Saturday, May 14, 2011

Good morning, and welcome to the graduates, to my faculty and staff colleagues, to other University of Iowa students, to family and friends, and to honored guests. It is my great pleasure to share with you this once-in-a-lifetime occasion. Before going further, please, everyone, join me in offering congratulations to these magnificent graduates!

Many people have made this day possible. Out there in the audience are parents, grandparents, husbands, wives, partners, significant others, children, brothers, sisters, and many other relatives and friends of the graduates. Now, graduates, please join me in applauding these loved ones who have made this day possible!

Graduates, once you walk out the doors of Carver Hawkeye Arena, your life will be instantly changed. You entered this hall as a college student, and you will leave as a college graduate, the holder of a bachelor’s degree. Although you have obviously reached this point through years of hard work, the change is in many ways swift and instantaneous. You will soon be able to do things with your life that you were not able to do just a few short minutes before.

In recent months, we have been astonished by stories from around the world about how change can happen so quickly, sometimes planned or expected, but often completely surprising. Although there has been unrest in the region for many years, the “Middle East spring” uprisings and political changes in that area of the world were remarkable in their swiftness. Even major world leaders like President Mubarak of Egypt were suddenly gone from office. Also this spring, within minutes, the biggest earthquake and tsunami in Japan’s history completely changed the course of a country and thousands and millions of lives, including, sadly, so many lives lost. Even here at the University, at the end of the year when many of you were freshmen, our campus’s future was forever altered in the course of mere hours and days as the Flood of 2008 hit.

Today is a joyous occasion, so I don’t want to dwell on the negative. But though no one would have asked for many of those swift changes I mentioned, especially those due to natural disaster, positives do come out of recovery and renewal. Here on our campus, for example, we will have one of the most remarkable and groundbreaking arts campuses on a university campus anywhere. We will have that campus because of the resilience and vision of this incredible University community. And those are some of the characteristics that you will take with you once you leave Carver Hawkeye Arena today as a University of Iowa college graduate.

Much of what we do here at the UI is preserve and honor the greatness of the past. That is symbolized nowhere better than the beautiful and stately Old Capitol building that anchors our Pentacrest, and in many ways anchors our institution. Much of your education has been about learning the great ideas and works of human heritage, the timeless wisdom that has come down to us across centuries.

At the same time, your education has also prepared you well to be ready for those swift and often unexpected changes that are always part of life. A college student learns how to adapt to sudden change in the very nature of the collegiate experience. One day many of you were living at home with your parents, and then the next you were living on your own in a city far away. At the beginning of each and every semester, you adapted to new professors with different teaching styles, new course expectations, and new subject matter No sooner did you finish up studying ancient Greek philosophy one semester, and you were on to particle physics the next. Within those subjects, you have studied the great sweep of historical, scientific, and artistic change and have learned how humanity has revolutionized itself—from aristocracy to democracy, from romanticism to abstract expressionism, from feudalism to capitalism.

Although we teach and revere the past, as a research institution our stock-in-trade here at The University of Iowa is discovery and innovation. Our goal is to understand medicine and treat patients in ways never imagined before. Our goal is to provide society with its energy needs and build sustainable communities in ways scarcely understood not that long ago. Our goal is to express the human condition in art, music, dance, theater, and literature in forms that no one has ever seen or heard before.

You have been a crucial part of this process, and you have benefited from that ethic and spirit of working at the cutting edge.We have required you to think originally, to break new ground, and to express your individuality in your coursework, your internships, your undergraduate research, your senior projects, and much more.In short, we’ve nurtured your vision, helped you realize the individual and innovative contributions that you will make to our society in the future.So when swift and unexpected change comes to your personal world and to the world at large—as it most definitely will—you, as a University of Iowa graduate, will not only know how to adapt quickly, but you will be ready to lead society’s positive new developments that can grow out of change, no matter its origin or its nature.

In your studies, many of you probably heard of the idea of the “paradigm shift” made famous by physicist and philosopher Thomas Kuhn. In his groundbreaking The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, Kuhn said, “When paradigms change, the world itself changes with them.” Today, you are the paradigm shift. In fact, don’t even wait for the world to change around you. Make that change in the world now, today, as you walk across this stage and walk out the doors of Carver Hawkeye Arena as University of Iowa graduates.

Congratulations once again to you all—on your path hard-traveled, on your achievements well-earned, and on your future brightly lit. And thank you, as graduates of this magnificent institution, for being—once and always—the greatest of Iowa Hawkeyes!