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Education and the Common Good

  • Date: 05/13/2000
  • Author: Dr. Luis M. Proenza (President, The University of Akron)
  • Location: UA Commencement (p.m.), E. J. Thomas Performing Arts Hall
  • Ladies and gentlemen, members of the class of 2000, we continue today an ancient tradition of assembling in formal convocation to recognize those who have reached significant milestones on the road to knowledge and accomplishment.

    And so we are gathered for this commencement together with graduates in the arenas of education, nursing, and community service and technology.

    With no small measure of effort and self-discipline, each of you has learned to apply critical thinking and to use new information and technologies.

    Along the way, you also have discovered that learning is a continuous and exciting process.

    And little did you know that you were going to get yet one additional University of Akron lesson - this time from your president.

    The truth is that you have just begun to learn, and what I want you to understand is that your education and your continued learning is what allows all of us to work together toward building a better society.

    Continuous learning -- the creation of new knowledge -- is what allows us to build a better future with a common vision for the common good.

    History has taught us that to improve our lot as a society, we must make use of our collective wisdom, and that we must make use of our accumulated and emerging knowledge - rather than to rely on mere opinions or on the pretense of authority.

    And throughout the world, wherever democratic ideals are practiced and where free markets operate, the process by which we apply that collective wisdom is one of empowerment.

    Indeed, the very essence of participatory democracies - or, indeed, of any organizational or corporate effort -- relies on our ability to use the combined knowledge of our citizens.

    It is a process that I have called shared leadership, and I want to tell you that this is increasingly the process that fuels the creative progress of our society.

    I suggest to you that, as a society, there is one indisputable lesson we must remember:

    And that is, that in creating a government, we make a covenant with ourselves, wherein we promise to create a better future for ourselves and for our children by investing in those things that advance the common good.

    In short, government is an exercise in shared leadership.

    Over time, we have come to agree as a society that those things that add value for the common good are three in number, namely investments in education, research, and infrastructure.

    ***

    Here at The University of Akron, we are putting Shared Leadership into practice, and I want to tell you about it.

    Shared leadership is:

    • A process that derives its strength from a community working together toward a common vision, not from vested authority;
    • A process that learns from mistakes and welcomes change as the challenge of opportunity; where communication is not from the top, but throughout an organization;
    • And is disciplined by ambitious goals and aspirations;

    Shared leadership is:

    • A process that is inclusive of all, because information is shared, and each person comes to know how their individual actions contribute to the pattern that is collaboratively woven, like a tapestry;
    • A process that values diversity, because two heads are better than one, and because complex organizations require multiple sources of expertise and creativity.

    Shared leadership is:

    • A process wherein there is no limit to what one can accomplish, because there is no need to take personal credit;
    • And a process wherein values are integral to the vision and where commitment is eagerly advocated because shared dreams challenge and inspire.

    ***

    That is shared leadership, and next, I want to tell you about the value of this process in the larger context of society.

    Because in today's knowledge-based economy, higher education is the infrastructure that allows us to build a better future.

    Higher education is that internal system that, like the tiny pieces of a fine watch, is the basis for what makes our society tick.

    Higher education gives individuals the basis for generating the ideas and technologies that enable both personal and economic progress.

    Higher education creates knowledgeable individuals who can apply their analytical and problem-solving skills to shape our industries and our society.

    ***

    Not so long ago, it was acceptable to suggest that our sons and daughters would not need a college education.

    After all, factory jobs were plentiful, and the company that employed you could well be the one that allowed your children and grandchildren to earn their living.

    But no more! Looking back, the whole idea not only seems old-fashioned, it is patently naive.

    Today, jobs are evolving ever faster and the job that you have today may not exist tomorrow.

    Traditional jobs and industries are being drawn competitively to emerging economies, and the most successful countries are those with an educated workforce - and often times their levels of educational achievement surpass those right here in America.

    So what does shared leadership have to do with jobs?

    Here at home, if we are not learning and adapting, if we are not creating an increasingly educated workforce, then we are simply falling behind.

    The lesson that we must actively remember is this: It is our collective responsibility, through shared leadership, to advance the common good, by enhancing our knowledge and our learning as a total society.

    Your educational experience at The University of Akron is part of that collective investment in shared leadership.

    As you now open doors of opportunity and create your own experiences, you become part of that progressive and collective advancement of our great country.

    Treasure it, nurture it, and continue to learn.

    Our collective future depends on it!

    On behalf of the Trustees, the faculty, the staff and administration, your fellow students, and The University of Akron family everywhere - I salute you, the Spring 2000 graduates, together with your family and friends who have helped make your success possible.

    Congratulations!

     

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