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St. Mary’s College of Maryland Commencement

St. Mary’s, MD

As Prepared for Delivery

President Urgo, Chairwoman Matthews, Congressman Hoyer, distinguished faculty, honored guests, graduates,… what a pleasure to share this happy occasion with all of you.

I love St. Mary’s College.  You can feel the history and sense the future as you walk these beautiful grounds.  Centuries ago, this place was settled in the name of religious freedom.  Today this college stands as a beacon of free thought and open discourse.

To the Class of 2013: congratulations,… you did it!

In a few moments, you will join a very select club.  86% of our world’s people now have access to a mobile phone.  But less than 7% have what you are about to receive: a college diploma.  Less than 7 percent,…

Membership in this club is not free. And I’m not talking about tuition bills – I am talking about something deeper.

With your diploma comes a responsibility of individual leadership.

In our country, every citizen is needed.

And so, today, we commence.

Adversity Is Not Our Enemy

Our world is changing rapidly.  Global economic instability.  Nation-state failures.  Global poverty.  Global pandemic.  Global migration.  Global climate change.  Global terror. Asymmetrical warfare.

In your lifetime, the population of our planet will nearly double.

And the scientists of our world assert with near unanimity that we are on the verge of burning up the atmosphere of our planet.

Anyone who tries to tell you that these challenges are not real is either uninformed or not being honest with you.

At the same time, anyone who ignores the millions of reasons for optimism in this world, simply does not have their eyes open.

These things are not happening to us, they are happening for us.

Life is an ever evolving story of change and choice.

Every challenge holds the seed of opportunity.

Adversity is not our enemy.

Adversity is the catalyst of all progress.

And these are the most exciting of times to be alive.

Think: in a relative instant of human time we have gone from manned flight to men walking on the moon.

From human vaccine to human genome.

From telegraph to internet,…

And at the point of this ascending arrow always is the effort, imagination, and will of the individual human spirit.

Here at St. Mary’s, consider the story of Peter Burnes from Montgomery County.  Peter lives with cerebral palsy.  His legs require a wheel chair, his spirit knows no limits.  His dad moved the family near campus to support his son’s attainment of a degree.  Together they have attended classes, cheered on the Seahawks, and participated in campus life together.  Today Peter graduates –with honors.

There is also the story of Brittany Davis from Baltimore City.  Brittany lost her father at a very young age.  Her mother, Rosalyn, had to work hard to support her and each of her five siblings.  Rosalyn had big dreams for her daughter.  Expectations become behavior.  The transition to St. Mary’s was challenging. There have been starts, and stops. Struggles and breakthroughs. But Brittany returned to St. Mary’s. And with a talent that inspires leadership in others — in a few moments — Brittany Davis will become the first member of her family to receive a college diploma.

These individual stories are also Maryland’s story.

Maryland’s response to adversity.

Maryland’s history.

Maryland’s future.


You see, we here, in Maryland, have been placed at the center and the forefront of this journey of ours called the American Revolution.

It is not over.

It is ongoing.

Yesterday it was a revolution of muskets and bayonets.

Today it is a revolution of science, technology, healing, discovery, and innovation.

For the second year in a row,  the U.S. Chamber of Commerce named Maryland the #1 state in America for innovation and entrepreneurship.

In labs, classrooms, and innovative companies throughout our State, Marylanders are revolutionizing the way we feed, fuel and heal our planet.

From Dr. Robert Gallo’s work on an AIDS vaccine,… to the discovery taking flight at places like NASA/Goddard, the Applied Physics Lab, Aberdeen Proving Ground and NEANY, Inc. here in St. Mary’s County.

From the cures and healing being developed at places like Medimmune and NIH,… to the Net Zero homes being built by Nexus Energy Homes in Frederick.

Last year, Maryland achieved the fastest rate of new job growth of any state in our region.

The life sciences. Bio-tech.  Clean-tech.  Green-tech.  Information technology.  Cyber security.  Space and aerospace.  Global trade.  Advanced manufacturing.

As our challenges are big, so too must be our efforts, our leadership, our compassion for one another and the future our children will share.

And innovation is the key.

Innovation not only in science and technology, but innovation in art, and music.

The innovation that only conceptual, critical thinking can bring about.

The innovation that creates jobs by improving and accelerating the delivery of higher education and better skills to all of our people.

The job creating innovations that improve the health and security of our people and our homeland.

The innovation that creates jobs in clean energy and green design to improve the sustainability of our way of life.

The job creating innovations necessary to save humanity from the devastation of climate change and the massive loss of human life that it portends.

The innovation born of a deeper understanding of  the relationship between our relationships.

Our relationships to one another, and our relationships to the other living systems of this planet.

A deeper understanding of the system-ness upon which all human life depends.

Forward Or Back?

The question is not whether we move left or right, but whether we move forward or back.

And no citizen has the option of escaping an answer.

Good intentions are important but good intentions are insufficient.

A new mindset is required for new action.

A new way of organizing human endeavor is needed.

In business, in government, in non-profit sectors — a  new way of governing ourselves is required.

More open, more transparent, and more accountable even as it becomes more inclusive, more compelling, and more compassionate.

A new way that is, at once, ever more effective even as it becomes ever more personalized.

You are among the first born of this new Information Age.

Today, all across the globe, people are becoming more powerful than their governments.

People are becoming better connected than their governments, better informed.

A New Sort of Leadership

You are graduating at the threshold of a new era of American progress.

At your generation’s fingertips are rising standards of living,…

Better educated children,…

More affordable college,…

A more highly skilled American workforce,…

Safer neighborhoods,…

A safer and more resilient Homeland,…

Healthier people,…

A more sustainable way of living,

Achieving this progress will require a different kind of leadership from each of you.

Your parents grew up in a time when leadership was ideological, hierarchical, and bureaucratic.

This new Information Age calls for a different way:

It calls for leadership that is entrepreneurial.

Leadership that is collaborative.

Leadership that is accountable, performance measured, and relentlessly inter-active.

Leadership that creates common platforms to connect and empower individuals.

Leadership which is willing to open-source information in order to unlock individual community-based solutions – on a massive scale.

Leadership which understands the power of human dignity and the strength of our diversity.

And so, I leave you with this prayer:

“May the gift of leadership awaken in you as a vocation,… And keep you mindful of the Providence that calls you to serve,…

When the way is flat and dull in times of grey endurance, may your imagination continue to evoke horizons,…

May your work be infused with passion and creativity, and have the wisdom to balance compassion and challenge,…[And,] may integrity of soul be your first ideal, the source that will guide and bless your work.”

Congratulations, Class of 2013.

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