highways,
  • the Internet,
  • imaging,
  • health technologies,
  • petrochemical technologies,
  • lasers and fiber optics,
  • nuclear technologies
  • and high-performance materials.

Twentieth century Purdue University graduates and professors played a role in every one of these.

Members of the class of 1900 witnessed many wonderful things they never even dreamed would happen and also many horrors that they never could have conceived.

There was tragedy early in the century. Only nine months into the year 1901, William McKinley was assassinated. Roosevelt became president. War, worldwide depression, horrifying inhumanities all marked the 20th century.

But mankind persevered.

Like the Class of 1900, you are graduating into a new age full of possibilities –as well as perils

None of us can say what waits in the future.

But it is a century that is poised to be even more exciting, fast-paced and life-changing than the 100 years just past.

To get a glimpse into the possibilities of the 21st century, we have no further to look than one of the scientific breakthroughs of the year 2000 - scientists have mapped the human genome. This will lead to developments in the 21st century that we cannot yet even imagine.

It's appropriate that Theodore Roosevelt was the first man of the 20th century. He was a robust man, active, who charged through life. He was confident and aggressive, just like the century.

Perhaps he understood the failures and successes that awaited in the 20th century when he encouraged people to always try – no matter what the odds. He said: "Far better is it to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure, than to take rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy much nor suffer much because they live in the gray twilight that knows not victory or defeat."

As you graduate today and march off into the 21st century, I wish you the courage to dare mighty things, to dream mighty dreams and to work them into reality.

As you go into your new century, I hope you take with you these insights from gifted people of the 100 years just past:

• "I have learned that success is to be measured not so much by the position that one has reached in life, as by the obstacles which (one) has overcome while trying to succeed." – Booker T. Washington.

• "Only a life lived for others is a life worthwhile." – Albert Einstein.

• "Always do right. This will gratify some and astonish the rest." – Mark Twain.

• "Remember your university." – Martin Jischke.

It will take the support of alumni such as you to provide this high-quality education for the Class of 2100.

I leave you today with a thought from the most famous Purdue graduate of the 20th century – Neil Armstrong. Long after he returned from the moon, Armstrong said: "I believed that a successful lunar landing could inspire men (and women) around the world to believe that impossible goals were possible."

As you graduate today – if we have learned anything from the 20th century, it is this: Your impossible goals will become very possible in the exciting new century that now lies just several days away.

On behalf of the board of trustees, the administration, and our faculty, I congratulate each of you, the Class of 2000.

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