Albert Einstein, Thomas Freidman and YOU

First Night for the Class of 2016
February 1, 2013
Comments by Provost Mick Smyer

I am delighted to be part of your class’s transition on First Night. The last time we met together in Rooke Chapel, I talked with you about "Preparing for the Whitewater of Life." Tonight, my comments are entitled "Albert Einstein, Thomas Freidman and YOU."

Let me start with a story about Albert Einstein. It seems that Einstein had a chauffeur who drove him to his speaking engagements. One night, on their way to the talk, the chauffeur said: “Professor, I have heard you give this talk so many times, I could give it.” Einstein was delighted by the thought and said, “Let’s trade coats and you pose as me, I will pose as the driver.” They traded before arriving and things were going very well-until the question and answer period. Then one of the physicists in the audience asked a particularly tough question. The “chauffeur as Einstein” thought for a moment and responded: “That question is so easy, even my chauffer can answer that one!”

I start with this story for two reasons: first, to remind us not to judge a book by its cover or people by their roles. As Yogi Berra said, “you can learn a lot just by looking.”

The second reason is to get us thinking about another statement often attributed to Einstein: "The most powerful force in the universe is compound interest." It is not clear that Einstein actually said this, but he is often quoted by people who are urging investing and saving.

I want you to think about your own investment plan: you have already begun to build your social and intellectual capital at Bucknell. And I want you to think about how you can intentionally build that capital while here.

First, the social capital. You have already begun to make friends in your residence halls, in class, in clubs or on teams.

But I urge you to add another strategy: get to know at least one faculty member each semester -- to work closely with them and make sure that they know you. If you follow this strategy, by the end of your time at Bucknell, you will have eight faculty who can serve as advisors and mentors throughout life.

Finally, take advantage of the alumni network. As you may know, the Career Development Center (CDC) offers links to Bucknell alumni and parents through its B-link platform and its affiliation network programs. For example, the CDC helps arrange externships for Bucknell sophomores, offering you a chance to shadow a Bucknell alum or parent in a field you are interested in. Take advantage of this kind of opportunity to build your Bucknell social capital and to build your intellectual capital.

Intellectual capital brings us to Thomas Friedman, noted author of The World is Flat and columnist for the New York Times. In a column earlier this week, Friedman focused on the rapid rate of technological change that you and your generation must adapt to, personally and professionally. As Friedman put it:

"How to adapt? It will require more individual initiative. We know that it will be vital to have more of the “right” education than less, that you will need to develop skills that are complementary to technology rather than ones that can be easily replaced by it and that we need everyone to e innovating... The winners won’t just be those with more I.Q. It will also be those with more P.Q. (passion quotient) and C.Q. (curiosity quotient) to leverage all the new digital tools to not just find a job, but to invent one or reinvent one, and to not just learn but to relearn for a lifetime."

In other words, Friedman is telling you that you have to engage Bucknell. Here and now are the perfect place and time to develop and try out the habits of intellectual passion and curiosity.

For example, six of your classmates have recently been honored because of their prize-winning essays on The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. They clearly were engaged in the first year reading process. You have a chance to be engaged as well when Rebecca Skloot, author of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks gives a talk on her book next Wednesday night on campus.

By using your time and choices at Bucknell, you can develop deep understanding of yourself by answering the three questions I highlighted for you at Convocation: 1) What gives me deep pleasure? 2) What am I good at? And 3) who cares? You may think you already know the answers to these questions- but think for a moment. How would you have answered these questions four years ago? How much have you changed since then. You know you will change even more during these four years and I urge you to intentionally challenge yourself to get the most out of your time here by developing your intellectual and social capital.

There you have it: Albert Einstein, Thomas Friedman, and you. Congratulations on First Night and ‘Ray Bucknell!



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