Remarks by David W. King
Dean of Graduate Studies and Research, SUNY Oswego
152nd Commencement, SUNY Oswego

Reflecting on the events of this day, you and I are at major milestones in our lives:  You are graduating from college or graduate school. I am retiring (at least partially) after many years as a teacher and administrator at SUNY Oswego.

A poet described graduation this way:
“A milestone passed,
new things begun
Dreams are shining as the sun,
a goal achieved,
a victory won!”

David King, December 2012When you think about it, milestones mark both the passage of time and the stages of our own growth and development. Milestones are the end of one journey, but also a step toward the next stage of our life. Our hope is that each milestone will lead to something greater and more rewarding.

You have all taken many different paths to get where you are today and have successfully surmounted a variety of challenges that can give you a special sense of pride. You are well on your way to understanding both the complications and rewards of reaching your goals.

This is a day for reflecting on what has passed and what is to come in the future.

I have given this a lot of thought as I look ahead in my own life. I plan to continue working on projects related to higher education because that is what I love to do.  I plan to travel more, read more, exercise more, and continue to learn. After all, Aristotle said that “Education is the best provision for old age.”

You are beginning what will likely be a long and exciting journey with many milestones ahead. But frankly, while milestones are important, it is really the time between those milestone events that are the source of most of our happiness and fulfillment. It is about how we live day to day. So don’t wait until you reach your goals to be confident of yourself and your aspirations.

The great suffragist, Susan B. Anthony struck the same theme when she said:
“Sooner or later we all discover that the important moments in life are not the advertised ones, not the birthdays, the graduations, the weddings, not the great goals achieved. The real milestones are less prepossessing. They come to the door of memory unannounced.  . . . Our lives are measured by these.” 

“Happiness is not a goal; it is a by-product,” in the words of Eleanor Roosevelt. 

Think back on the milestones in your life so far:
- Starting school
- Your first date
- Learning to drive
- Going to the prom
- Your first car
- Graduating from high school
- Your first paid job
- Getting accepted to college
- Playing a sport
- Traveling abroad
- Getting an internship
- Even perhaps being able to drink legally

Now perhaps think about the milestones ahead in your lives:
- Launching your career
- Or attending grad school
- Maybe moving to a new part of the country
- Perhaps getting married and having a family

But, the path forward is never linear. It is full of hills and valleys, curves, unexpected detours and even dead ends. Plus there are forks in the road that require thoughtful decisions. Tough choices often lead to hesitation, self-doubt or even failure. Former Energy Secretary and Nobel Laureate, Steven Chu said that he has learned more from his failures than from his successes. The great danger he said, is not in aiming too high, but aiming too low. 

Unlike your grandparents’ generation, you will likely have many different jobs working for many different employers. Your Oswego education has provided you with many transferable skills. You will need to be intellectually agile and ready to adapt frequently to new challenges and expectations.

In a knowledge-based economy with rapid technological developments, change is inevitable. The challenge is to embrace that change and help guide it. The great reformer and pacifist leader, Mahatma Gandhi believed that, “You must be the change you wish to see in the world.”

There will be many transitions that require both personal and professional transformation. In a rapidly changing knowledge-based world, it is no longer sufficient to master one skill; it is essential for lifelong learning to help us engage the challenges ahead. The journalist Sydney Harris said: “The whole purpose of education is to turn mirrors into windows.”

“Knowledge” and “Learning,” however, are not the same thing. Knowledge comes from experience, books, your computer or smart phone. In school, you have gained experience about where to find the information that you need. But, mastering facts is not sufficient. Learning is the ability of the mind to engage information and manipulate it to solve problems or to innovate and create something new. Therefore, lifelong learning is not a choice; it is a necessity.

Your education both in classroom and outside of classroom has provided you with a diverse “tool kit” that will help you to achieve the milestones that you set for yourself in the future. The challenges and opportunities ahead will require you to use all the skills from your educational tool kit, and you will need to master new ones along the way.

But think of some of the abilities and experiences that you have now that you probably didn’t have four or more years ago, such as:
- Gaining analytical and problem solving skills
- Understanding new information technologies
- Appreciating cultural differences
- Engaging the “flat world” that Tom Friedman describes

How we use the tools in this tool kit that we have worked hard to develop will have a lot to do with the quality of our lives and our ability to achieve the milestone goals that we set for ourselves. 

Milestones are important. They make up the resume of our lives. But, as I said before, I think that it is even more important to appreciate and focus on how we fill the spaces between those milestones. 

Most of our lives are made up of the times between events like today. How we occupy that time is both a challenge and an opportunity. The quality of our lives has more to do with the day-to-day than simply with the big events. Fulfillment is not just about achieving a goal; it is also about how you got there.

I am a great admirer of Eleanor Roosevelt, who was a major pioneer in her own right. She said, “The purpose of life, after all, is to live it, to taste experience to the utmost, to reach out eagerly and without fear for newer and richer experiences.”

You and I are moving into another stage in our lives. The prospects won’t necessarily be easy, but they will surely be exciting. The great opportunity for all of us gathered here this morning is to make the most of the assets and skills that we have worked hard to achieve.

In thinking about my remarks for today, I came upon a wonderful poem by Terah Cox, entitled the “Journey of Life.” It summarizes many of my thoughts on this subject.

The Art of Journeying/Journey of Life by Terah Cox (2001)
[She writes:]
“Set a destination, but let the path unfold.

Let your feet follow your heart.

Regard detours and delays as opportunities
to experience something new.

Turn stumbling blocks into stepping stones.

Find balance not by standing still,
but by moving with integrity and regard
for yourself and others.

Know that you can always get to
the next step
from wherever you are.

Don’t be afraid to make an occasional
Leap of faith – and if you have short legs,
borrow some wings!

Know that in the sky of your heart,
all destinations are reachable.

While you’re busy getting wherever
you’re going, turn around every so often
to give whoever’s behind you a hand.

Expect nothing, be ready for anything,
and everything will be possible!”

She is advising us to embrace the challenges that will lead to greater fulfillment.

Many people pack a bag for a journey they never take. The great philosopher Wayne Gretsky said: “You miss 100 percent of the shots you never take.”

Each of you has packed a very special bag. 

Take the journey.

Engage the exciting possibilities ahead.

Create new milestones!

Congratulations, good luck and God speed! Thank you.

(Posted: May 17, 2013)

Tags: david king, commencement