Office of the President
Dr. Patrick T. Harker is the 26th president of the University of Delaware. He also serves as professor of business administration in the Alfred Lerner College of Business and Economics and professor of civil and environmental engineering in the College of Engineering.
Bob Carpenter Sports and Convocation Center
January 6, 2013
I can’t imagine a better way to begin 2013 than by congratulating the Class of 2012! Today, we celebrate no small accomplishment. We celebrate the fact that years of hard work and late nights—and at least eight panic-inducing rounds of finals—have paid off at last!
Many of the parents, meanwhile, are celebrating the end of tuition payments. And a free bedroom. Their smiles are the smiles of more money and more space. And—yes—a great deal of pride.
You’ve proved yourselves worthy of these diplomas. You’ve proved that you can achieve, that you can persevere. You’ve proved that you can meet the challenges you’ve set for yourselves, and take up the adventures you didn’t even know lay ahead. I think you deserve a round of applause.
Today, we honor not just our newest graduates, but all the families and friends whose encouragement and support have gotten you to this milestone day. They deserve some love, too.
Frankly, I’m a little surprised you’re here. We were all supposed to expire when the Mayan calendar did. Then we were supposed to go plunging off the fiscal cliff together. But Doomsday predictions and political brinksmanship aside, you are here. (Lovely to see you, by the way.)
And it’s a good thing you’re here, too—aside from the obvious reasons. In celebrating your graduation today, what we’re really doing is loosing you on a world that needs you, that needs learned people to stitch back together a society whose ideological seams are straining. What the prolonged stalemate in Washington has set in such stark relief is that “my way or the highway” doesn’t work. The highway just takes you to the cliff … and fast.
As smart as you are, as skilled as you are, none of you has all the answers. Nor does anyone up here on stage. No one person owns the truth, the grand solution. We have to listen to each other. We have to work with one another. We have to come together and seek pragmatic solutions to the problems we face as a people and as a nation. We have to compromise. Trust me, it’s not a dirty word.
One of our more famous Blue Hens, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, says there exists a “boulevard” between compromising your principles and getting everything you want. You should never do the former, he says, and you’re never going to get the latter. So good leaders—pragmatic leaders—find their way out to that boulevard, and start the hard work of making real, sustained progress that everyone has a piece of.
This is the work I’m laying before you—as citizens, as leaders, as people working for change and believing in a better way forward. This is the work you’ve already started—right here at UD. Surely, not every classmate, not every dorm-mate was in lockstep with you ideologically. But you talked to them, you studied with them, you even lived with them. Wasn’t too terrible, was it?
The entire college experience is, on some level, an exercise in compromise. It’s easy to work with like-minded people. But since when has progress been easy? Real progress is borne not of capitulation but of barter, of understanding what the other side wants, and what you can afford to give; of finding common ground amid uncommon beliefs, aspirations, and attributes.
And this is why diversity in higher education is so important; why every day should have brought you face-to-face with people whose ideas, opinions, backgrounds, and experiences were unlike yours; why every day should have challenged you to respect those very real differences while finding in your shared humanity a space in which to build something greater, something that benefits not some—but all.
You’ll never escape this need to collaborate and compromise. Your classmates and dorm-mates today will tomorrow be your coworkers, your neighbors, your fellow citizens in a participatory democracy, your fellow leaders.
We need to find the way to Gov. Christie’s “boulevard.” Because, to be honest, I think we’re a little lost. The polarization of our society; the politics of insulation and isolation; the rise of the ideologue; the refusal to cross the aisle … none of it is moving us forward. We’re not over the cliff, but with so many urgent issues before us—and little amity between—we’re still teetering.
And we have so much more to do. My greatest hope is that you will be the ones doing it—alongside the people you like, and the people you don’t; alongside the people you agree with, and those you think are misguided; alongside the people with whom you’re sure you’ll change the world, and those you’ll actually need to do precisely that.
Thank you and congratulations!