A few folks that attended our graduation ceremony complimented me on the comments that I made to the graduates. While it is not a full-fledged address, I have copied it to this blog.
Today we celebrate the completion of this group of student’s first 13 years of formal education. More is on the way regardless of what their plans are. Each of them is going to enter into an economy much different than the one that previous generations faced when they graduated from high school. The reality is that they will not have one occupation for the rest of their life. Unlike my grandfathers, they must go on to school to continue their education so that they can get a good paying job. They must also have a solid foundation of knowledge and skills because after a few years, they will most likely be required to move on to a different occupation, and perhaps more training or school. I really hope that a lot of you will get solid training as either an apprentice or journeyman, or perhaps through a community college for the skilled jobs that are so high in demand right now. These jobs are going to pay you a lot! But, you have to get the training and you must be willing to adapt.
This isn’t the way it will be for just the skilled workers. The world is changing for those with four-year degrees who enter the white-collar world. You will most likely compete with other people looking for a job from around the world, not just Iowan. And, you have to realize that young men and women from other countries are going to be willing to work for far less than you will. Because of that, you must be prepared to move on to new occupations.
The biggest advantage you are going to have is your ability to create and to problem-solve. American ingenuity is still the biggest advantage we have in the world economy. All of those word problems and science labs you were put through, and perhaps some of the projects you did where you had to take something and make something new out of it are a taste of the things employers will want you to do.
In the big picture, your education must continue. You need to persevere and seek more knowledge and more skills.
I asked a question when I arrived here as to how many students wanted to live in rural Iowa and a number of hands went up. Others want the adventure of seeing other places and perhaps the experience of the excitement of cities or other regions of the country. With all of that said, I ask you to consider the following proposal. For a little while, you need to get away. You need to go to school, join the military, or do whatever, but get away from home. Too many young people today do not break the tie soon enough from home to learn to stand on their own and become a responsible adult. Second, after a few years of experiencing life beyond Fayette County, come back! We need well-educated, passionate, progressive people to come back to rural Iowa to help us energize our small towns. I venture to say that most people in this gym today really like to live right here, otherwise they would have taken opportunities to move elsewhere. I also know there are frustrations with what has happened to our small towns. I talked to a friend yesterday from a town I lived in 15 years ago and he said that it bothered him how “scummy” his town has become. Well, you can do something about it. Come back and help us sustain a high quality of life in northeast Iowa. When you look around, there are others who have walked across this stage in the last ten years or so that have done that. But, you have to bring something to the table. That’s why you need to get out an experience what life has to offer.
As a personal note to you, the Class of 2011, what will happen after you walk out of here is the best thing that you could possibly wish for, and I am not sure that many of you realize it. What will happen is that your class will break up and you will move on. Each and every one of you can break free of the perceptions some people have and make something of yourself on your own. There is no doubt that there is tremendous talent in this class. Some of you just don’t know it yet! Many of you are going to make your mark in life and it is going to be very exciting to see whom that will be. When you all come back together in 25 years to celebrate a reunion, my bet is that a lot of you are going to be surprised!
Congratulations to each and every one of you! Good luck! And I wish you good health and happiness in the rest of your life!