|Bob Isaacson, Speaking for the Faculty, Allan Hancock Graduation, 2010|
This is a commencement for me as well as you. I am leaving Hancock and beginning a new life in retirement, just as you graduates are commencing new careers or further academic programs at four-year colleges. We are both going through a period of transformation, of profound change, and of moving forward.
In many ways I envy you: I remember a particular day late in my senior year at Claremont McKenna College in 1970. One beautiful, warm spring day, a day of bright blue sky and spectacular white clouds, one of my best friends and I drove to downtown Los Angeles and then all the way down Sunset Boulevard to Santa Monica and finally to the limitless Pacific Ocean. We rode in his red convertible through Hollywood, Beverley Hills, Bel Aire, and all the fabulous, golden parts of LA that that magnificent street traverses. It seemed to us on that day that all of life and its rich possibilities lay before us, that there were no limits to our dreams, that a perfect future was merely a casual wish away, that everything we touched would turn to pure gold. We all know that life in its complexity and unpredictability will challenge and test those dreams, sometimes undermine them, and at times even demolish them. I would like to briefly share three ideas that have helped me to survive and, as much as is possible, keep a sense of freshness and wonder in my own life.
First, treat the work you choose to do with reverence. Typically, we spend a huge chunk of our life working to earn a living. There seems to be no way around it for most of us. By making our chosen work reverential, we make it greater than ourselves. It becomes not a chore but a vocation, a calling. Work becomes a way to share ourselves with others, and a way of literally defining ourselves and making meaning. It can be a means with which to deepen and intensify our lives and influence the lives of others. I once had a dental hygienist who cleaned my teeth for only a year, but she was so passionate about her profession, so knowledgeable about the research in her field, so full of rich teaching anecdotes, and so persuasive in her arguments, that since I met her over 25 years ago, I have never failed to floss my teeth every single night. That is a fact. She believed in what she did and loved what she did.
Second, speak the truth as you know it. In Shakespeare’s great Play King Lear, he has a character state, “Say what you feel, not what you think you ought to say.” There may be no better advice. It took me until I was forty to realize how much of what I really felt and believed I hid from others. I was inwardly sure of my values and beliefs, but largely said nothing, or just said things to keep others happy, to avoid conflict, to evade change and growth and challenge. Do not tell others what you think they want to hear: Tell them what you have come to know and why it is true. You will be surprised at how many of your friends and colleagues will be glad that you say what you say. In the long run, you will gain the respect of others, and, more importantly, yourself. Do not be afraid to inhabit the person you truly are.
Third, know humility. The poet, T.S. Eliot, once wrote, “Humility is endless.” There is plenty of it to go around. Indulge in it. It is restorative and healing, if truly known. There are lots of great egos in our world. How often we tend to avoid their company, and cling fast to those who know as little as we know we really know. We can never know it all, and to confess that is a great relief. Humility will not gain you the spotlight, but it will bring you genuine companionship, real knowledge, and the dynamics of lifelong learning, growth, and change. Some of the most influential people in my life have been those who knew how much they did not know, and therefore never ceased from exploration.
I will never forget that Spring day forty years ago when my friend and I drove clear down Sunset Boulevard to the sea. It still restores hope in me. I sincerely wish that each of you shares something of that ephemeral feeling here today, a sense of wonder at the infinite possibilities of life, a sense that the American Dream itself is still reachable, tangible and real. Never forget how you feel about yourself today: Continue to believe that your life can be commensurate with your dreams.