"Creating a Better Future"
Dr. Joseph Bordogna
Chief Operating Officer
NATIONAL SCIENCE FOUNDATION
University of Maryland, Baltimore County Commencement
May 22, 2002
Thank you, Dr. Hrabowski. And good morning to you all.
I am honored and delighted to be a part of this University
of Maryland, Baltimore County commencement. I admire
the energy and spirit that are so much a part of the
UMBC environment. This is a University that is going
places: United, Motivated, Bold, Courageous!
And you, graduates of the Class of 2002, are in the
vanguard. Congratulations to all of you, and to your
families and friends. This is a time to celebrate
your success and to take pride in your accomplishments.
It's appropriate to pause at this important milestone
in your lives to refresh yourselves and refocus your
energies on what lies ahead. I can already anticipate
a future in which you will make your unique and collective
contributions in serving and leading this nation.
It's my job today to provide something useful for the
unknown ahead - and to be brief about it!
Believe it or not, I can remember very clearly my own
commencement. I come from a large family - birth and
foster - and all of them attended my graduation.
My relatives made quite a crowd that day. I was the
first in my family to graduate from college, so when
my moment of glory came and I walked up the aisle
to receive my diploma, they all beamed with pride
as they shared our joint accomplishment. It was their
moment of glory, too. I'll never forget it! I'm positive
that today will be as memorable in your lives.
In this greater sense of commonweal, each of you shares
an exceptional kinship on this occasion not only with
immediate family, but with classmates, with those
who have both taught and learned from you, and also
with the community beyond the University's walls.
The word "university" derives from a Latin root that
means "whole; entire." Although many think of a university
as bricks and mortar and the people who inhabit them,
we capture something more profound if we include the
entire community in our scope.
From this perspective, our responsibility to share
our learning comes into sharper focus. That responsibility
arises from the simple fact that not everyone in our
society has the same opportunities.
The world is changing at a breathtaking pace. As we
speed into the 21st Century, our lives
are increasingly permeated by sophisticated and complex
technologies. They have changed our institutions,
and made our world smaller. The level of knowledge
and skills needed to flourish is growing at an accelerating
rate, making lifelong learning an exciting fact of
To cope with these challenges and ensure our common
prosperity, we will need the talents of everyone.
We can't afford to leave a single person behind. In
particular, we need to foster the strength that diversity
brings to our national purpose. Diversity is our nation's
competitive advantage, and we must capitalize on it.
Crossing societal and disciplinary boundaries is where
the action lies.
All of us desire to do something with our lives that
makes a difference. One thing all of us can
do is to mentor someone else. Mentoring is giving
back. Mentoring matters to the individuals we guide
and the society that will benefit. That's as good
as it gets!
In this sense, you are not leaving the University at
all. You remain within it and yet enlarge it throughout
Today, knowledge is both the source of inspiration
and the object of aspirations worldwide. People everywhere
in the world see the capacity to create, integrate,
and use knowledge as their best chance to foster economic
prosperity and improve the quality of life. We know
that new knowledge is a key force driving innovation.
In fact, Peter Drucker defines innovation as applying
new knowledge to things that are new and different.
The economist Joseph Schumpeter, writing in the 1930's,
coined the phrase "creative destruction" to describe
the process by which innovation disrupts - and displaces
- old technologies and practices as new ones emerge.
The old gives way to the new as a necessary feature
of economic growth.
But innovation is not an abstract force. It's what
people do. So we can speak instead of creative
transformation. That's what drives change. When
the best in human nature is the vital spirit shaping
progress, innovation is at its best.
There's a lesson here. If you don't transform the world
yourself, someone else will. If you want the world
to reflect your vision and your ideals, you will have
to roll up your sleeves and become an innovator. But
when you're innovating, keep this thought in mind:
having the skill to do things right is not
enough; doing the right thing must be your
A surprising and wonderful feature of innovation is
that each one of you can do it - not in fifteen
years, not in ten years - but tomorrow.
The bit of wisdom I want to leave with you today is
how to do this. It's really quite straightforward:
Challenge the world you're given.
Probe the accepted way of doing things, while appreciating
the opportunity to effect change given to you by those
who proceeded you. (In other words, give some respect
to your elders as you poke the frontier.) Innovation
takes agility, tenacity, and a deft touch. Muhammad
Ali's famous words of advice apply here: "Float like
a butterfly, sting like a bee" the butterfly beautiful
and the sting sweet.
In science and engineering, we do this by testing boundaries
and exploring new frontiers to advance knowledge.
The most successful businesses compete in much the
same way. In human affairs, we depend on the to-and-fro
of dialogue and the free exchange of ideas to keep
our society vital and on-track. And in the arts, we
see innovation taken to its most expressive edge.
The vision of innovation is not limited to molecules
and machines. We need innovation in our schools -
in new ways to mentor and new tools for learning.
We need innovation in industry - in cleaner and more
efficient processes and products. We need innovation
in the humanities, in the arts, in business, and in
our public and private institutions. It's the lifeblood
of our civilization.
At UMBC, you've been respected for your curiosity and
imagination, and you've been encouraged to think both
independently and interdependently. That's the best
preparation you could have to be an innovator.
One of our great American essayists, Ralph Waldo Emerson,
put it this way: "Do not go where the path may lead,
go instead where there is no path and leave a trail."
Of course, there are risks in challenging the status
quo. In our efforts to plough new ground, we sometimes
make mistakes. In those moments of failure, we may
The sometimes gloomy, but ever thoughtful cartoon character,
Charlie Brown, expresses these moments perfectly when
he says, "Sometimes I lie awake at night, and I ask,
'Where have I gone wrong?' Then a voice says to me,
'This is going to take more than one night.'"
I suspect all of us have experienced these "dark moments
of the soul." One look at the news will remind us
that not all change is for the better. Our troubled
times, marked by the tragedy of 9/11, tell us plainly
and clearly that not all is right with humankind.
But soul-felt innovation can lift our spirits and show
us a way through. There are always unknown territories
to explore and as yet unimagined paths to a common
good. When we question and challenge old ways in order
to imagine and create new ones, we can move the whole
world in a direction that makes it better.
So, don't ever be afraid of swimming against the current.
You may discover that it's not just the world you
transform in the process, but yourselves as well.
Let me celebrate the Class of 2002 once again with
these final words. I congratulate you on a job well
done. I wish you a future that is challenging and
rewarding, a future that provides you every opportunity
to create the life - and the world - you imagine,
a future that lets your spirits soar. Best wishes
to you all.