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Dr. Bordogna's Remarks


"Creating a Better Future"

Dr. Joseph Bordogna
Deputy Director
Chief Operating Officer
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 life.

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 your lives.

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 aim.

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 doubt ourselves.

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.



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