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“Be Flexible. Do Your Best. Have Faith.”
Kevin Martin, head of public policy at Facebook, recounted the circuitous route he followed in pursuit of his dreams, and shared with Washington College’s 317 graduating seniors what he learned along the way.
As Washington College’s Commencement speaker Kevin Martin noted, rarely do career plans actually take graduates from Point A to Point B. Members of the Class of 2018 can expect technology to evolve, and work cultures to change, and pressures from work and life to mount. Along with incredible opportunities to prove themselves, they’ll face rejection and disappointment. But Facebook executive Kevin Martin’s own story of how a law-school graduate who couldn’t get a job on Capitol Hill ended up at the FCC, testifying about Janet Jackson’s wardrobe malfunction at the 2004 Super Bowl, gave them an idea of what it takes to achieve their dreams. It’s not the roadmap but the destination, he says, that’s most important.
Martin, one of the youngest chairs of the Federal Communications Commission who is now the oldest person “by far” at the Facebook offices in Washington, spoke with humor and grace about his own indirect career path, illustrating that flexibility, hard work, and faith can help them adapt to every new situation, every new challenge. He recalled his own college graduation from the University of North Carolina in 1989, when students used IBM PCs instead of typewriters, and depended on the library’s card catalogs to help them locate academic materials.
“Smart phones wouldn’t come along until our 20th reunion,” Martin said. “This means we went all the way through college without sending a single text or taking a single selfie. My boss Mark Zuckerberg was barely five years old. I don’t have to tell you, the Class of 2018, that in your lifetime the pace of technological change has been phenomenal. I’ve been lucky enough to help guide that change, first at the FCC and now at Facebook. Looking ahead, the pace of change will only accelerate.”
To help them deal with projected shifts in the work force, Martin had three pieces of advice for the graduating seniors: Follow your dreams but be flexible in how you achieve them. Do every project to the best of your ability. And have faith.
Martin’s dream as a young law-school graduate was to get involved in politics and communications policy. When he was offered an appeals case that fell outside his field of interest, he took it anyway, and ended up helping to argue before the Supreme Court. He was determined to do the best job he could, even if the project wasn’t directly related to his goal. One of his colleagues on that case recruited him for the Bush presidential campaign, the other recommended him for his first job at the FCC.
As chairman of that federal agency, he said, Martin made decisions every day that affected the bottom lines of some of the most powerful companies and corporations in the world—ATT, Disney, Comcast, Apple. Their CEOs, as well as some U.S. Congressmen, had a lot riding on certain proposed regulations, and pulled no punches in trying to intimidate him and sway his decision-making. His faith was his saving grace in trying times, he told the graduates.
“I thought I was praying for answers, for guidance on what to do on this proceeding or that. But I never got that kind of inspiration. It was only much later that I realized I got something else. Even during the most heated controversies, angry threats, I managed to stay calm, unencumbered by fear.… My faith, my prayer, helped me overcome the disease of fear. It gave me calm to do what I thought was right.”
Martin concluded his remarks with thanks, not just to the College for awarding him the honorary Doctor of Laws degree, but to the members of the Class of 2018.
“I want to say thanks in advance for what you’re going to do. I envy the amazing opportunities in front of you, and I know the education you have gained and the inspiring things you have done here at Washington College mean you will seize those opportunities to benefit your families, your communities, and our country. I don’t know what technology I’ll be using, but I can’t wait to watch and cheer you on.”
Along with conferring degrees upon 317 graduates, the ceremonies included multiple awards and citations:
- Aaron Krochmal, associate professor of biology, earned the Alumni Association’s Award for Distinguished Teaching.
- Linda Ayres ’69, an art historian who was director of collections at George Washington’s Mount Vernon, was awarded the Alumni Citation for Excellence in American Art.
- Michael Anthony DeMaio, a double major in music and business management, with a minor in marketing and a concentration in accounting and finance, won the George Washington Medal and Award, given to the senior who shows the greatest promise of understanding and realizing in life and work the ideals of a liberal education. He is from Millersville, Maryland. At the Senior Luncheon on Friday, DeMaio received the Garry E. Clarke Performance Prize.
- Brooke Schultz, an English major from Moorestown, New Jersey, who served as editor-in-chief of The Elm, won the Clark-Porter Medal, given to the student whose character and personal integrity, in the opinion of the faculty, have most clearly enhanced the quality of campus life. At the Senior Luncheon on Friday, Schultz received the Bennett Lamond Senior Capstone Award in English.
- Rachel Nicole Martinez, of San Pedro, California, a sociology major with minors in political science and gender studies, won the Louis L. Goldstein ’35 Award, for a graduating senior who, in the opinion of the faculty, has demonstrated unusual interest, enthusiasm, and potential in the field of public affairs. At the Senior Luncheon on Friday, Martinez received the sociology department’s Margaret Horsley Award.
- Maija Qi Adourian, of Phoenix, Maryland, a biology major with a minor in chemistry, earned the Eugene B. Casey Medal, given to a senior woman voted by the faculty to be outstanding in the qualities of scholarship, character, leadership, and campus citizenship. At the Senior Luncheon on Friday, Adourian received the Department of Biology Award of Special Recognition.
- Shreyas S. Suresh, of Maharashtra, India, a double major in business management and economics with a concentration in accounting and finance, won the Henry W.C. Catlin 1894 Medal, given to a senior man voted by the faculty to be outstanding in the qualities of scholarship, character, leadership, and campus citizenship.
- Two students won this year’s Jane Huston Goodfellow Memorial Prize, which goes to the graduating senior majoring in science who has an abiding appreciation of the arts and humanities and has shown scholastic excellence. They are Simon R. Belcher, a double major in chemistry and history from Quincy, Massachusetts, and Ami Lee Crist, a biology major with minors in chemistry and dance, from Towson, Maryland. At the Senior Luncheon on Friday, Belcher received the James R. Miller ’51 Award for Excellence in Chemistry and the Arthur A. Knapp ’39 Memorial Prize in History.
- The Gold Pentagon Awards go to one senior and one alumnus, faculty, or friend of the College, selected by the Omicron Delta Kappa Society, in recognition of meritorious service to Washington College. This year they are Maija Qi Adourian ’18, a biology major with a minor in chemistry from Phoenix, Maryland, and George J. Spilich, the John Toll Chair of Psychology who is retiring this year after 38 years of teaching.
- Caroline Harvey, an English major and creative writing minor from Arlington, Virginia, won the Sophie Kerr Prize, given to the senior who shows the most promise for future literary endeavor.