08 April, 2011

Please Don't Fake It

Commencement isn't far off, and I find I've begun thinking what I might tell graduating seniors if I were called upon to do so. In my years as a college vice-president and president I was often called upon to do this and could always find few bits of wisdom. On a whim, I dug out some of my old speeches and found what follows - although I've edited it a bit. It still works, I think.

I've been asked to share a few hard earned wisdoms with you today - which is a good thing because I have only a few.

The first actually occurred to me after I arrived at work this morning. That is to know what expected of you before you begin any assignment - or your workday - so you can dress appropriately. Actually, I spent a chunk of my day working in my laboratory - so I’m a little dressed down as they say. Please forgive me.

The second may sound a little negative, but it isn’t intended that way. So far your life’s been good. You’ve learned a lot, and you’ve learned it very well - hence the accomplishments we’re celebrating today.

Of course, there are some things you learned before you came to us, and we can’t take credit for them.
           -Always say please and thank you.
           -Look both ways before crossing the street.
           -Not to laugh while drinking milk.

And, of course, there are lots of things you did learn while you were here at UC, and we celebrate your achievements as if they were our own.

I’m sure there are a few things you didn’t learn though - things that you should have. I expect that, being the successful students you are, you were probably able to fake it on occasion and still do well. I have noticed when I counsel students - especially good students - that sometimes they’re just afraid to admit they don’t know something and, therefore, don’t seek the help that’s needed.

In my younger years I’ve tried that faking or just getting by a few times but not with great success. It's embarrassing. Nowadays I just say "I don’t know" or "I don't understand. Help me." There is a cautionary tale that perhaps explains why you shouldn't try to fake it. You may have heard it before.

History has recorded that Christopher Columbus was stranded in Jamaica AND he needed supplies AND he knew an eclipse was to occur the next day.

He told the tribal chief, "The God who protects me will punish you unless you give me supplies. A vengeance will fall upon you, and the sun will disappear." When the eclipse darkened the sky, Columbus got all the supplies he needed.

It is also told that in the early 1900s (400 years later), an Englishman tried the same trick on a Sudanese chieftain. "If you do not follow my order," he warned, "vengeance will fall upon you, and the sun will lose its light."

The wise chief of the Sudan said, "If you are referring to the solar eclipse, that doesn’t happen until the day after tomorrow."

What’s my point? Don’t ever try to fake it. Recognize that although you’ve learned a lot, you still have a lot to learn. Recognize also that you will eventually learn all that you need and that the world is full of wonderful teachers.

When you will encounter situations in which you need help - and you shall - just ask for it. It’s there and there for a reason. Also, take these wonderful intellectual skills that got you this far and continue to make a difference in your own life and in the lives of others.