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Commencement Address


Monday, May 19 - Friday, May 23, 2014

Colleagues and friends of IU Southeast on the platform with me today, Faculty and staff colleagues, Alumni, Family and community members, and most importantly, members of the Class of 2014.

Today is a celebration of YOU!

As you sit here, at the juncture between what has been and what will be, I imagine you may be thinking of the many ways you’ve changed since you first set foot on campus at IU Southeast, of the ways you’ve found your voice, found your confidence, found paths to possible futures, ways you’ve found yourself.

You may be thinking of what you will miss when you leave IU Southeast: your mentors, your peers, clubs you joined, activities that filled your time, a favorite place on campus.

You may be thinking about your hopes and dreams: the family you hope to have, the job you seek that fits your interests, the lifestyle you hope to acquire, the accomplishments you hope to achieve.

You may be feeling some fear – of the unknown, of failure, of not doing it right, of leaving your friends and family behind.

Whatever else you may be thinking or feeling, I hope you have a sense of pride at what you’ve already accomplished, and a sense of possibility at all you can do. Together, you are an amazing group of people. Please allow me to tell you a little bit about yourselves.

There are 1100 of you who make up the Class of 2014.

You represent:

  • 29 Counties in Indiana,
  • 9 States, and
  • 15 Countries.

Just over 700 (64% of your class) are Indiana residents.

381 (35% of your class) are from the six counties in Kentucky that are our reciprocity partners.

28 (2%) of you are military veterans.

406 (37%) of you are first generation students – the first in your family to attend (and now to have completed) college.

419 (38%) of you transferred to IU Southeast from another institution…

While 667 (61%) of you were students at IU Southeast for your entire program.

50 of you are graduating with perfect 4.0 grade point averages.

The oldest student in the Class of 2014 is age 72. Nancy Bartle — took her first class at IU Southeast in 1971.

The youngest student the Class of 2014 is age 20. Rezylle Gay Milallos — from the Phillippines.

620 (56%) of you are age 25 or older… meaning you completed your degree part-time or stopped out at some point during your studies, generally due to work or family responsibilities.

he average time taken for those of you undergraduates who started your academic careers at IU Southeast to complete your program is 5.86 years.

If past predicts future, about 85% of you will stay in the Southern Indiana / Greater Louisville region after you graduate, contributing to the economic and civic well-being of our community.

Yes, today is definitely all about you, and that is as it should be.

Most of you graduating today are of the millennial generation, born between the early 1980s and the early 2000s. Your generation already has its critics; there are those who believe that every day is already too much about you. They read your Facebook timelines, your Twitter feeds, the “selfies” you post to Instagram, and they judge you as a narcissistic lot. They lament that our future is in your hands.

From my own perspective, as well as the research of others, your critics could NOT be more wrong.

It is obvious from the statistics I’ve just shared that you are earnest, you are determined, you are resilient, and that you are dedicated in service to others.

Studies from the Pew Research Center find that millennials are committed to family, friends, and social responsibility, that you are moderate in your views, you are deeply engaged in service, you are defined by the technology revolution into which you were born, and that you are the largest population to engage in military service and of veterans since World War II.

In the book “Millenials Rising,” researchers Neil Howe, William Strauss and R.J. Matson, who study patterns across generations, identify you as the next “Great” generation. They posit that you will:

  • “rebel against the culture by cleaning it up,
  • rebel against political cynicism by touting trust,
  • rebel against individualism by stressing teamwork,
  • rebel against adult pessimism by being upbeat,
  • and rebel against social ennui by actually going out and getting a few things done.”

Pulitzer prize-winning author Alice Walker once said, “The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don’t have any.” The strength of your generation is that you have both a strong sense of your own power, and at the same time, you have a strong dedication to serve the interests of others.

Your capacity to reconcile and live within the paradox of self-interest and dedication to service is the quality of your generation that makes me certain you will do great things.

