Mick Smyer, Provost

Generation Like, Teddy Roosevelt, & You: Matriculation 2014

It is my honor and privilege to formally accept the Class of 2018 into Bucknell University.

To each new student, on behalf of my faculty colleagues, administrators, and staff members in academic programs and student affairs, welcome to Bucknell. We are delighted you have joined us.

Tonight I want to talk with you about a simple topic. I call it Generation Like, Teddy Roosevelt, & You.

Generation Like

How many of you are on Facebook? Twitter? Instagram?

How many of you track how many likes you get on a posting? Or retweets? Or followers? How many have posted YouTube videos?

You come to our campus with a set of experiences and assumptions about interaction. Some have characterized your generation as Generation Like— not because you say, like, in the middle, like, of sentences, but because your generation has come of age immersed in digital realities and relationships. Sherry Turkle, in her book Alone Together, summed up the challenge well:

"Technology is seductive when what it offers meets our human vulnerabilities. And, as it turns out, we are very vulnerable indeed. We are lonely, but fearful of intimacy. Digital connections...may offer the illusion of companionship without the demands of friendship. Our networked life allows us to hide from each other, even as we are tethered to each other. We'd rather text than talk." (p.1)

Psychologist Daniel Levitin suggests one of the challenges you and your generation face because of the connected lives you lead:

"Every status update you read on Facebook, every tweet or text message you get from a friend is competing for resources in your brain with important things like... how to reconcile with a close friend you just had an argument with." (quoted in Book review of The Organized Mind by Daniel J Levitin; Review by Christopher Chabris in the WSJ 8/15/14)

In other words, one of your challenges will be to focus in a truly engaged way here and now during the next four years.

Teddy Roosevelt

Which brings me to the second part of my title, Teddy Roosevelt.

Has this ever happened to you? You're working out at the gym and a friend starts to laugh at how you're doing compared to the person next to you?

I was working out this summer with someone who is half my age. A buddy of mine started laughing at the comparison. (What are friends for?)

My work out partner tried to make me feel better. She quipped: "Comparison is the thief of joy."

Only later did I realize that this is a quote from Teddy Roosevelt. And at the time, I thought it might be useful for you, members of our class of 2018. Why you?

Because you are at a time of life filled with self-preoccupation and comparisons. And your generation has been exposed to a culture of comparison in the digital world (how many likes did you get on that post? How many retweets?)

But Teddy Roosevelt reminds us to focus on our own experience, on the people and challenges right before us, not comparing how well we are doing to someone else. No one else on this campus has had exactly your experience; no one else on this campus brings your individual perspective.

To bring your own perspective, however, you have to stop worrying about comparisons. As Joe Torre, the former manager of the NY Yankees and the LA Dodgers once wrote:

"the really good hitter has to "concern himself with getting the job done, instead of how it looks. ... There's a certain free-fall you have to go through when you commit yourself without a guarantee that it's always going to be good. ... Allow yourself to be embarrassed. Allow yourself to be vulnerable." (quoted in The A-Rod Problem (Aug 5, 2013), NY Times, by David Brooks)

Which brings me to the final part of my title: You.


You are in the midst of a period of great growth and development. For example, recent research in neuroscience has documented that the phrase young adults really is appropriate: the adolescent brain is still undergoing significant development until the mid 20s. That's the good news. The bad news is that the development is uneven: the areas related to risk taking are well developed by this age, while the areas related to control and problem solving develop more slowly.

What this means is that the context you're in over the next few years matters a lot. Here's where this unique setting- a liberal arts university- matters.

This is a place where faculty, staff, administrators, alumni, and parents are dedicated to a single purpose: educating you! In Bertrand library, there is a quote from John Zeller, a beloved alumnus and administrator at Bucknell: "We are all teachers here." What John meant was that our entire community is here to help students learn and prepare for whatever life may bring.

As you begin an exciting four years at Bucknell, it is important that you engage the community, that you commit yourself to getting the best out of our community, to challenging yourself. That you, in JoeTorre's words, allow yourself to be vulnerable.

You are entering a community that will help you practice the skills you will need for the journey of life: thinking critically; learning how to express yourself in writing and orally; learning to work in teams and get the best out of each member; learning from failures and getting back in the boat when (not if) you make mistakes.

We have put in place everything you will need to succeed at Bucknell: from small classes (like your Foundation seminars or Engineering 100 sections) and close contact with your faculty to great RAs, Orientation Leaders and Assistants, to clubs, sports and other co-curricular activities.

We know that one of the best predictors of success in college is getting involved-in the classroom and on the broader campus and we know that you will take advantage of the great opportunities available. In short, we know that you will come to be important members of the Bucknell community.

Before you know it, you will have finished four years and you will be meeting again at Commencement! But instead of worrying about how to meet people and how to find your way, you will be leaving with a network of Bucknell friends of all ages, people who like you without Facebook or Twitter.

So, class of 2018, Congratulations and welcome to Bucknell.