Pot of Gold
By Dylan Ratigan
Commencement to Union College Class of 2012,
Delivered June 10, 2012
I'd like to thank President Ainlay and Mrs. Judith Gardner Ainlay for hosting me and for their gracious hospitality. I'd also like to thank Mr. Mark Walsh, Chairman of the Union College Board of Trustees, and the entire Board of Trustees of Union College for their dedication to furthering education. I'd like to recognize and thank Dr. Therese McCarty, vice president for Academic Affairs and dean of the faculty for making this day a possibility for all of you.
I'd also like to congratulate the faculty, staff and of course all of the wonderful parents joining us on this occasion. And I'd like to give special recognition to G. Bingham Powell for receiving an honorary doctorate of humane letters.
Graduates, I'm getting to you.
Twenty-two years ago I showed up here with a typewriter...
And you had to call landlines to make plans to meet up.
And hockey was D3.
Hockey team. Frozen 4.
When I left I had no idea what I was going to do... and even now I'm not always sure what to do.
So I've always made it a point to ask a lot of questions. And I've been able to ask a lot of people, a lot of questions.
What I've learned, despite what you may have heard on cable news, is it's all going to be fine because a cultural renaissance that is giving us all more for less -- it sounds cliché, but I can back it up.
An abundant present is here -- for all of us -- if we just wake up and ask better questions. And if we request better answers from ourselves and those around us.
There is a growing undercurrent coursing through the inner fiber of our country that is "awake." This culture recognizes that they don't know -- but that they have unprecedented access to answers. They know that better questions, result in better answers. They imagine things, design experiments to test them -- and learn and fail everyday. This forces a "GET OVER IT" culture of resilience for failure and a perseverance and humility and passion to press on.
They are finding a "POT OF GOLD," and I believe you are among the privileged generation of people who will lead us into the thick of it.
This culture of questions -- married to new communications -- cuts across all industries and identities because those doing it share a single mission: to ask better questions and, in the process, turn fearful and unsustainable cultures into a joyful sustainable ones.
This culture comes in all shapes and sizes. It looks like Derek Sivers, a professional musician turned entrepreneur who pointed out that we learn much more, much faster if we use testing to survey what people DON'T know -- and then customize missions for them to learn the missing skills. He found doing this accelerated learning three-fold. He's been inspiring people to experiment, fail, learn and adapt to do what excites them since 2008.
This culture looks like Dr. Jeffrey Brenner, a doctor from Camden, New Jersey who is reducing healthcare costs while healing people simply by targeting the group needing the most help in the system first. And then implementing simple measures like paying high school students to take senior citizens out for walks or ensuring that those most in need take their medication on a daily basis.
This culture looks like David Kennedy, a criminal justice professor reducing crime by unprecedented levels in Baltimore by locating and engaging the most violent offenders in partnership with the community.
He assembles the group most trusted by a given violent offender and simply says with the group:
"Every community has petty drug use and theft to one degree or another -- and that is public health issue we must address. But not every community uses guns to shoot each other, please, just don't shoot each other."
In Baltimore, they did this -- a 60 percent reduction in crime for mere pennies, simply by taking the time to reestablish a community covenant.
What the music entrepreneur, Marine sergeant, doctor and criminal justice professor all have in common is their culture; It's a mission first, leave-no-man-behind culture. They are ruthless and compassionate and asking better questions everyday. You have the chance to expand this culture, to help lead us to the world's first global "POT OF GOLD" through your collective collaboration, innovation, experiments, and excitement.
You are the real force. You are the richest people in America, because you have the most valuable thing -- time and options.
In fact, unlike any other time in the entirety of human civilization you are all able to pursue almost any and every avenue you choose to explore.
Take time every day to talk with each other, learn how find agreement with those you don't and define sets missions with those you do. It doesn't matter if you're an environmentalist or a history buff, a political science major or a law student, a musician, an author, a thespian or an animator. Your arrival into this world is perfectly timed.
But to capitalize on this opportunity you have to ask more ruthless questions and be more compassionate -- whatever the answers may be. And most importantly, be willing to change your thinking and your actions when new answers reveal themselves to you.
The best questions no longer start with Who or What or When or Where...
We can look that up.
They start with How.
You don't read about the stories of the musician entrepreneur, the Marine sergeant, the doctor, and the criminal justice professor or see them in the news. Because they are defined by HOW they interact which isn't measured by an old system incapable of keeping pace with the rate of change taking place in our world. But we know it's happening, because we met these people. There are innovators all across our country inspiring new methods and creative solutions to solve age-old problems. They are the heroes of their own stories.
I challenge you to seek them out, to talk with them, work with them and learn from them. Share this knowledge and these experiences with others. You will see, as I have, that there is a burgeoning culture that has been awakened from a slumbering one that fights, into a joyful one that questions and collaborates. People are occupying, studying, researching, investigating, challenging and resolving new maps for their future. New technologies are upgrading old techniques that visionaries are using to get to the center of our most troubled areas.
We are challenging the culture of our longest standing institutions like education, healthcare, and energy to work differently. We no longer accept that because it's the way it's been done before means that it's the best way to do it. Take a piece of our universe and resurrect it, change it, shape it into something that no one's seen before.
You can choose to lead us into this renaissance, unleashing waves of potential. I want you -- and your parents -- to be embrace failing. If you're not failing, you're not trying -- and that is our greatest risk. So let's fail our asses off as we experiment with unprecedented tools and connections in this new paradigm of joy and genius that we can choose for ourselves daily if we experiment, learn and fail.
Be careful of the seductions of hero-worship and villainy. They are lies.
There is no silver bullet. Let me be clear: there is no knight in shining armor, there is no sinister cabal. There are no heroes nor villains. We are the heroes of our own stories. I am the hero of mine, and you are the hero of yours.
The integrity of our relationships and our trust to talk to each other is our greatest currency. Use it. Celebrate It.
While you will physically be detached from this place and these people, you will take the most important pieces from your last four years into your next experiment, your next step, whatever that may be.
We're all looking forward to hearing your ideas and, most important, seeing what you do. From one Union College grad to another, let's be honest -- if you can make it through four winters in Schenectady, you can change the world. With that, I wish you luck and my heartfelt congratulations to the class of 2012.