Greetings, 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.
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. We thank you, too—everyone here who has made this day possible!
As you all know, the world is still in mourning over the loss of one of the great figures of the last century, former president of South Africa and Nobel Prize winner Nelson Mandela. As we remember this remarkable life that has now ended, we also celebrate your new future starting today at commencement. The legacy of Nelson Mandela will live on far into the future, and as you stand on the cusp of new beginnings, you can carry his inspiration and his spirit forward into a brighter tomorrow for yourselves and others. So let me share with you just a few of the important words of wisdom that Nelson Mandela shared with us over the years.
In college, we teach that the core of critical thinking is understanding the world from multiple perspectives. Even as Mandela sat in prison for many years, he knew the importance of being open to new ideas and possibilities. In his unpublished autobiography that he wrote in prison, he said, “I like friends who have independent minds because they tend to make you see problems from all angles.” So make sure you continue surrounding yourself with people who will challenge your assumptions and show you new perspectives.
Speaking of others, remember that our life’s work should focus not only on our own success, but even more importantly on making life better for others. Despite his many personal challenges, Nelson Mandela said in a speech in 2008, “A fundamental concern for others in our individual and community lives would go a long way in making the world the better place we so passionately dreamt of.”
And we must always hold onto those passionate dreams. In a 2009 letter, Mandela wrote, “Everyone can rise above their circumstances and achieve success if they are dedicated to and passionate about what they do.” Given his own difficult life circumstances and the decades of apartheid that millions suffered in his country, Mandela’s passionate dedication to his cause should inspire us all.
Nelson Mandela was a firm believer in the power of education. In a 2003 speech, he said, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” We certainly want to send you out today to change the world with the education you have achieved. But sometimes the most profound advice can also be the simplest. In his 1995 autobiography Long Walk to Freedom, Mandela reminds us that “a good head and a good heart are always a formidable combination.” You leave the University of Iowa smarter and more skilled—you leave us with a good head. But also remember to always be a good person as well, to have that good heart that Mandela tells us is so essential to helping the world.
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—proud to be an Iowa Hawkeye!