UMUC Europe Commencement 2012
Commencement Address, May 5, 2012
Philip D. Murphy
Thank you, Dr. Berg, (Vice President and Director, University of Maryland University College Europe)
Colonel DeCoster, (Colonel, MI Commanding,USAG Baden-Württemberg)
Faculty and friends of the University of Maryland University College Europe, families and parents of the Class of 2012, it is a pleasure to join with General Bolden to celebrate the achievements of the Class of 2012. With the honorary degree that you have bestowed upon me, I feel that I am part of this wonderful group of people. Thank you very much. It is indeed a great honor. But to all those who are graduating today, congratulations.
I am sure that many of those who like myself have the privilege of sharing this important occasion with you think back to their own Commencement Day ceremony – and all that goes with completing one stage of life and moving to the next. I myself remember very well the day I graduated from Harvard University decades ago.
Each university has its own special traditions and sense of history. At Harvard, there is an official Commencement ceremony; followed by a Class Day the day after. A keynote speaker is invited to both events. The cast of former speakers at both events has been impressive – sometimes surprising and also, from time to time, historic. In March 1968, for example, the Harvard College Class of 1968 invited the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. to speak at their Class Day. A few weeks after the invitation was extended, Reverend King was murdered. His widow Coretta Scott King delivered the speech in his stead. After her husband's assassination, she became a leader in her own right in the struggle for racial equality.
Perhaps the most famous Harvard commencement speech – and one that was of crucial importance for Germany and the rest of Europe – was delivered on June 5, 1947 by Secretary of State George C. Marshall. On that day, he announced a plan to provide economic assistance to the devastated nations of Europe in the wake of World War II. It took him all of 12 minutes to outline the plan. Much has been written about General Marshall – about his integrity and valor, his selflessness and loyalty, and his honesty both as a soldier and as a statesman. Today as you graduate from the University of Maryland University College Europe, I think it is also worth remembering General Marshall’s accomplishments as a student. The story goes that when he first arrived at his alma mater, Virginia Military Institute, no one expected he would achieve very much. He was shy. He was scared. He was awkward and a rather mediocre student. Many years later, General Marshall was asked what changed him. He said that he had overheard his older brother, also a VMI cadet, warning their mother that George was so weak and timid that he would “disgrace the family name.” George Marshall said, “I decided right then and there that I was going to wipe his eye.” Overhearing that conversation sparked what he later called an “urgency to succeed.” Now, I suspect we can all examine our lives and relate to that feeling Marshall was talking about – that urge to channel our doubts and uncertainty into a call to be better and stronger. Marshall’s contributions later in his career both in the military and as Secretary of State did not come, however, just from that urgency to succeed or from his courage and integrity. They also came from his vision of strength and leadership in a world of unforeseen challenges.
The year that I graduated from Harvard, Chancellor Helmut Schmidt was the keynote speaker on Commencement Day. On June 7, 1979, Harvard granted 4,391 degrees; yours truly was one of those thousands. Up until that point, my exposure to Germany had been fairly limited but I remember being tremendously impressed by Chancellor Schmidt’s presence and his charisma. He spoke at some length that day about Ostpolitik and about Germany’s relations with the Soviet Union – and about the Cold War challenges of those times. He said that, “that the division of Germany has now become an element of the balance in Europe.” An important element of that balance was without a doubt also the role that the American military played in maintaining stability in Europe. Chancellor Schmidt also said that German reunification must remain a goal for future generations. Well, the future came faster than anybody could have foreseen.
Today in our globalized world, what visionary dreams and ideas will define the political, economic and social parameters of your lives – you, the class of 2012? Your horizons will be broader. In terms of borders, the political boundaries of the G20 will be part of the vision that you take for granted. Technology has made the world smaller, more open, and more visible. The powerful networks that your generation has grown up with have collapsed concepts of distance. We are all neighbors. Opportunities for learning and communicating have been magically transformed. The number of brilliant minds that can be working together on the same problem is staggering; and so too, is the potential for innovation.
What will all these staggering changes mean to you? I think that you can expect, indeed demand, the same kinds of opportunities that your parents and your grandparents probably dreamed of – a rewarding job, good health, a family. I am sure they will have told you that the opportunities that were open to them were fraught with challenges and that nothing came easy. You too should expect that you will encounter both tough but also very good times.
I am not going to engage you this morning in a detailed discussion of the foreign and financial policy issues of our times. I would like to take a more personal approach to the world that you, the graduating class of 2012, are faring out into and the world that you will build. In that spirit, here are my Commencement Top Ten pieces of free advice.
- What will you do when the lights are out and nobody is looking?
- Don’t travel in packs.
- Understand dimensions and tensions in leadership style – eg. charisma vs. technical skills as a
leader or caring vs. tough love.
- Balance finding the right mentors without being seen to be “kissing up.”
- Mix in your ‘day job’ with your passions/avocations – each will benefit.
- Live diversity. The world is diverse. Your organization must reflect that diversity and treat it
as a core strength.
- Work abroad for a meaningful assignment and foster a second, better, third fluent language.
- Always ask yourself, “Am I making rain or standing in it?”
- Likes vs. dislikes. What you’re good at.
- Your parents, family and friends are not vacation homes that will be there when you’re
ready. Resist the temptation to “go all in” at the expense of life and health.
At the beginning of my remarks, I mentioned a number of well-known commencement speeches. I would like to close with a final comment about one last commencement speech. It was delivered on June 12, 2005 –not at Harvard, but at Stanford University in California. On that day, Steve Jobs, who spoke in public more frequently about technology and the future than himself and his past, told three very candid and personal stories about his life. The first was about his biological mother who decided to put him up for adoption because she did not think that she would be able to offer him advantages like a university education, something that she thought was essential. Like Bill Gates, Steve Jobs ended up dropping out of college. Very soon, with your diplomas in hand, you will have that advantage over both Gates and Jobs.
The second story Steve Jobs told that day at Stanford was about how he was actually fired from the company that he had himself created. The happy ending to that story was that he came back to Apple and saved it. The third story was about his battle with cancer, a battle he thought that he had won. That story did not have a happy ending. Steve Jobs passed away last October. He told those stories, however, on that Commencement Day to Stanford’s Class of 2005 because, as he said, the dots you encounter in life will eventually connect – if you follow your heart even when it takes you off the well beaten path.
One of the things people will remember Steve Jobs for is his focus. When he returned to Apple, he turned the company around and saved it by focusing on a short list of great products. Deciding what not to do, he thought, was as important as deciding what to do. He was a ‘tough love’ leader. Once a year, he would invite not the “top ten” but the top 100 people at Apple to a brainstorming retreat session. At the end, he often asked for suggestions for a ‘top ten’ list of the things the company should do next. People vied to get their suggestions up on the board and when finally there was agreement on the top ten, Jobs would slash the bottom seven and announce, “we can only do three!” It was in that spirit that I offer you my Commencement Top Ten and my best wishes for your future. I hope that some of the issues we have discussed this morning will fit on your short list to a wonderful world ahead, a world full of hope and opportunity that I know you will build. All the very, very best. Again, my congratulations to you all.