Commencement, Fall 2011

Friday, December 9, 2011


I want to begin by commending every one of our graduates for choosing a career path different from the bold but risky path chosen by Steve Jobs.  As I am sure you are all aware, the recently deceased Mr. Jobs dropped out before the end of his first semester at Reed College, audited a course in calligraphy, and went on to establish the Apple computer company and become one of the wealthiest people in the world.  If that was the route you had hoped to take to such success, I am sorry to say that, as a result of obtaining a UNF degree, you are going to have to get there through more conventional means. 


But as the attainment of your degrees confirms, you do indeed possess the means to achieve success, and if you go about it the right way then it is my fervent conviction that the value of your success could be comparable to or even exceed the achievement of Mr. Jobs.  There’s only one catch, which is that—unless you are blessed with a Midas touch—you simply need to be prepared to use a metric other than wealth by which to measure that success.   


While I do not mean to slight his charitable largesse, the measure on which I believe you could go toe to toe with Steve Jobs is on the basis of your contributions to humanity.  Here’s why.  I am certain that throughout your experience as students at UNF you were challenged to be creative.  Regardless of the field in which you are about to obtain your degrees, you most assuredly were asked to engage in thought experiments about how to do or interpret something differently from and perhaps better than the way it is done or interpreted currently, whether that be understanding how to get goods more expeditiously from one place to another, or how to provide more effective care to patients, or how to better understand a complex work of literature, and so on.   


If you could imagine those possibilities—and you would not be obtaining degrees if you could not—then I would like to suggest that you also can, and indeed now must, contemplate how relations among human beings, especially human beings who hold different world-views and values, can co-exist more peacefully and tolerantly than they do currently.  You can, and indeed now must, imagine how health and nourishment and freedom from suffering and exclusion and oppression can be more equitably experienced across the globe.  You must attempt to address these needs because as graduates of UNF you have now identified yourselves as people capable of imagining a better world, and as newly and fully responsible citizens of that world you have a powerful obligation to help bring about that betterment. 


Much as I admire Steve Jobs—who I have been told I resemble, by the way—one of my personal beacons of light is Ludwig von Beethoven.  Even after he was socially isolated as a result of his total deafness and could no longer hear what he was composing, by imagining combinations of notes that had never been combined together previously Beethoven created art of transcendent and enduring beauty, especially in his late sonatas and quartets, and thus redefined the boundaries of what was humanly possible not only in music but in human life generally.  As people not apart from but very much a part of the world around you, I would like to suggest that you, too, now have an ethical obligation to help create and implement the best that you can imagine.   


On behalf of my faculty colleagues I want to offer you my congratulations on this happy occasion and wish you good luck in generating the kinds of fortunes that, as long as you employ the correct metric, I know you are capable of amassing.  If I make this claim with such unqualified confidence it is because you will soon possess what Steve Jobs and Ludwig von Beethoven did not:  a UNF degree.