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Thursday, September 3, 2015

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To the graduates

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Bob Hope once said to a graduating class, “To you who are about to enter the real world, my advice is don’t go.” What follows are a few tough questions for graduates.

Are you afraid of failure? Be assured that if you don’t succeed at first, you are running about average. What to learn about success and failure is that the first isn’t final and the second isn’t fatal.

To the question, “How did you achieve success?, George Bernard Shaw responded, “I dread success. To have succeeded, to have finished one’s business on Earth, like the male spider, who is killed by the female the moment, he has succeeded in his courtship. I like a state of continual becoming, with a goal in front and not behind”.

When I graduated from high school, a wise teacher offered me this advice, “Don’t ever forget, aim for the stars. That way you might land on the roof. But if you only aim for the roof you’ll never get off the ground.” For a callow youth of 17, this was a challenging message. I was impressed, but never really knew which stars to aim for – there were so many.

How much better it is to fail at some elusive dream or creative enterprise than to succumb to a meagre and limited vision.

Will you retain your intellectual curiosity?

Truth often disturbs what makes us most comfortable. The tracking down of ideas involves greater risk than pouring facts into a receptacle called the brain.

Our age demands open-mindedness, unrelenting doubt, ceaseless probing of life’s problems at every stage, with enough independence and flexibility to confront unprecedented dilemmas.

Do the social ills of society trouble you? Problems that confront us are explosive, increasingly numerous and perilously urgent. Some examples? Worldwide racial, ethnic and religious prejudice that sabotage the struggle for peace and undermines the security and moral health of the world.

Then there is political chauvinism that in one country or another foments unrest and disunity and that spurns mature compromise. Often hatred for an “enemy” nation is so virulent that some are more eager to see that enemy expunged than to keep their children alive.

There is the proliferation of atomic weapons, the despoliation of the environment, widespread poverty and the growing disparity in earning power between the wealthy and downtrodden. For the educated person, there should be nothing harder than the softness of indifference.

Do you maintain an appreciation for moral and spiritual values? How do we overcome setbacks and disappointments? Whence comes the impulse to aid our fellows instead of striding over them in the struggle for personal success? Where is the wellspring for the voluntary offering of service to the community, to our neighbour.

The answer lies in non-material values that must be acquired along with basic knowledge. Education’s dual objectives must remain clear: education for living as well as education for making a living.

For the graduates this prayer: may you learn to prize integrity above luxury, principle above expediency and value above valuables. May you remember that service is the tuition that you pay for the seat you will occupy in life’s classroom. And may you become all that you’re capable of becoming.


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