Eduardo Padron’s Commencement Speech

May 11, 2011

Commencement Speaker Eduardo Padron
Photo by David Woods

On Sunday, May 8, Eduardo Padrόn, president of Miami Dade College, was the commencement speaker for the College of Arts & Science’s 2011 Commencement Ceremony. Below is the speech he delivered. (Watch the video of commencement.)

Commencement Speech

President Duncan, members of the Rollins Board of Trustees, faculty, staff, friends and family members, and most importantly, the Class of 2011, the graduates of Rollins College:

I am very honored that you have invited me to speak with you on what is a very significant day in your lives. My entire working life has been spent in the field of higher education, and for me there is no more important or cherished day than commencement. It is the culmination of your hard work and determination, as well as a very special day for the faculty and staff who have ushered you along your journey.

And it is a day of fulfillment for many who dreamed of this moment long before you ever opened a book. Take a look around you and you’ll see the people who paved your way. It’s a day to treasure your heritage and understand how hope and love is passed on from one generation to another. So, to all the generations and all who tilled the soil to this mile marker, I say congratulations, job well done, dream fulfilled.

But this is a very unique graduation event because for the first time in Rollins’ history, the Fox is in the house. And I know on Fox Day, you get a break from classes and lectures, so in the spirit of the Fox, I promise that my lecture will be appropriately brief.

Just last weekend I had the chance to listen to President Obama address another group of graduates, and he told them to “carry the dream forward.” The energy of others’ dreams for you is giving way to the formation of your own dreams, and that of course, is the way it should be. Make no mistake, this is your time.

And make no mistake, your moment happens to coincide with a very fascinating and demanding time on the other side of college life. The world is suddenly flat and hot, to quote the author Thomas Freidman, and a single key stroke can change the course of history. They know this in China and Egypt and Libya and so many other places in a world that seems to fit inside a cellphone.

And you know this. You are riding atop a great swelling mountain of information and new knowledge. Suffice to say, we have never known change at this velocity, a kind of global vertigo in which careers and entire industries emerge and disappear in no time, and economies large and small become vulnerable.

So it stands to reason that unlike your parents and grandparents who often worked at the same job for a lifetime, you are likely to change positions and even career paths many times in your working life. Last week, the President acknowledged that this is no easy time to be marching forth into the world of work, when everything seems so unsettled.

And so today, I want to remind you of a few simple things, things that I think, deep down, you have always known. But our tendency - all of us - is to forget the simple things. Our default is toward complexity and explanations, when the best and deepest things in life will never be explained.

First, don’t believe too strongly in this degree you’re about to receive. I know this sounds like the wrong message for today, but really it isn’t. I know and you should know that completing your degree is a wonderful achievement. You’ve earned it and you have made a lot of people very proud of you. And it will surely be a resource to you in this brave new world of work. But-- in the end, it’s just letters after your name and a line on your resume. Don’t be fooled into thinking that’s who you are.

So, who are you if not your credentials? To answer that you need to understand that the world you’re about to enter wants to answer the question for you. It has meaning and value already laid out for you. All you need to do is watch a few television commercials to know the truth of this. I’m sure many of you are familiar with “The Most Interesting Man in the World.” He is not. I don’t even like his taste in beer. But he is one of those powerful images who wants to sell you on what’s important.

But something much more important, much more real has just happened for you. Somewhere in the past four years, there was a moment when something clicked. In that moment, college was no longer about the degree down the road or the grade on the exam. In that magic moment, it was about the power and thrill of learning. That’s when you change; that’s when you discover a little more of who you really are. That’s an identity – as a learner - that you can keep for the rest of your life.

And that’s the key. It doesn’t matter how daunting and unstable things appear; the only mistake you can make is to stop learning. If you lose your humility, you lose your way. Your shield is your commitment to continue learning, no matter what it takes.

Because learning is a conduit, not only to what the world can show you, but much more importantly, to yourself. Do you know that you are the greatest one-of-a-kind phenomena to ever set foot on mother earth? There is no one like you, never has been, and never will be. Think about that: Each of you is a singular act of creation, a masterpiece; never before, never again.

But you are about to encounter a world that is predicated on judgment and comparison. All well and good for you will need to think critically in this world to be successful. And in this world you will win some and you will lose some. But in your worst moments – and your best ones – you will still be this unique work of art. It’s imperative that you remember that. It won’t always be easy but your closest ally will be the learner inside you. It’s there that you’ll realize the strength of your passion, your perception, your understanding, your trust, your kindness, your courage, your love.

Each one of you knows this and I’d like to recognize just a couple of your classmates who have made this understanding come alive. Katie Powell knows this because her passion to support underserved populations has led to over 100 campus-community projects. Her internship with PICO United Florida led her to lobby in Tallahassee for the rights of countless low-income residents across the state. Katie, I join those people in saluting your passion.

Ariane Rosen is the co-founder of Rollins’ Model United Nations and served an internship at the U.S. Embassy in Beijing. She will study Mandarin in China this summer, and then pursue a master’s degree in international relations at the University of Cambridge. Ariane, you are one of the stars in a constellation of more than 400 bright lights today.

Together, all of you represent tomorrow’s greatest minds in medicine, technology, social progress and so much more. But it is never enough to be merely adept. You see, it’s not the experts who change the world; it’s the lovers who do that, the ones who are passionate about what they do, those one-of-a-kind people who found that part of themselves that truly makes all the difference.

Which brings me to one final point: For all of your uniqueness, there is also a commonality that too few people in the world today want to acknowledge. We have crafted a much too partisan—and too often poisonous—environment, in this country and around the world. And one of the great qualities of those who embrace learning is that they listen well. Today, not a lot of people are listening, save to the sound of their own voice. In a world with astounding communication capacity, we have become experts in separating ourselves.

But you can change the conversation. You have already done it. Your social networks have connected you, one to the next, and made the super powers of this partisan world take note. You have made them listen.

So keep listening and keep learning. Don’t be an easy partisan. Don’t be a soft touch for the labels of separation. Never take the beauty and wonder of this life for granted. Never give up. Never, ever stop learning.

Thank you for inviting me to your special day and thank you for listening.

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