Class of 2001, we have accomplished something great today. We have completed more than twelve years of formal education, and we should be proud of that achievement and thankful to our parents and teachers for providing us with the opportunity to be here tonight. The future holds great things for us-higher education, successful careers, families-and, right now, we stand at the threshold of that future-literally. On January 1, the world entered the first serious, unquestionable year of the new millennium, the first year of this new age that will be recorded in history as neither a huge party nor a potential disaster. We are now writing the history of a new era, and, as such, we have a clean slate, a blank book. We have the ability today to create a new world.
Creating a new world-a brave new world. It’s a daunting task, and one with the very real potential for failure. In history class, we learn that the Americas were supposed to be a “New World.” While this may have been a new land for Europeans, with amazing new plants and animals, like tomatoes and raccoons, it was hardly a new civilization they brought here. Colonists carried with them their prejudices and preconceptions, and they condemned the natives at musket-point to lives of sickness and slavery because the so-called “Indians” did not share their culture. History contains this and many other examples of people who attempted and failed to create a new world.
Class of 2001, we can’t follow history’s example. We must be wise enough to lead people in the right direction and strong enough to turn them back when they go the other way. This class graduates in a year with great expectations. The story 2001: A Space Odyssey presents a world of dazzling technological achievements and celestial beauty. The world of 2001 is full of wonders, from cryogenics to impossibly intelligent computers. The people of 2001 explore the heavens, full of soaring comets and graceful nebulae. The world needs and can partake of this ethereal magic of 2001. We haven’t quite sent humans to Jupiter yet, but then, the year is still young. But even if that goal is not met anytime soon, this generation has the potential, as Buzz Lightyear says, to “go to infinity and beyond.”
This new world we create could be a marvelous place. True, it may not be populated by talking supercomputers, but then, maybe that’s not such a bad thing, considering their tendency to take over the world in the movies. There are better things than supercomputers, anyway. We could create a world that sees true justice served. We could clean up the air and the airwaves. We could broker peace between nations and between street corners. We could fill every stomach and every heart.
Our education has given us a significant advantage in creating that new world. We shouldn’t ever let it go to waste. The potential every person in this graduating class has to do good in the world using what we have learned is too precious to squander. Our education is a gift, the greatest gift we can receive after life. Being educated allows us to not only see the world but to understand the world. Education is the difference between seeing a movie and directing a movie, between reading a book and writing a book, between being the waterboy and being the coach. By graduating today, we are showing the world that we are ready to move forward in life and take on new responsibilities.
It has been a long road to culmination of our educational experience. By standing here speaking to you today, I have fulfilled a dream. While I am excited to have received this honor, I feel saddened as I reflect that now my dream is gone. Fortunately, one of the most marvelous attributes of the human race is its infinite capacity to dream. My old dream will soon be replaced by a new dream, possibly several. Old dreams, replaced by new dreams. Dreams ending, dreams evolving. Already, this class’s aspirations are focused on the next phase of life. We dream now of striking out on our own, finding new friends, meeting that perfect person, starting a family, making the dean’s list, landing that dream job, or redefining our characters.
The possibilities opened up by dreams are endless, but dreams can never all be realized--yet that fact only lends them their wonder and necessity. Dreams cause people to struggle, to reach, to innovate, to create, to change. Dreams keep the world moving forward. They spur our growth and follow our growth. The day people cease to dream is the day people cease to exist. Always, we must reach higher, run faster, and grow in mind and body, prodded on by dreams.
Dreaming is an endless process, one we participate in from birth to death. The number of dreams we may have in a lifetime or in any one moment is limitless. Dreams, be they endless quests or simple wishes, are an integral part of who we are. Follow your dreams; never let them die. Our dreams will shape our new world.
Today, we have reached a turning point in our lives. We stand on the border between childhood and adulthood. Right now, we hold something precious. No matter how jaded we think we are, graduates, we still cling to the last gasp of childhood innocence. Never let it go. Never lose it. Never let anyone take it away. Use it to see the world from a new perspective.
Perspective is a powerful concept. When art students learn perspective, ladders suddenly become railroad tracks and houses gain sides. The students now can tackle ever more complex projects that, before they gained the use of perspective, they never would have attempted. Perspective shines an entirely new light on the world, both the imaginative world of art and the humdrum world of every day.
Graduates, you have a fresh, youthful perspective on the world right now. You can use it in creating the new world. People have viewed the world as adults for ages and today, we live in a world of violence, poverty, hatred, and destruction. We must take a new approach to the new world. We must use the boundless enthusiasm and wild imagination of childhood to create a completely different vision.
Oliver Wendell Holmes said, “It is not where you stand, but in what direction you are moving. Sometimes we sail with the wind, sometimes we sail against it; but sail we must, and not drift, nor lie at anchor.” Do not be afraid to sail. Let’s harness the power of the winds of change and create a new world for our children, our children’s children, and ourselves. We have the potential, and we have the gifts that can get us there: quality education, magnificent dreams, and fresh perspective. Now, how will we use our gifts? Will we fade into the background and let this chance slip away? Or will we take the initiative and give humanity a new world? It’s our choice--but we will choose wisely. I have faith in us.
Thank you, Class of 2001. It’s been a great four years. Thank you, families and teachers. You have been an endless source of support and encouragement. And, finally, thank you, guests, for being here on our class’s last night together to help launch us into the stars.
Copyright © 2002 Colleen Fischer | Last updated October 7, 2002