Physicist and Nobel laureate Niels Bohr once said that the opposite of one great truth is another profound truth. This is the nature of paradox – a situation made up of two opposites, which seems self-contradictory or absurd, but is actually true or possible.

You will face many paradoxes throughout the journey that is your life. You’ll face the paradox described by Greek philosopher Heraclites, which is that nothing is permanent except change. There will never be a sustained period of stability in your life. You will always be in the midst of transition and transformation. You will find peace only when you become comfortable with change.

Most often the smartest person in the room is ultimately the one who listens most to and learns the most from everyone else. So be bold in making connections with others, constantly ask them questions, and do your best to get yourself out of their way so you can clearly hear their answers.

As you pursue further opportunities for education in the future, you may recognize the paradox described by Librarian John Cotton Dana, that those who dare to teach must never cease to learn. So seek out teachers who are more concerned with learning than with knowing, because they will always be at the forefront of their disciplines. And should you ever find yourself teaching others, please challenge yourself constantly to ensure that what you profess to know is in fact still true.

As you make your way up the career ladder, you will find power in the paradox explained by executive coach Ira Chaleff, that the most valuable follower is the one who most loyally and courageously challenges the leader.

When you find yourself in leadership roles (as I have no doubt you will), consider the words of John C. Maxwell, who points out the paradox that people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. This is a re-phrasing of William Wallace, hero of the medieval Scottish Wars of Independence, (whom you may know from the movie “Braveheart”) who showed us that people don’t follow titles, they follow courage.

In the days and events since our severely truncated commencement this past Monday afternoon, a few other paradoxes have captured my attention, so I’ve added them to this address and I offer them now for your benefit:

  • When looking for an escape, your refuge is in acceptance of reality – whatever that reality is. You can’t run from it, you can’t hide from it, so your best option, really your only option, is to embrace it - however hard that may be.
  • Disillusionment leads to enlightenment. If you allow yourself to experience disappointment and broken-heartedness head-on, and if you can be patient enough to just sit with it for a while, you will discover incredibly important things about the nature of the human spirit, about life, and about how the world works, that may fill you with wisdom and peace.

Should you find any such peace, it will be because you experience one of the most profound paradoxes of all, which is that often the most wonderful gifts come out of the most difficult situations. Difficult situations may bring out the worst in some cases, but much more often than not, it seems they bring out unexpected grace, greatly-appreciated kindnesses, heartfelt recognition of our common humanity, and genuine acts of love.

Class of 2014, you have my deep respect and my sincere appreciation for having already embraced the paradox of reconciling your self-interest with service to others.

Many, many years from now, when you look back at your life, what you will most cherish will be the people you’ve loved, the truths you’ve defended, the adventures you’ve had, and the lessons you’ve learned. My greatest hope for you, when you look back on your life, is that you will have reconciled the great paradoxes so that you will never have had to choose between living your own truth, defending the larger truths, and supporting the truths of others.

My challenge to you is that you embrace paradox wherever you find it, which I predict will be frequently and at many critical junctures of your life. As you meet the challenges that will inevitably come your way, my hope is that you will not only find a way through, perhaps you will find an even better way, one that will lead us all into a future bright and full of promise, one we would not have realized is possible without your contribution.

You are living the answer to a question posed by Jewish religious leader Hillel in 110bce:

  • If I am not for myself, who will be for me?
  • If I am only for myself, what am I?
  • If not now, when?

You are living the challenge the Christian Apostle Paul gave to the Ephesians -- in all things, speak your truth and act with love.

At Indiana University Southeast, our vision is to shape the future of our region by transforming good students into great leaders, one graduate at a time. Our goal has been to help you become the leader we need you to be in Southern Indiana, in Greater Louisville, or wherever life might take you beyond this region.

We need YOU - EACH ONE OF YOU - to be a leader who brings together the interests of individuals with the interests of the greater collective.

We wish you great success in all you do and the greatest gifts life has to offer. Here’s to you. And here’s to the future you will create for all of us.

Blessings and Godspeed.

Barbara A. Bichelmeyer
Interim Chancellor