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Commencement Addresses

The Fundamentals Are In Place

  • Date: 08/18/2001
  • Author: Dr. Luis M. Proenza (President, The University of Akron)
  • Location: UA Commencement (a.m.), E. J. Thomas Performing Arts Hall
  • So, you are now poised to go out there, into the "real world," as they say.

    For many of you, this will be a seamless transition, as you have been working out there in that real world while pursuing your degrees.

    But for all of you, it may help just a bit if you take just one last lesson, and this one is on me.

    Let us reflect on where you are along this road of life.

    It will come as no surprise, as Robert Fulghum reminds us in the title of his book, that "All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten."
    (Robert Fulghum, All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten: Uncommon Thoughts on Common Things, Fawcett Books, September 1993)

    It is no surprise because, indeed, most of life's fundamental lessons are learned quite early, at the feet of our parents, and through the early interactions that we have with our siblings and our friends.

    That is why children's books contain so many essential truths, and why their lessons have more recently been extended to advice that can be dispensed to major corporations and to college graduates alike.

    Several best sellers have titles such as "Winnie the Pooh on Management," and it is fashionable to quote key passages or phrases from books that many of us first encountered as bedtime reading.

    Dr. Seuss is a favorite of mine, and his little volume entitled "Oh, the Places You'll Go!" is, indeed, as appropriate for a five-year-old as it is for this college graduating class!

    So let me share a few passages to round out your college career. I quote:

    Today is your day.
    You're off to Great Places!
    You're off and away!

    You have brains in your head.
    You have feet in your shoes.
    You can steer yourself
    Any direction you choose.
    You're on your own. And you know what you know.
    And YOU are the one who'll decide where to go.

    You'll look up and down streets. Look ‘em over with care.
    About some you will say, "I don't choose to go there."

    You're too smart to go down any not-so-good street.

    Out there things can happen
    And frequently do
    To people as brainy
    And footsy as you.

    And when things start to happen,
    Don't worry. Don't stew.
    Just go right along
    You'll start happening too.


    You'll be on your way up!
    You'll be seeing great sights!
    You'll join the high fliers
    Who soar to high heights.

    You won't lag behind, because you'll have the speed.
    You'll pass the whole gang and you'll soon take the lead.
    Wherever you fly, you'll be best of the best.
    Wherever you go, you will top all the rest.

    Except when you don't.
    Because, sometimes, you won't.

    I'm sorry to say so
    But, sadly, it's true
    That Bang-ups
    And Hang-ups
    Can happen to you.

    And the chances are, then
    That you'll be in a Slump.

    You're not in for much fun.
    Un-slumping yourself
    Is not easily done.

    You will come to a place where the streets are not marked.
    Some windows are lighted. But mostly they're darked.
    Do you dare to stay out? Do you dare to go in?
    How much can you lose? How much can you win?

    And IF you go in, should you turn left or right. . .
    Or right-and-three-quarters? Or, maybe, not quite?
    Or go around back and sneak in from behind?
    Simple it's not, I'm afraid you will find,
    For a mind-maker-upper to make up his mind.

    You can get so confused
    That you'll start in to race.
    Down long wiggled roads at a break-necking pace,
    And grind on for miles across weirdish wild space,
    Headed, I fear, toward a most useless place.
    The Waiting Place. . .

    . . .for people just waiting.
    Waiting for a train to go
    Or a bus to come, or a plane to go
    Or the mail to come, or the rain to go
    Or the phone to ring, or the snow to snow
    Or waiting around for a Yes or a No
    Everyone is just waiting.

    That's not for you!

    Somehow you'll escape.

    You'll find the bright places.

    Oh, the places you'll go!

    There is fun to be done!
    There are points to be scored. There are games to be won.

    I'm afraid that some times
    You'll play lonely games too.
    Games you can't win
    ‘cause you'll play against you.

    All Alone!
    Whether you like it or not,
    Alone will be something
    You'll be quite a lot.

    But on you will go
    Though the weather be foul.
    On you will go
    Though your enemies prowl.
    On you will go.

    Onward up many
    A frightening creek,

    On and on you will hike.
    And I know you'll hike far
    And face up to your problems
    Whatever they are.

    You'll get mixed up, of course,
    As you already know.
    With many strange birds as you go.

    So be sure when you step,
    Step with care and great tact.
    And remember that Life's
    A Great Balancing Act.
    Just never forget to be dexterous and deft.

    And will you succeed?
    Yes! You will, indeed!
    (98 and ¾ percent guaranteed.)


    So. . .
    You're off to Great Places!
    Today is your day!
    Your mountain is waiting.
    So. . .get on your way!"

    (Oh, the Places You'll Go!, by Seuss, Dr. Seuss, Random House Trade, January 1990)

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