August 23, 2013

TranquilloI have a question for you: "What kind of goat are you?" Are you the shaggy kind with the big horns? Or maybe the kind with the frayed tail that wags? Or the one with the huge belly and deep voice?

Let's back up. My name is Joe Tranquillo, professor of Biomedical Engineering. I'm here to welcome you to Bucknell on behalf of my faculty colleagues. Now I want to tell you a story about goats.

In grad school I was friends with a wonderful dancer named Shaleigh. Her technique was flawless, but in the dance world, that's not enough and she struggled to find work. She was out hiking with some friends one day and she deviated from the trail — scrambling up the side of a rock wall. One of her friends commented that she looked like a goat, but that her movements were beautiful and uniquely her own. She looks back on that as the moment when she found her inner goat. And like a goat she climbed off of the usual dance trail and created her own form of movement. She made it to New York and quickly was recognized as an original choreographer. She now leads a New York-based dance company, and her work is described as having a "sinewy, fluid quality that is both grounded and fierce."

I am offering Shaleigh's story to you tonight because you can find your inner goat here at Bucknell. Like Shaleigh, you will need to become technically proficient in your field – professors like me will help you with that. But that's not enough. The impact you can have on the world lies in the opportunities and experiences that are uniquely your own.

I want to tell you another story about a somewhat geeky engineer who had his arm twisted by his future wife to take a dance class in college. He was really uncomfortable the first few classes — but soon found himself wonderfully lost in the movements and deeply engaged. Okay … you probably already guessed that the geeky engineer is me. I went on to take more classes, I met Shaleigh, and I eventually started teaching dance classes. I discovered that I loved creating hands-on and interactive learning environments. And it was that love of teaching that brought me to Bucknell. So what seemed like a deviation from the traditional engineering path, what seemed to make no sense at the time, helped me find my own inner goat.

Tonight, as you enter Bucknell, I wish I could help you find your own inner goat, but that’s not how it works. No one can predict how, where or when you will find it. It is a very personal journey. But the great news is that you have come to the right place — Bucknell is an enormously rich place to explore. And I encourage you to sample as much as you can in your time here. To help you with your exploration, let’s see what advice we can take away from the two stories.

Become a collector of stories — your own and others. It is the stories you collect that will help you discover your inner goat.

Seek out the places where stories are made — where you are challenged. And don’t go after wimpy challenges — if the outcome is truly uncertain to you, that is a real challenge.

Expect to be uncomfortable — it is unlikely that you will find your passion on your first try. Turn these seemingly unfruitful adventures into stories too, and learn from them.

Step back once in a while to notice those moments when you become wonderfully lost and are deeply engaged. These are clues that you are on the right track.

Don't lose track of that trail. It is following a trail that led you to a very good school, and learning good techniques here at Bucknell will be what prevents you from becoming a lost goat.

So to conclude: What kind of goat will you become? Will you be the kind of goat who invents a wildly successful product? Or will you fight to passionately correct a social injustice? Maybe you will bring together anthropology and physics, or two other seemingly different disciplines. Or you might create a form of art none of us can even imagine.

Your inner goat awaits you. Welcome to Bucknell.