Commencement, Summer 2010

Friday, July 30, 2010

I have the honor, on behalf of my faculty colleagues, to leave our graduates with a few parting words of advice before they venture forth with degrees in hand.

While I hope you encountered it at some point in your educational experience, in the event that you did not I would like to share with you the first paragraph of Franz Kafka’s famous novella Metamorphosis.

“When Gregor Samsa woke up one morning from unsettling dreams,” Kafka writes, “he found himself changed in his bed into a monstrous vermin.  He was lying on his back as hard as armor plate, and when he lifted his head a little, he saw his vaulted brown belly, sectioned by arch-shaped ribs, to whose dome the cover, about to slide off completely, could barely cling.  His many legs, pitifully thin compared with the size of the rest of him, were waving helplessly before his eyes.”

‘What’s happened to me?’ he thought.”

Had Gregor been a student at UNF rather than a traveling salesman in early 20th-century Prague, the answer to his question would have been obvious:  he was experiencing a “transformational learning opportunity,” or what in UNF vernacular we have come to refer to simply as TLOs.

Fortunately, I can tell by looking at you that no matter how grueling you found the experience to be, none of you was changed by your transformational learning opportunity into a monstrous vermin.  On the contrary, what your diplomas and your presence here today do attest to is that each of you has been transformed into a responsible individual who has embraced and lived up to the values of the university.  

I would like to remind you what these values are.  They include a commitment to the pursuit of truth and knowledge; a commitment to ethical conduct; a commitment to advancing the well-being of the communities of which you are members; a commitment to support diversity; a commitment to protecting the natural environment; and finally, a commitment to engage with others in a spirit of mutual respect and civility.

What is common to all of these values is that they each entail a commitment not of a moment but of a lifetime.  As a case in point I know it is obvious to all of you that the pursuit of knowledge is never-ending as each discovery not only clarifies but unsettles existing truth, and that in our complex and too often conflicted world there will never be an end to the need for mutual respect and civility. 

For this reason I would exhort you, as people who can now claim to have succeeded in availing yourselves of the transformational learning opportunity of a university education, to also embrace the folk wisdom that in our local vernacular UNF means “you never finish.”  Having been transformed yourselves you can now set about the critically urgent  business of transforming the world around you, recognizing that this effort will always be a work in progress, one which you will indeed never finish. 

So my parting advice can be distilled to this essence:  regularly repeat these two acronyms--TLO, UNF--and you will do yourselves and your Alma Mater proud.

Congratulations and good luck.