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Commencement – May 2010: Connected to What?

We’ve turned the tassels … shaken hands … taken pictures… now, it is time to say goodbye.

I know you are anxious to go, but I’d like to leave you with a few thoughts of my own.

When the media speaks of your generation, it is often to point out your differences from previous generations.

You don’t use mail or fax … or even e-mail. You text. Your entertainment often exists in a “virtual” reality. You – or your friends – may even have grown up with “virtual” pets.

You choose “reality” TV over sitcoms and serials. You observe a wide variety of human behaviors (not all good) in amateur videos that travel the world at Internet speed. You are wireless, always connected.

Connected to what? To friends … To family … To news about the world around you … To opportunities to escape, have a little fun … To information that can help you be the person you want to be … to live the life you want to live.

The methods you use to connect with the world may be different, but I’m not sure that your desire to connect is any different than my generation – or any other generation.

I wonder – if we get right down to it – if you are really that much different from all who have gone before you and all that will follow.

Don’t get me wrong. Class of 2010: You are a group of unique individuals. Each of you has a story that is far different from mine, from your parents, even from the person sitting next to you today.

We are all different. And, we are all the same. We are born. We grow. We learn to adapt to our environment. If you are fortunate, you have parents, teachers, and mentors who help you navigate this journey through life. What you learn from them may not be the latest technology or trend. They may not be on “the cutting edge”. But they may be able to help you cut through the noise and confusion and find a path in life that is uniquely yours.

In a world that changes rapidly, I think there are times when “grown-ups” are tempted just to give up. Keeping up with the latest gadgets … the teen talk … what’s in and what’s out … It can make you feel like a dinosaur about to become extinct. Your parents and teachers know what I’m talking about – and one day, you will too.

We must not give up. Whether we believe it or not … you still need us. Because it’s not all about knowing what’s new and what’s next. Even at a college with “technology” in its name, there must be an understanding and appreciation for experience, tradition, and human connections.

Connected to what?

I hope that your Penn College experience helped you connect your dreams and your future goals. Now, I hope you have an idea of what you are capable of … how much you can achieve.

I feel quite sure there were times when you wanted to give up. The class was too hard. The teacher was too tough. You had to forget about having fun and go study. You had to work to earn money to pay your way. It was not an easy road.

Yet, here you are. One stage of your journey is complete. You have the tools you need to connect with life outside the classroom.

Connected to what?

I hope your Penn College experience connected you with teachers, professionals, men and women who work in the career field you hope to pursue – people that represent the type of individual you want to be.

Once upon a time, each of those individuals sat where you are today. They were new to their fields, just starting down their paths. When you say to them, “I’m not sure.” … When you ask them for help … they understand.

When they offer you a helping hand, they continue a legacy that connects the generations. One man or woman with experience reaches out to help another who will, one day, be in a position to help another.

You are connected to those who went before you and to those who will come after you.

Connected to what?

Every generation mocks tradition at one time or another. It is part of our human nature to seek to define our own style by denying what is handed down to us. Still, tradition has its place. We all are connected by our common experiences and by our traditions.

For those of you who left home to attend college: I’ll bet there were times you found yourself missing a few family traditions – meals, games, and gatherings. It’s important to feel we are a part of something that continues, something we can count on to last.

Over the years, many traditions have been set aside by “grownups” that were afraid of looking like dinosaurs. Losing simple traditions may impact our society more than we know.

While I was growing up, television stations actually went off the air late at night. The stations always concluded their broadcast day by playing the national anthem.

I never thought about it when I was growing up. I can’t even say I missed it when it went away. But recently I was reminded that your generation never went to bed knowing that experience: the sounds of the national anthem followed by silence.

Times change. Traditions keep us connected.

Connected to what?

You are ready to make a change. You are ready to leave us and find your place in the world.

I hope you – the connected generation – will stay connected to your family, your friends, your community and your alma mater. We need you. We need your continuing support to honor our traditions and to provide a pathway for others into the future.

And we hope that when you need us, you will remember that we – your family, friends, and alma mater – are here for you always.

A Penn College connection is one that will remain with you for the rest of your lives.

Connected to what?

Connected to one another.

Thank you. Good-bye. Good luck … and stay connected!

(From commencement remarks by President Davie Jane Gilmour)