Text of the Commencement Speech by Dr. Laura Palmer Noone, CEO of University of the Potomac

June 17, 2012

Thank you Dr. Resch, fellow trustees, Faculty, staff, graduates and guests.  It is truly an honor to be asked to speak here before you today.

It is a daunting task to be asked to speak at a commencement.  This is an important day in the graduates’ lives.  I am supposed to give you an inspirational talk peppered with sage advice.  So here is my first piece of advice – Take lots of pictures and remember every moment of this day.  Savor it – this is a big deal.  After all, this may the last time you get to wear these snappy robes and pointy flat hats.  And be forewarned – your face is going to ache tonight from all the smiling you do today.

I have been to literally dozens of graduation ceremonies both on your side of the microphone and on this side, so in preparation for today, I thought back to the numerous commencement ceremonies of which I have been a part.  What made a great commencement speech?  In all honesty, I cannot remember much about any of the graduation speakers.  I can barely remember if they were male or female, but I do recall the commencement where the speaker got the most applause – that was the one where the he didn’t show up at all and the ceremony ended early.  Bad luck for all of you though – I did show up.  However, I promise to learn from those other speakers and not drone on incessantly about things that you won’t remember one-half hour from now.

What do you use as a title for a speech?  That is another tough one – what do you call a commencement speech?  What snappy title will resonate with bright graduates?  I didn’t have a clue, but what I did realize is that today is all about change.   Why Change? You can change your clothes, change your hairstyle, change your habits, change direction – even change your mind.  You can make change, or be changed. Jimmy Buffet tells us about Changes in Attitudes, Changes in Latitudes. During the last election we heard a lot about Change we can believe in – time for a change.  What does that really mean?  Change – it can be a verb, a directive, an imperative.

A couple of days ago, my 15 year old daughter and I had a spirited conversation about her decision on what to wear to school and what I wanted her to change.  Was that conversation about clothes or about another type of change? If we change, do the changes stick with us or are they temporary and we are destined to go back to the way things were? Most people will tell you that we can’t change others – only ourselves.  It is funny though how often we continue to try to change others… That is my second piece of advice – don’t bother trying to change others.  Live your life as an example to others.  Only then will you be able to assist someone else to change.

My guess is that you know that your lives are about to change as you cross the stage today and in fact they changed the day you enrolled here at Potomac.

It was many years ago that I sat in one of those chairs on my graduation from college.  And things have certainly changed a lot in those years.   Things have really changed.

This day is about you, your accomplishments and your future. What is going to change?  Now that this day is here, you may think to yourself, FINALLY – I am done with school.  I know what is going to change – I will never listen to another crusty old faculty member drone on and on about stuff that has no relevance to my life. I will never write another final exam.  I will never do another major research project.  That is what is going to change…” Maybe, or maybe not.  You may be right about being done sitting in a classroom, but chances are you not done with learning.  Because as much as things have changed for you in the last four or so years, things are going to continue to change.  In fact you will be stunned how much might change for you in the next phase of your life. That is my third piece of advice – get used to it.  Just when you think things are right and comfortable, things will change.

Sometimes it helps to have a frame of reference to know just how much things have changed.

Most people would say that at 18, you are an adult – You can vote, go to war, do all the things that the law says an adult can do.  Yet think of this – if you are 18 or younger –

Andy Warhol, Liberace, Jackie Gleason, and Lee Marvin have always been dead.

Heart-lung transplants have always been possible.

Pay-Per-View television has always been an option.

Voice mail has always been available as have digital cameras.

“Whatever” is not part of a question but an expression of sullen rebuke.

For daily caffeine emergencies, Starbucks has always been around the corner.

Bill Gates has always been worth at least a billion dollars.

Pixar has always existed.

Aretha Franklin has always been in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

American Motors has never existed.

They do not remember “a kinder and gentler nation.”

They never saw the shuttle Challenger fly.

Tom Landry never coached the Cowboys.

CNBC has always been on the air.

Ok – you can see the graduates eyes glazing over “and your point?”  Well, my dear graduates, things are changing before our eyes as well.  Think of the things that have come into popularity during your lives – IPODS, Facebook, MySpace, texting, online college classes.

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You have been given a great gift – an education that will help you launch or advance a career.  But things change – your degree alone will not continue to propel you forward.  You must continue to learn.  Because the top 20 jobs in 2010 did not exist in 2004.  The US Department of labor indicates that today’s learner will have 10 to 14 jobs by the time he or she is 38.  There are about 540,000 words in the English language – about five times as many as there were in Shakespeare’s time.  The amount of new technical information is doubling every two years – that means that if you started a degree four years ago in information technology, half of what you learned your first year was out of date by your third year.  Change isn’t always comfortable and quite frequently is UN comfortable.  But chances are you are better equipped to handle change than the generations that came before you especially if they did not have a college degree.

Speaking of those generations, don’t forget those folks back home who helped you – never forget from whence you came.  Parents, spouses, children, Faculty, Friends -thank you for supporting the graduates here before you today.  Whether it was financial support, encouragement when that final exam didn’t go so well or just a kind supportive word when you got that call from your student who wasn’t sure they could do it. Graduates- remember to thank all those that supported you. You couldn’t have done it without them. And that will never change.

So graduates – are you done changing – are you done learning? Not even close.  That was why I titled this address ‘Change’.  Learning is change and you are going to need to be ready to change on nearly a moment’s notice for the rest of your lives.  The good news?  You are up for the challenge.  Your education here at Potomac has prepared you for the changes ahead and thus my last piece of advice is embrace it and run with it.  Look forward to the new exciting changes in your life.  You are going to do great things and you are ready to change the world.  I look forward to watching you do it.  Thank you for your kind attention and best of luck to each and every one of you.