Saturday, May 7, 2011

Commencement Speech – Robert Morris University – Graduating Class of 2011

Richness, Meaningful, and Unity of Purpose – RMU Making You a Change Agent in the 21st Century - By Dr. Robin Renee Sanders

Good afternoon graduates of Robert Morris University. I know this is a proud day for all of you, your families, and your friends. Today is not like any other day. [Because] it is days like today that call for a certain amount of reflection in both directions….where you have come from…and where you are going.

I had the pleasure last year to sit exactly where you are sitting now. I had the same two-directional challenge, two-directional reflection that you are experiencing right now – how you got to this moment in time, and where you are heading when you depart this great hall this afternoon. So given this reflective juxtaposition I wanted to share with you some of the things that were on mind that day, May 6, 2010, as they may be on yours this day, today, May 6, 2011. I also want to touch on some of the elements or sure footing that you have gained during your time at RMU.

What were the three word-phrases that came to mind, for me, when I thought of my time at RMU -- Richness in spirit, Meaningful in action, and Unity of Purpose. I remember writing this on the back of my program book last year as I sat where you are sitting today. I still have those notes, and whenever I think I am off track I go back to these word-phrases.

[You know] we are still in the first half of the 21st Century but so many world-changing events have taken place in not just the last 11 years, but in the last 12 months, … the last six months, event the last six days.

Probably unbeknownst to you … as you struggled to get those last papers and projects finished…and I do remember that well… you did not factor in your own role as a change-agent in the 21st Century…but you are. Your time at RMU –- is an incredible marker in your future as are the degrees you have just obtained – from masters in business, engineering, leadership and management, to doctorates in nursing, and information systems and communications [to name a few] – all are the leading disciplines needed today as our global and community needs are tremendous; our global and community challenges are tremendous; and our global and community worlds are changing at a nanosecond rate. But, what is also tremendous today, are the opportunities; they will be unlike anything that we have ever seen before.

[Let’s] reflect back on the unity of purpose that you have gained over the last 2-to-3 years at RMU and talk about taking that same effort with you as you move forward.

So what have you gained? You have gained cutting edge, specialized professional degrees that allow you to compete; that allow you to lead, direct, and [more importantly from my viewpoint] be innovative. We are in a society that is at a turning point as to where it wants to go for the remainder of this Century. This is the game point, right now, at this moment. This is meaningful.
But, when you step outside this afternoon, after this event, you will enter the realm of the second reflective direction that I mentioned earlier in my remarks -- Your Way Forward. So what are your impact indicators; meaning what will be the things that are important to you…to do…to change, to improve upon, and to give voice to? This second reflective direction should and must be transformative.

It will take a commitment from each and every one of you to be change-agents either in your communities or, if you chose, on the global stage. You can act and work locally but I encourage you, in doing so, to think globally. I know I am not the first to say this, but I believe in it so much. I know that many of you have heard the phrase social contract – generally meaning the responsibility that a government or institution has to its citizens or its members. However, you too, as new graduates also have a responsibility; let’s call this your social accord, your social compact. So what is going to be your social accord, your social compact to take the richness gained here and turn that into a unity of purpose for your communities, and this nation?

RMU made a social compact with you and this has been fulfilled today. Your next step will be the social compact you design for yourself…… think about what that is going to be. Then honor it, work toward it, make it real, and make it tangible, including reaching back and helping someone else. These are the building blocks of your impact indicators and can help you with your thoughts as you begin this next phase, this transformative phase of your life.

To underscore and illustrate this point, one of the most impactful books I read while I was at RMU was the Scientific Revolution by Thomas Kuhn. I remember initially thinking that it was about the changes in technology, about the nuts and bolts of the information age and where this new knowledge would take us. But the message was not about technology per se or a paradigm shift in what you do, but more so, about a shift in how you think, about how you see the world.

This is what you accomplished here -- a shift in thought, as you became more innovative, more imaginative, more creative, and certainly more curious. These are the impact indicators you have gained from your time at RMU, and that we count on you to use as you embark on this transformative phase.

I am currently working for one of the oldest non-governmental organizations in America, called Africare, which focuses on helping people in Africa build new lives, and giving voice to those less fortunate. Why? Because I care about the issues of food security, education, environment-energy, development, and respecting the principles of democracy, here in the United States and abroad – what I like to call the FEEEDS® issues, representing the first letter of all the things I have chosen that are important to me in this phase of my life. These are the impact indicators that are part of the design of my current social compact. When I lived in Portugal, many years ago, there was a wonderful idiomatic expression that I was thought was quite emotive – toca a pele –meaning when something is so fundamental to who you are, or where you are going, and what you want to do that it touches your skin. You must use these degrees and turn your RMU education into something that achieves this sense for you.

The professional and technical education you have received at RMU have given you the tools to contribute economically, philosophically, innovatively, and personally to our ever-changing world with theoretical, practical and applied knowledge.
It may be tough on occasions as you may be the only voice out there on a particularly issue, a new approach, a new medical breakthrough or paradigm of thought….but you need to know that this is ok too. Do not give that up.

There are wonderful examples of this today. I love social media and I admire Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook fame because he fundamentally created a paradigm shift in thought that has not only changed how we communicate with each other, but also how we communicate world-wide, and how we see the world, and what we want for and from our communities. It almost does not get any better than that in my view.

But I also know that many of you will show your communities that same kind of innovativeness, that same kind of creativity, that same paradigm shift in thought bringing new tools to the table in action, in models for business and engineering, in nursing, in technology, in education and for the environment in wherever your day after tomorrow takes you. Remember that I am talking about communities in the broad sense, with a big “C,” as communities are not only where you live but where you work, where you worship, and where you volunteer.

There is no script on what to do, or on how to do it -- but there are some parting suggestions that I want to share with you -- call it a “cuff list” if you wish that you can keep in mind as you take the unity of purpose gained here and transform it into the next phase of your life.
Just remember a few things:
-- The importance and respect for diversity and differences, both in culture and in thought;
-- Do not forget to check that sure footing [that you will be so fond of] from time-to-time because as you change, things are around you also change;
-- Be in touch with your communities, your families; and, certainly pay attention to what is happening in your state; in our country, and in the world. Be involved and not a by-stander -- moving ahead, and not standing still;
-- Set goals for yourself… but not in concrete. You will want the flexibility to grab on to new opportunities that arise, which may or may not, fit into the social compact you have designed for yourself. Be open to those opportunities;
-- Last but certainly not least [and this is probably the most important thing I can leave with you this afternoon] do not forget to Live Life in the Process.

I have intentionally used charged word-phrases such as community or global change-agents, impact indicators, and the importance of having a personal social compact because I want you to leave here this afternoon emboldened, energized, emotive, but not nonplused, and maybe even with a certain verve because your transformative phase awaits you.

So as I end my remarks, as one RMU graduate to another, I want to wish you well today and always. I feel honored to be here this afternoon, not only because I am immensely proud of all of you, but also because I am proud to be part of the RMU family. Take your richness of spirit, be meaningful in action, and use the unity of purpose that you have gained here, and go out and do great things. Thank you