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Commencement Addresses

Following Your Dream

  • Date: 12/13/2008
  • Author: Dr. Luis M. Proenza (President, The University of Akron)
  • Location: Commencement (A.M.)
  • Many of you have heard me say that The University of Akron is a place where you can dream and dare and do the things that it takes to change the world.

    And I say that, because that is what the magic of education is all about...that is the magic of what a university is all about.  It gives you the tools that make opportunities real possibilities. 

    And today you are poised to leave this University to follow your dream; a dream with its own magic; with its own challenges.

    Each of us has a dream, and whatever your calling might be, your dream is as special as it is powerful. 

    Only you can know what will have that special calling, but I can tell you that all of us are drawn, as if by magic, to some unique place - to some unique adventures - to some unique pursuits.

    Not long ago, at one of the graduations, I spoke about Reinhold Messner, who became the most successful mountain climber of the 20th century, and to date the only person ever to scale Mt. Everest alone and without Oxygen.  For him, scaling great heights was his dream.1

    From time to time, I find other similar stories.  And so today, I want to tell you about another highly successful dreamer Gilbert Kaplan, who had the courage and the drive to chase his passion in a field in which he had little training or experience. 

    Allow me to tell you his story by quoting directly from a recent article in The Economist entitled "Desperately Seeking Mahler."

    I quote:  

    "One April Saturday in 1965, an economist at the American Stock Exchange was taken by a friend to an orchestral rehearsal at Carnegie Hall.  He watched impassively as Leopold Stokowski, the aged Hollywood maestro who conducted 'Fantasia', stop-started Gustav Mahler's Symphony No.2 in C minor all afternoon.  The economist thought little of it until later that night, when, sleeplessly, he tossed and turned, haunted by the music he had heard.  Next morning he bought a ticket and at the concert "(he) found (himself) sobbing, absolutely hysterical."2

    "The young man was about to launch a publishing business and, with it, to define an occupation.  With $100,000 borrowed from Gerald Bronfman, a whisky magnate, and $50,000 from banks, friends and his own savings, Gilbert Kaplan, (then) 24 years old, founded Institutional Investor, a monthly magazine that brought together bankers, analysts and money managers.  It quickly became an essential means of communication for financiers, attracting 150,000 subscribers in 140 countries.  Before the 1960s were over Mr. Kaplan was a millionaire and on first-name terms with finance ministers and international bankers."3

    "But Mahler's symphony would not let him rest.  Over the next few years he attended every performance within reach, met his future wife in the adjacent seat at London's Royal Festival Hall and, as the obsession intensified, took 18 months off work (from his work) to study the score and discuss it with such leading interpreters as Leonard Bernstein, Sir Georg Solti and Leonard Slatkin.  In September 1982, after an International Monetary Fund summit, he put his reputation on the line by conducting the American Symphony Orchestra in a private performance for financiers and politicians at the Lincoln Centre.  A former British prime minister, Sir Edward Heath, himself a spare-time conductor, called it 'a very remarkable feat,' but that was, if anything, an understatement."4

    "Mahler's second symphony, known as the 'Resurrection' for its rousing choral climax and theological theme, is one of the trickiest works in the repertory, a 90- minute epic involving a huge orchestra, chorus, two vocal soloists and an invisible offstage group of brass and percussion that seldom come in on cue."5  

    "Discussing the purpose of life on earth, its unwieldiness regularly defeats the best efforts of famous maestros.  For a rank amateur to accomplish a performance without breaking down in the vast finale was tantamount to a musical revolution."6

    "Privately, Mr. Kaplan now admits that if the musicians had failed to respond to his beat or the music fell apart (as it sometimes does in the best of hands), his fallback plan was to turn around to the audience and announce: 'Ladies and gentlemen, dinner is served.'"7

    "His feat, discreet though it was, reverberated throughout the music world.  Over the following years Mr. Kaplan was invited to conduct flagship ensembles at La Scala in Milan, in Munich and Vienna, to open the prestigious Salzburg festival and to give the work its Chinese premiere in Beijing.  His recording, made in Cardiff in 1985, has outsold Bernstein, Pierre Boulez, Claudio Abbado and all other contenders.  On December 8th (of this year), his odyssey reach(ed) an emotional apotheosis when he conduct(ed) the work with the New York Philharmonic at the Lincoln Centre's Avery Fisher Hall 100 years to the night after the composer, with the same orchestra, gave the piece its American premiere."8

