Saturday, May 16, 2009

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!

Although today is a day of great celebration, we also remember that the past year has been difficult for our campus and for our country. Last summer, we experienced unprecedented flooding on our campus and in communities throughout Iowa. Today, we still are recovering. And in the past year, our entire country—indeed, the world—has grappled with the biggest economic downturn since the Great Depression. But as we look inside ourselves, as we look to each other in our communities, and as we look to our leaders for guidance on how to meet these historic challenges, our best lights keep saying one thing: “This can be a time of renewal, not recovery. We need to reinvent ourselves.”

Today, that’s exactly what’s happening on our campus. As we renew and rebuild our flood-affected buildings, and as we re-envision our strategic priorities in the face of budget challenges, we are reinventing what it means to be The University of Iowa. Likewise, throughout the nation and across the globe, businesses, governments, schools, nonprofit organizations, and even whole societies are looking to reinvent themselves to meet the challenges and opportunities of the 21st century.

But you know what? You, our wonderful students at The University of Iowa, have been doing exactly that for the past four, five, six—or more?—years, right here. Personal reinvention has been your mission as a student, and it will be your continuing mission into the future.

The blockbuster movie in theaters right now is the “reimagined”—one might say “reinvented” —Star Trek. The Starship Enterprise’s mission has always been “to boldly go where no one has gone before”—and that has been your mission as UI students as well. But to go so boldly to new horizons, you have to do something from another science fiction blockbuster, also coming to a theater near you this summer—you have to do what we’ll see in the new Transformers movie.


OK, I’m not saying you need to be a giant robot that morphs into a rocket-powered semi-truck or a mechanical giant cheetah or anything like that. But you do have to be highly adaptable in today’s world of swiftly changing technology, information, innovation, and globalization. You have to be nimble and able to transform your talents—and sometimes even your whole conception of professional self—into meeting the requirements of constant change.

I’m sure many of you graduates here in this audience remember playing with your toy Optimus Primes and watching the Transformers cartoons as kids. This summer, you may continue your love for that childhood activity in a different way by seeing the new movie. Transformers may have been part of your life for a long time and maybe will continue to be. Likewise, transformation of self has been part of your life for a long time and will continue to be. In fact, that is what your University of Iowa education has been all about—transformation.

Think back to that first day of your freshman year. Are you the same person today? Do you know the same things? Certainly not—you know a lot, lot more. Do you have the same skills? Certainly not—your skills are much more highly developed, and you have many new ones. Do you have the same perspectives on knowledge—and life itself? If your liberal arts education has done its job well, the answer should be “certainly not.” Your mind has been transformed—not by simply replacing previous opinions with different ones, but by understanding new and multiple perspectives. Your mind has been “liberated,” in the classical sense, to be able to think freely, critically, and creatively. Through a liberal arts education and the earning of a bachelor’s degree, you have been transformed into one of our nation’s top 25% most educated people.

As you go out into the world, you will meet head-on the difficult challenges our world faces that I mentioned before, and many more. To do so effectively, you will need to be adaptable to changing conditions and expectations. As that great civil rights leader, scholar, and writer W. E. B. DuBois said, “The most important thing to remember is this: to be ready at any moment to give up what you are for what you might become.”

But many of you—and I hope all of you—will also want—not just need—to create transformations in your communities, your companies, your hospitals and clinics, your writers’ and artists’ studios, your classrooms and schools, your nonprofit organizations—wherever you end up living and working. Sure, transformation often comes about through frightening circumstances, like floods and major recessions. The University of Iowa itself is now in the process of seizing these opportunities for renewal rather than wallowing in grief over problems. We do so because we are the intellectual and social leaders of the new world before us. And you will do so because you now are one of those leaders, too—a graduate of The University of Iowa.

I don’t think I’ll be seeing you pilot an interstellar starship or morphing into a nuclear-powered fighter jet anytime soon. But I know I’ll be seeing you continue your remarkable transformation into the innovators of our tomorrows. I know I’ll be seeing you adapting and reinventing not only yourself, but also transforming our world into something new and brilliant, through your skills and knowledge. And that’sa world that I find even more exciting than Captain Kirk’s or Optimus Prime’s.

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!