Saturday, May 14, 2011

I am delighted and honored to join you today. You, our graduate students, have been central to the excellence of this University and to creating the cutting edge of discovery that marks our distinction. I offer my heartiest congratulations to all of you at this very special moment in your lives.

I also want to greet and offer thanks to my colleagues gathered here this afternoon—our graduates’ teachers and mentors, and all the staff members who have made our students’ journey to this day possible.

And finally, I want to extend a special greeting, and thanks, to all the family and friends who are with us today, and to those who could not be here but have been an important part of your graduate school journey. I know you could not have pursued your dreams without the support, encouragement, and sacrifices of your loved ones. They are, equally, part of today’s new beginnings, and we all are grateful to them.

A little over a decade ago, the Kellogg Commission on the Future of State and Land-Grant Universities issued a report called Renewing the Covenant: Learning, Discovery, and Engagement in a New Age and Different World. As you can see in that title, the Commission proposed a reformulation of the way we think about a university’s three-part mission, from teaching-research-and-service to learning-discovery-and-engagement. Since that report, the new formulation has captured the imagination of a lot of people in higher education. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with the idea of teaching, research, and service. But it’s always healthy to think about our goals from new perspectives.

The idea of “discovery” is certainly an idea that I believe carries exciting new possibilities. We see that on our medical campus with the construction of our new Pappajohn Biomedical Discovery Building. The idea of biomedical discovery looks at medical research in new ways, encompassing greater collaboration, exploring high-risk and high-yield questions, and making the bench-to-bedside nature of research even quicker and more effective than ever before. Biomedical discovery means breaking new scientific ground by pushing and crossing traditional disciplinary boundaries.

While “research” will always be an honored term and concept in the academic world, it really refers to only part of our intellectual process. Research means to seek, and we all know what we do is about more than just the looking. So much more happens as we seek knowledge—innovation, invention, new understandings, and new applications.

Great scholars, scientists, and artists have known this throughout the ages. The great French writer Marcel Proust once said, “The voyage of discovery is not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.” And as the great German Dada and surrealist artist Max Ernst said, “Painting is not for me either decorative amusement, or the plastic invention of felt reality; it must be every time: invention, discovery, revelation.”

No matter what you do next in your life and career, your graduate college experience has prepared you to be not only competent in a specific profession, but also to be a discoverer, whether you will be pursuing further research in some way or another or not. My charge to you today as new graduate degree holders from The University of Iowa is never to lose that sense of discovery that has informed all of your work here with us these past years. As you work in schools, businesses, libraries, studios, governmental or nonprofit organizations, laboratories—wherever your journey now takes you—remember that your job is to discover, to have new eyes that lead to invention and revelation.

So before we let you go onto your new life adventure, let me share with you just a few more pieces of advice on your mission of discovery from the wisdom of the ages.

First, the old image of the solitary scholar or inventor is long obsolete. We know that discovery happens through partnership and collaboration. Even the ancient Greeks knew this. In The Iliad, Homer has Diomedesproclaim, “By mutual confidence and mutual aid, great deeds are done, and great discoveries made.” So continue seeking out good mentors, team members, and colleagues. Together, you will discover.

We all know it, we all say it, but it’s hard to accept: to be discoverers, we need to make mistakes. As the great Irish novelist James Joyce said, “Mistakes are the portals of discovery.” Our goal in graduate school has not been to train you to make mistakes. But we have prepared you to be ready for and to take advantage of them. As Hungarian physiologist and discoverer of vitamin C. Albert Szent-Gyorgyi said, “A discovery is said to be an accident meeting a prepared mind.” So be prepared for those serendipitous accidents. As biochemist and science fiction writer Isaac Asimov said, “The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds the most discoveries, is not ‘Eureka!’ (I found it!) but, ‘Hmmm…that's funny.’”

Finally, we know that we can’t just wait around to let accidents happen. We do need to push our seeking, our thinking, our sight to new places and new horizons. One final quotation, this from French writer André Gide: We “cannot discover new oceans unless [we have] the courage to lose sight of the shore.”

As successful graduate college graduates, your talents and your commitments are special, and your obligations to use them wisely are strong. You will be bringing the most advanced University of Iowa education out into the world, and you are now our greater society’s intellectual frontier. You are the ones to carry us all into a future of new discovery, to bring us to new oceans. As Gide said, to do so, you need to lose sight of the shore.

But we don’t want you ever to lose sight of your anchor here in The University of Iowa. I hope that your adventure of discovery with us has been inspiring, that we have fueled your passion and sparked your imagination, and that you are prepared for a life of professional excellence and generous service to society.

Once again, I offer my congratulations to you all—on your path hard-traveled, on your achievements well-earned, and on your future brightly lit. I can’t wait to see the wondrous world you will discover for us.