2012 Commencement Address
College President Mitchell Reiss implores members of the graduating class to tune out the technology from time to time.
Good morning and welcome to all of the friends, family and guests who have gathered on our beautiful campus to mark this important milestone in the lives of our graduates. To the Class of 2012: This is a day to celebrate your many accomplishments and to consider what awaits you as you sail away, beyond the quiet shores of Washington College and into the churning currents of a fast-paced world.
Like your parents, we are a bit anxious. We have watched you thrive under the careful stewardship of your professors. We have done our best to impart skills and knowledge in a variety of fields. We have created an environment where unhurried conversations take place every day. We have provided you with opportunities for personal and professional growth and development. And we have grounded your education in the relationships that will last a lifetime.
Still, we’re worried.
Yours is a generation that has always been plugged in. Information, content, and images from across campus and around the globe are transmitted in seconds. We message instantly, stream events in real time, and update our statuses in the moment. I know this well. I was still dripping wet, perched in the Relay for Life dunking booth, when my picture was first posted to the College’s Facebook page.
Only a few short years ago, it would have been unimaginable to watch movies on our iPads, read e-mail on our television monitors, and build avatars to pose as “ourselves” in interactive games we can play with people we’ve never met. Now, it is not unimaginable. It is normal.
This is only the beginning. The world you are inheriting is getting faster and more cluttered with information every day. And more devices and gadgets are on the way. Computers weighing less than a pound and no bigger than a stapler, with all the connectivity options you could ever hope for. Even better: a multimedia projector that allows you to organize all your files and then project images and documents on any wall. It weighs eight ounces and fits inside your pocket.
Soon we can expect to see throngs of people lurching down the streets, jerking and twisting their heads like extras in a zombie movie. That’s because sometime next year, Google plans to start selling enhanced reality head-mounted displays—eyeglasses— that will project weather updates, directions and entertainment onto the lenses, and even take pictures. Will everyone want to own a pair of Google Goggles? If so, then they had better be careful crossing the street: Google engineers have also devised a driverless car which is now already licensed in Nevada.
If you don’t like the way you look in Google Glasses, hold out for the bionic contact lenses. The technology is on its way and will offer you step-by-step GPS directions or an array of virtual reality experiences.
New technologies are also transforming the field of medicine. A generation or two ago, we all marveled at the artificial heart. Now medicine can replicate over 90 percent of the human body. And more advances are on the way: artificial retinas that can restore sight or regenerative procedures that can regrow a missing limb.
It sounds like science fiction. But these technological advances are real, along with the serious philosophical questions they raise. About the limits of personal privacy. About the ability of doctors to play God and extend life indefinitely. About what it means to be human if most of you is made up of plastic, stainless steel and electronics.
As citizens of the 21st century, you’ll be called upon to answer these tough questions. And as graduates of Washington College, you know that the tough questions call for careful thought and reflection—and that it’s worth taking the time to get it right. If we’ve done our job well here, then you’ll be able to apply your analytical skills and critical thinking to these profound questions. And to other questions that we cannot even imagine right now.
You’ve been given a rare gift, a luxury few Americans can experience.
For the past four years, you have been given the special gift of time—time to study and reflect. Time to ponder and explore life’s possibilities. Time to decide what principles you will defend. Time to forge real human connections. On this spectacularly beautiful day on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, look around you, at the faces of your friends and professors. This is your life, unplugged. Don’t forget this feeling.
Because after you leave campus today, time will accelerate. Time will be filled by people pushing complex ideas with an urgency and intensity that will surprise you. The pace of your daily life will grow ever more hectic. And it is not just because of new technologies. Demands of career and family—and the difficult balance between them—will dominate, dictate and drive your day. Consider this: there are precious few jobs that will allow you to stay up late all night debating with your friends and not have to get out of bed until 10 am the next morning.
I know, because a few of you have asked Career Services if they could help you find those jobs.
Hit the Pause Button
This is the world you are entering: exciting, daunting, challenging and restless. In the midst of all this speed, the human mind still needs space for care and feeding. The human mind wants to ponder, reflect, and at times, to simply rest. Give yourself permission to take a few seconds before answering a question. Push back when someone tells you that something has to be decided “now.” And sleep on the “big decisions” that people will pressure you to make. You have been taught at Washington College to be deliberate in your approach—why stop that habit just as you enter the workforce? That habit will pay dividends for a lifetime.
But please know that whenever the world seems to spin too fast, whenever you’re feeling a little disoriented or disconnected, come back to what you experienced at Washington College. Step away from the noise. Put down the technology. Allow your mind to be nurtured by the quiet that is actually out there.
For it is in moments of reflection that you will have your greatest insights. It’s in moments of reflection that our great thinkers have always hatched their biggest ideas. The late Steve Jobs went for long walks alone—and those walks paid off big time. The late Sam Walton awoke at 5 am to write down his greatest hopes and dreams for what Walmart could become. We now learn that Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg is emulating Bill Gates, who takes two weeks a year to be by himself in a cabin in the woods, just to be alone with his thoughts—and hoping to hatch the next big idea.
These people chose reflection and it made all the difference. You can make the same choice.
It is only in moments of reflection that we can sort through the blizzard of data and find nuggets of meaning. Technology will take your generation places we can’t imagine. But please remember that technology is not the destination.
You, your mind, your clarity of thought and patient listening to the inner voice that speaks to what is right and wrong—what we call “moral courage”—this is and will always remain the destination. Make the choice to allow reflection to be a habit across your life and it will make all the difference for you and for those you love.
An Exceptional Education
And now a brief, final word to our graduates—our most recently minted alumni. Your relationship with the outside world—the dreaded “real” world—is just beginning. For the past four years at Washington College, your parents, family and friends have viewed you as an investment. Beware: From this day forward, they will view you as a profit center.
A new relationship with Washington College is also just beginning. I encourage you to support your Alma Mater in every way you can. Please keep in touch through your membership in the Alumni Association. Tell us of your accomplishments. And come back often to take part in the life of your College.
There is a little known regulation in Washington, DC, that mandates that nothing can be higher than the monument named for our Founding patron. But for the members of this graduating class, perhaps we can make an exception. Because I believe that your ambitions, your goals, your dreams will soar far higher than the Washington Monument. You have the gift of an exceptional education, and I am confident that you will use that gift to do extraordinary things.