Saturday, May 15, 2010

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 remarkable and 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!

Today is a very special day for all of you because of its seminal importance in your lives. You are on the cusp of new beginnings, and it is so wonderful that you can share it with those who are important to you.

I hope you will also remember this special day because you shared it with three accomplished, well-known people as well as your loved ones. This morning, we are full of pride as we present honorary degrees to three people who have reached the top of their fields: journalist and broadcaster Tom Brokaw, basketball coach C. Vivian Stringer, and poet—and former Poet Laureate of the United States—Robert Hass. Much of your college education remained focused on those fundamental “three r’s” – readin’, writin’, and ‘rithmetic. But today we’re also celebrating a unique combination of the “three b’s”: broadcasting, basketball, and books.

Our special honorees today come from diverse fields. But as people who value education and who achieved greatness, they have much to teach each and every one of us. Their experience and wisdom can offer to you important insights that will help lead you on your own paths to success. So this morning I thought I would share a few messages with you drawn from thoughts that our honored guests have shared with the world.

Let’s start with Tom Brokaw, the highly lauded former anchor and manager of the NBC Nightly News. In his characteristic straightforward style, Mr. Brokaw once said, “It’s easy to make a buck. It’s a lot tougher to make a difference.”

We all know that you have pursued a college degree to improve your own life and that of those near and dear to you. But I know that you are publicly spirited and caring members of society, too. I think you all want to make a difference. You’ve experienced many challenges as a University of Iowa student, but your presence here today shows us you can rise to the occasion. As Tom Brokaw says, it can be tough to make a difference. I know you want to do it, and I know, as Iowa graduates, you can do it, even when it gets tough.

But how do we rise to those challenges? Rutgers—and former Iowa—women’s basketball coach C. Vivian Stringer knows a thing or two about achievement in the face of adversity. Coach Stringer has led many of her teams on the road to national championship games. In doing so, she has said, “I think it all comes down to fundamentals. . . . It will be a matter of inches and seconds that will win the championship.”

You will succeed—and make a difference in the world—not entirely, and probably not mainly, by grand gestures and dramatic efforts. You will not make your mark on society through elaborate schemes and flashy moves. Your success in college has come about because you went to class every day, did your reading chapter by chapter, took those exams and quizzes, wrote those papers, completed those lab assignments. In other words, you stuck to the fundamentals, and day by day, bit by bit, you reached your personal championship—commencement day at Carver Hawkeye Arena. Keep that lesson in mind as you go out into the world. The fundamentals will get you where you want to go, and those inches and seconds will eventually lead you to make the difference you want to make.

At the same time, your college years have sparked your intellect and your imagination. I don’t at all mean to negate the power of creativity in what I said earlier. That is just as important as the fundamentals. Your mark on the real world must come from a marriage of authentic experience and sparkling originality. As one of our greatest living poets, a U.S. Poet Laureate, and a National Book Award and Pulitzer Prize winner, Robert Hass has known this for a long time. As a terrific example, in speaking of our obligations to the natural world, Mr. Hass has said, “Imagination runs through the places where we live like water. We need both things—a living knowledge of the land and a live imagination of it and our place in it—if we are going to preserve it.” No matter what your passion is in this life, no matter what difference you want to make, a vibrant imagination must run through you as you live the knowledge and experience you bring to the world.

Broadcasting, basketball, and books—kind of an interesting and unexpected alliance of professional worlds. But on this special day, I hope you see the complementary lessons that these great people can help you carry forward into your new life.

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!