Speaker Rendell Offers the Class of 2013 the Key to Success … and Happiness
- Bill McAllen Photography
- Bill McAllen Photography
Edward B. Rendell began his remarks to the Washington College Class of 2013 by questioning the need for what he was about to deliver—the commencement speech. He had “no idea” now who spoke at his own college graduation “a long, long time ago” he told the graduates, and then he cited Doonesbury author Garry Trudeau’s quip that commencement speeches were “invented largely in the belief that outgoing college students should never be released into the world until they have been properly sedated.”
Rendell, the former Governor of Pennsylvania who also served two terms as mayor of Philadelphia, forged ahead with some advice, nonetheless, sharing his life’s wisdom on the secret to happiness and success. Spoiler alert: it does not involve dollar signs followed by six figures or more.
“If you let our society define success, today it’s really two things: the accumulation of great material wealth and the accumulation of fame and celebrity,” he cautioned. “But in my career I’ve gotten to know some of the richest people in America and some of the most famous, and I can report to you that many of them are desperately unhappy.”
He offered the students a choice between two hypothetical lives: One, a hedge fund manager worth billions who has been divorced four times and has five children who no longer speak to him. The other, a high school teacher who coaches the girls’ soccer team and, with his wife, spends summers running an ice-cream shop on the boardwalk. “They don’t have a lot of money, but they have four children who love him like crazy. Which person is more successful?” he asked. “I think you know the answer. … Albert Schweitzer said, ‘Success is not the key to happiness. Happiness is the key to success.’ If you love what you are doing, you’ll be successful every single day.”
Rendell encouraged the graduates to pursue their big dreams sooner than later. “People are always telling you what you can’t do. Don’t worry about it. There is no disgrace in losing. … Virtually everyone here today, with the possible exception of President Reiss, has failed at something,” he said, drawing laughter from College president Mitchell B. Reiss and the crowd. “The only disgrace is not trying.”
But no matter what path you choose, he concluded, “find some time to give back. … Carve just five hours a week out of your time and tutor a third grader who’s falling behind in reading. Five hours a week. It’s amazing what that will do for that third grader. But you know, it’s more amazing what it will do for you.”
In his remarks to the Class of 2013, President Reiss addressed the issue of technology and the “unfiltered” lives the graduates live through new media. “You have a tendency to over-share. And you are confident that other people care, really care, about what you are posting, tweeting and texting,” he teased them. “You want what you want, where and when you want it, and technology delivers it right to your doorstep or computer screen.
“This instant gratification is empowering but has some serious downsides,” he continued. “Yours is a generation that has never listened to the B-side of a vinyl record—or in some cases, even seen a vinyl record.”
But there is much to admire about this generation, too, he added, “based on my personal experiences with this generation, and particularly with you, this graduating class. … You know that you can’t always take things at face value. You know that you can’t look at just one side of an issue. You have to play the B-side. These characteristics of an open and inquiring mind are at the core of the liberal arts education we honor today with a diploma.”
Reiss recounted some of the highlights the graduates had shared in their four years together, including welcoming the College mascot, Gus, collaborating in a stellar production of The Tragedy of King Lear; and cheering as the men’s lacrosse team beat Salisbury University to win the War on the Shore. “You have run together, danced together, studied together, played together,sung together, performed together, maybe cried together, and certainly laughed together. And now you are ready, and I hope eager, to start the next phase of your lives.
Senior Class Speaker Amanda Katherine Regan, a Political Science major who minored in Justice, Law, and Society, credited WC’s professors for challenging her and her peers, pushing them to speak up and think critically. “We have grown into young adults who are ready to take on adulthood because our professors have given us the tools to do so,” she said. “They have taught us to respect other people’s opinions, to have confidence in our own points of view, and to keep asking questions.”
The ceremony was held Sunday morning, May 19, under gray, misty skies on the Campus Lawn. The showers that had been in the forecast held off and everything from the bagpipe-led processional to the students’ release of the maroon, white and black flutterfetti went off without a hitch.
General Washington (as portrayed by Mount Vernon’s veteran Washington interpretor Dean Malissa) showed up to present the most prestigious student award, the medal named in his honor, and to offer some fatherly advice about living life with honor, integrity and virtue. Then he led the gathering in the traditional 18th century cheer, Huzzah!