    "Pleasing as this symmetry will be to the now-retired publisher, the results of his presumption are far-reaching.  Mr. Kaplan is acknowledged as the leading technical authority on Mahler's second symphony, consulted by many professional maestros on matters of detail.  He was the first to import television screens and cameras to communicate with the offstage band, a device now in common use."9

    "He owns the composer's manuscript, acquiring it in 1984 from a Dutch foundation, publishing it in facsimile and obliging Vienna's Universal Edition to print a corrected new score which is faithful to Mahler's final amendments.  The Vienna Philharmonic gave its first note-perfect performance under Mr. Kaplan's baton and he experienced his deepest satisfaction when the horn section, struggling in a recording session to accommodate the changes, played one passage 11 times in their earnestness to get it right."10

    "Mr. Kaplan's involvement with the second symphony has made it probably the most talked-about of Mahler's works, diverting public attention away from the morbidity of his last great pieces.  The long-standing image of Mahler as a composer of doom has been set aside, in part through Mr. Kaplan's advocacy."11

    "That an unskilled dreamer (such as Kaplan) could teach professionals how to bring off a masterpiece is a fantasy that many share but few presume to achieve.  Mr. Kaplan, after his first performance, said: 'I had a feeling that people in the audience were urging me to fulfill my dream.  They were up with me on the podium that night, playing baseball for the Yankees, writing the book they never wrote or getting the girl they never got.'"12

    "His has been a triumph of ambition over intractable matter, a fulfillment of Mahler's faith in Arthur Schopenhauer's idea that the human will can overcome any force on earth."13

    Close quote...   

    So you see, dreams can and do come true, because dreamers do not accept limits.  Where others might see obstacles and challenges, dreamers see opportunities. 

    Irish playwright and Nobel Laureate George Bernard Shaw summed it up this way:  "You see things; and you say 'Why?'  But I dream things that never were; and I say 'Why not?'"14

    In a few minutes, we will honor an individual who has spent most of his career asking "Why not?"  And in doing so, has become a world-renowned scientist, researcher and inventor. 

    Dr. Joseph Kennedy is a distinguished professor of polymer science and chemistry, here at The University of Akron, where indeed the endless possibilities of polymers have become "a field of dreams." 

    In particular, we highlight a truly singular accomplishment: Dr. Kennedy's 100th U.S. patent.  The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office says an achievement of this magnitude is extremely rare. 

    Indeed, Dr. Kennedy has that inner spark of which dreams are made, and his research already has indirectly saved millions of lives and certainly has made a significant impact on both our University and on society. 

    And so, graduates, as you now move on toward your own special place, your own special dream.  Remember Gilbert Kaplan, Reinhold Messner and Joseph Kennedy. 

    My hope is that you will pursue your special place or your special dream with the same intensity and passion.

    Indeed, in the words of Goethe: "Whatever you do, or dream you can, begin it.  Boldness has genius, power, and magic to it.  Begin it now!"15


    1. Graff, James, "Reinhold Messner, Time-Europe, Volume 168, No. 21, November 13, 2006
    2. "Desperately Seeking Mahler," The Economist, November 29, 2008, p. 84
    3. "Desperately Seeking Mahler," Ibid
    4. "Desperately Seeking Mahler," Ibid
    5. "Desperately Seeking Mahler," Ibid
    6. "Desperately Seeking Mahler," Ibid
    7. "Desperately Seeking Mahler," Ibid
    8. "Desperately Seeking Mahler," Ibid
    9. "Desperately Seeking Mahler," Ibid
    10. "Desperately Seeking Mahler," Ibid
    11. "Desperately Seeking Mahler," Ibid
    12. "Desperately Seeking Mahler," Ibid
    13. "Desperately Seeking Mahler," Ibid
    14. George Bernard Shaw, Bartlett's Familiar Quotations, 16th Edition, 1992, p. 571
    15. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, The Yale Book of Quotations, 2006, P. 315
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