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Education, Engineering, Pharmacy/Nursing/Health Sciences,
Science, Veterinary Medicine
Sunday, December 15, 1996, 1:30 p.m. by President Steven C. Beering

Before I begin my remarks today, I would like you to hear a brief message from a man who more than thirty years ago sat in this hall waiting to receive a Purdue engineering diploma. Today, his daughter is with us as a degree candidate in the School of Science. Please listen carefully.

(Message from John Blaha)

Good afternoon everyone. I am John Blaha coming to you from the Mir space station. where I have been since September. Two Russian cosmonauts, Valerie and Sasha, and I have been involved in a variety of research projects here on the Mir space station.
As one of almost two dozen Purdue alumni who have flown in space, I wanted to offer today's graduating class and their families my congratulations. Thirty-one years ago, I received my Purdue diploma. But today's ceremony is a special one to me for another reason. My daugher Carolyn is one of the graduates in the School of Science.
Carolyn, I wish I could be with you today. I'm very proud of you. Especially the very nice human being you have become. Give my love to your mom and your brothers.
To the graduating class, your Purdue education is going to be one of the most valuable things you and your classmates will ever possess. I promise you all the hard work you have done at Purdue and all the sacrifice will be worth it. To everyone in this year's class, congratulations,happy holidays and Hail Purdue.

It makes me very proud to be at a university where a message like that is possible, not only because more than twenty American astronauts have been graduated from Purdue, but because this is an institution at which people care about one another as a family. Incidentally, we are making a video recording of this ceremony which will be shipped by NASA to Moscow later this week for transmission to the Mir space station, so that John will be able to watch Caroline graduate without having to wait until his return to earth next month.

The American astronaut ho preceded John Blaha aboard the Mir was Shannon Lucid. After she returned to earth last August, she reported that each time she and her Russian colleagues left the station to carry out operations in space, they told her: "You're in charge, Shannon -- but don't touch the controls!"

That doesn't exactly fit our American concept of empowerment, does it? Often we feel in life that we have more responsibility than we have power. Today's new graduates are passing through one of those portals that will leave them changed forever. Once you step outside the security of this station that we call Purdue, you can't come back again in the same way. You can return to campus, of course, but not with the same innocence and expectation with which you first arrived.

The good news, though, is that you truly are empowered to take control of your own destinies. Right now, you may be thinking of your futures in terms of career possibilities. You think of yourself as an engineer or a teacher or a scientist or a medical or veterinary professional. Your professors here have done their best to sharpen the tools you will need to be successful in your professions.

But I wish something more for you. I wish you success in life, as well as in your work. We live in a world that often seems to be turning its back on the values that once were undeniable. we see the glorification of greed in the entertainment and sports industries. Our political leaders seem to be more interested in popularity polls than in governance, and the electorate -- that's us -- doesn't seem to care very deeply. This year, with significant decisions to be made at every level of government up through the presidency, fewer than half the eligible voters went to the polls, forsaking the greatest privilege and responsibility that we as Americans enjoy: the right and the obligation to govern ourselves.

Social scientists and the news media have struggled to explain this seeming indifference, but perhaps it is nothing more than a misplaced complacency. In this American century, perhaps we are so confident in our strength as a nation and in our innate goodness as a people that we believe nothing can threaten our way of life. In our complacency, we don't feel the need to stand against injustice, to speak out against dishonesty, to protect our heritage of liberty and self governance.

And yet you, as the best and brightest of our new leaders, have a sacred obligation to do those things. The intelligence with which you have been blessed, the wonderful education which has helped you refine that blessing, and the debt to future generations -- which you inherit from those who struggled to create this legacy for you -- demand that you approach your future not just with well-honed skills but with a fully developed sense of integrity.

Integrity demands something more than just an absence of dishonesty. It demands more than just doing your job. It demands more than that you do no harm. The eighteenth-century English philosopher Edmund Burke said that "the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing."

So your integrity will be measured not by the absence of guilt but by the presence of strength, courage, honesty, and self-discipline. Will you speak out when you see injustice? Will you defend the weak when they are abused by the stronger? Will you do more than is socially required to support your community? will you do what is right, even when it is not comfortable?

Perhaps those questions sound a bit preachy and old-fashioned in this era of high-profile marketing and self-fulfilling morality, but the true happiness you achieve in the rest of your lifetime will be determined by the way you answer them. A recent issue of Phi Beta Kappa's national newsletter observed that a world in which the Internet becomes the primary means of communication and social contact would free each of us from everything except his or her own personality.

It sounds like a lonely existence doesn't it? Our identities, our value, our sense of personal worth, and ultimately our true success are defined not by individual achievements but by our service to others. Today families and friends share equally in the joy of our graduates. Parents may feel it even more intensely -- because they know what it cost!

And they also know the true value of giving so that the people they love may fulfill their potential. There is no greater success than that.

On behalf of the trustees, faculty, and administration of Purdue, I congratulate the winter class of 1996. And to each of you here today, I wish a joyous holiday season and a happy new year.

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