Hello Class of 2017! Hello friends, families, faculty, staff and all those who have gotten us to where we are today. This afternoon, I would like to talk about the difficult questions we ask of ourselves, the impact they have on us, and why not having the immediate answer to these questions is okay.
“What am I going to major in?” With this question, we began our college careers. As naïve and overwhelmed 18-year-olds, this was the life-changing question we knew we had to answer. Advisers, friends and loved ones said, “Don’t worry! You’ll would figure it out!” And check it out — we did!
Now, as wise and still overwhelmed 22-year-olds, we ask, “What am I going to do with my life?” This question elicits the same mix of terror and excitement that “What am I going to major in?” once did. This uncertainty can be cause for fear and anxiety as we take new steps in life. We are not alone in this stress.
When I got to Bucknell, I had no idea what I wanted to study. History? Psychology? Maybe geology? Completely clueless, I turned to my parents for guidance. They said my major in fact would not be the most important aspect of my college career. But wait a minute, how could what I study not be the most important part of my education?
Well, my mother is a small-business owner, but she was a sociology major. My father is a urologist. But he was a pre-law political science major. They explained to me that what you learn won’t decide your future — rather, how you learn will set you up for the rest of your life. At the time, I shrugged this off as the usual parental nonsense, but now, as a history and philosophy major going into marketing consulting, I see that they were right — it is not the whats but the hows of our education that will lead us to success.
So, what is this “how” they were talking about? Well, if you look at us, it’s obvious. As mechanical engineering majors evaluating the best design for a bracket, we question. As MIDE majors rethinking the best way to reach and persuade consumers, we question. As philosophy majors struggling with the metaphysical foundation of our world, we question. As Bucknellians, we question. We’ve all studied different things, and we will go on to apply this knowledge differently throughout our lives.
But the one constant is that we will all approach the world with the goal of critique and reinvention. The beauty of a Bucknell education is that it prepares us to succeed in many aspects of life. Our professors teach us material, but also help us to discover our morals and invigorate our desire to do better. Bucknell is an environment where we are taught to question what we are told. This prepares us for our future far better than any textbook ever could.
Today, as we ask ourselves, “What am I going to do with my life?” rest assured that our drive to question actually provides the answer. We may forget the equations and theories we’ve learned. The books and treatises we’ve read may someday just be a foggy memory. Our first jobs may not turn into careers, and we may never hold a job related to our field of study. But our critical spirit, our ability to create change and our desire to improve will not only fill our lives with meaning, but will also allow us to be engaged and involved citizens. Perhaps most importantly, questioning will help us to continue learning. We will not accept the world as it is — we will find new passions, and create new rules.
Whether it’s physics, classics, French or accounting, we’ve all studied a different “what.” But the “how” provides the framework for the rest of our lives. We didn’t need to know our educational path the moment we stepped on campus, just as we do not need to know the path of our lives as we depart.
Yes, this is a stressful time, but take comfort not only in the fact that we all feel this way, but also in that our shared experience at Bucknell can help alleviate our fears. As Bucknellians, we will never lose the critical spirit endowed in us. Our path may not yet be clear to us. We may not yet know what we will do with our lives. But we know how we will live them. We will continue to question, and we will continue to learn.
So today, I implore you: keep questioning. Question the standard practices of your industry — that is how we will innovate. Question our leaders — that is how we will progress. Question the structure of the world around you — that is how we will improve. But most importantly, question yourselves — because that is how we will grow.
Thank you to the faculty, staff, families and friends who have taught us such valuable lessons. We could not have done it without you. And thank you to the Class of 2017, we could not have done it without each other.
Congratulations! And as always, ‘ray Bucknell!