Address to the Graduates: 2018 Fall Commencement12/18/2018
University of Akron Commencement Ceremonies
Interim President John C. Green’s Address to Graduates
December 15, 2018
E.J. Thomas Performing Arts Hall
Mrs. Demas and fellow trustees, distinguished colleagues, family and friends and guests, and most importantly the Class of 2018.
Congratulations to you all!
Thank you for the opportunity to share just a few thoughts with you today—about transformation.
The word comes from Greek, and if we take it apart and put it back together, it means a thorough shaping—and often re-shaping—of people, places, and things.
I came across an interesting quote on transformation: “The universe is transformation: life is opinion.” [i] Let me repeat that. “The universe is transformation: life is opinion.”
This quote is from the philosopher Marcus Aurelius. [ii] He had a day job as Roman Emperor for about 20 years about 2,000 years ago.
The quote is valuable for us today because it counterpoises the “universe” with “life,” and “transformation” with “opinion.” Of course, life is part of the universe, and transformation is in part a matter of opinion. Let’s briefly explore this puzzle.
Aurelius is highlighting a critical distinction between the flux of our being and how we think about that flux. Or as a less famous philosopher, my Grammy Green, used to say: “What are you going to do about what is already being done?” Grammy Green had her own way of dealing with puzzles.
As educated people, you have learned a good bit about the universe. But just as importantly, you have learned a good bit about opinions as well. And if the Emperor Aurelius and Grammy Green are right, your knowledge and opinions will be thoroughly re-shaped for as long as you are alive.
These insights are relevant to you in at least three ways.
First, you are well equipped to deal with the universal transformation, in big and small ways.
Some transformations are unexpected and thus seem larger than life. But many of the most important transformations seem to be part of life because they are generally anticipated.
In either case, you have the ability to respond to a thorough re-shaping. You have learned how, and when, and from where to obtain information, how to discern its relevance and validity, how to utilize information to form valid opinions, and then act upon those opinions.
Remember, the universe is transformation, but life is not just about surviving change but thriving in change; not just enduring change but prevailing in change, not just adjusting well but understanding more fully.
Second, you are empowered to influence the universal transformation in big and small ways.
Some changes are vast and long-remembered, and others no less valuable, are modest and become part of the collective experience. In either case, you have the ability to make a difference. You have learned how to discipline your thinking with valid opinions. This type of critical thinking produces better decisions. Better decisions produce better results. Better results produce better lives. Remember, the universe is transformation, BUT life is about pushing and pulling it in the right direction.
Finally, one of the most profound universal transformations has already begun—your personal transformation. In a few minutes we will acknowledge this thorough re-shaping when you stand and are asked to move your tassels from the right to the left side of your mortar board. This moment always sends chills up my spine.
Let’s each of us take a brief movement to think: how have I changed in my time at The University of Akron?
Surely some of you identified a dramatic moment, a breakthrough, a flash of insight that thoroughly re-shaped your opinion. Others may recognize a slow and steady—and often winding—path to your current opinion. Some of the most important things you learned here did not come from books, or labs or lectures, but from the people you encountered.
You discovered that you brought preconceptions with you that others did not share. You encountered new cultures, new customs, and new ideas. You were exposed to opinions that clashed with what you experienced at home. You were challenged – not to blindly throw out existing ideas and adopt new ones – but to consider both; to weigh each; and come to your own conclusions for yourself.
Remember, the universe is transformation, and you have chosen to participate in it fully. Life is about how we respond and what we do, but ultimately it is about who we are.
And you are now graduates, new members of the timeless fellowship of the human spirit.
Godspeed, Class of 2018.