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Commencement Addresses

Leaving Your Mark

  • Date: 08/16/2008
  • Author: Luis M. Proenza (President, The University of Akron)
  • Location: Commencement (a.m.)
  • Today, you leave The University of Akron armed with knowledge about how the world should work.  And, I hope you are asking yourself how you will leave your mark on the future...how you can contribute to making the world a better place.

    For as long as we've called ourselves a country, we Americans have distinguished ourselves by following our unique sense of adventure and discovery.  

    From our perspective, the skies have always been a little bluer - the horizons a little wider - the possibilities a little grander in America.

    That curious, innovative, entrepreneurial spirit has made an emphatic mark on the world.

    Americans invented bar codes, credit cards, and corrugated cardboard...the airplane, the airbag and aspartame...Kevlar, Morse code, and the light bulb.

    We landed on the moon.  We ventured to Mars.

    Ice hockey may have been invented across the Atlantic and modernized in Canada, but the key to its modern success, the Zamboni, is a triumph of the American spirit, as is modern-day agriculture.  Farm science and practical innovations improved animal health, boosted crop yields, improved nutrition, and virtually eliminated dietary disease in the western world.

    Scientific discovery and technological advancements have pulled the United States up the economic ladder and improved the quality of life for millions around the world.

    But what now?

    If trends continue, China's economy will rival ours by 2020.  India's will catch up in the 2040s.  And those two countries, with large populations and English-speaking educated workforces, are only two players on a global stage.

    The massive international competition for technological and economic leadership is well under way. America still remains the "heavyweight champion" of the world, but a new generation of contenders has emerged.

    The big question isn't where we are right now, but where we will be in 20 or 30 years as this global economy unfolds.  

    The bigger question is: Are you up to the challenge?

    Are you up to the challenge in solving widespread environmental problems that threaten human health?

    Are you up to the challenge in ensuring adequate food and clean water for an exploding global population?

    Are you up to the challenge in developing clean, inexpensive, sustainable sources of energy?

    Think what your generation can do to stop the spread of disease around the world...to care for aging populations and manage other demographic challenges...to find ways of settling regional and global conflicts without war.

    Think about what it will take, and ask yourself if we can afford to rely only on past accomplishments - or if, instead, do we continually need to find new ways of thinking about the world around us...creative and innovative approaches we do not now possess.

    Without doubt, solutions to the world's most difficult challenges will come from people with both intellectual skills and boundless imagination - people capable and willing to instill in the next generation of inventors, teachers, leaders and entrepreneurs the ethical, cultural and historical contexts needed for responsible decision-making.

    People like you.  As graduates of The University of Akron, this is your legacy.

    Along the way, you'll be asked, in turn, to teach and guide the next generation of inventors, teachers, leaders and entrepreneurs.  And they, in turn, will pass the same along to the next generation, and they to the next in a perpetual cycle that will have enormous implications for our country and for our world.

    Granted, we will not all discover a cure for cancer . . . or help engineer a renewable and affordable energy source . . . or find a way to feed the world or achieve peace in our time - but you might be the one who does. 

    And, all of us can be a part of the solution by building an environment that allows and encourages people to come together and tackle those challenges and to solve some of them in our lifetime.

    When it comes right down to it, this may be your most important task - helping to nurture and sustain a world in which personal discovery and innovation can flourish.

    One such person, who has been a shining example of living this way, is Dr. William F. Demas whom we will honor in a few minutes.  You will be hearing more about his accomplishments then, but at this time, I simply would like to extend my personal gratitude to him for his service to this university.

    Graduates, thanks in part to the leadership of Dr. Demas and other Board members, your education at The University of Akron has given you the tools and the skills to start building your future...creating your future...inventing your future.

    And I am confident it will be a bright future. And in that spirit, let me leave you with these words from the great German poet Goethe:

    "Whatever you do, or dream you can, begin it." 

    "Boldness has genius, power and magic to it." 

    "Begin it now!"

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