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Robert Lewis

Chancellor George, Dean Burkholder, members of the Arts & Sciences faculty, and ABOVE ALL, the graduating class of the College of Arts & Sciences,

Welcome to the club! 

You are now among a fairly elite group, with all of the responsibilities that attach to such leadership. 

You are college educated--better yet, educated from an American university. 

Granted, that’s like very many of us in this hall this afternoon, but not like all that many of us worldwide.  I emphasize “worldwide” because the world demands better educated leadership from the United States.

The United States recently reached 300 million population.  The world’s population exceeds 6 billion.  Both curves continue upward, but note that Americans represent only five percent of the world.  And college graduates represent only a quarter of Americans.  Thus, the elite club of which you are now members is only about one and a quarter percent of the world’s population.

Over half of these earthly residents, moreover, live in cities, a threshold also only recently passed with a curve continuing upward.  In America, almost 8 in ten of us live in urban environments.

I stand before you as an economic development planner and an urban planner in some awe of these trends and forces and changes.

An increasingly urbanizing world means that we are increasingly living in multi-layered, multi-dimensional environments where specialized education can actually hinder improvements in the human condition. 

In other words, the world needs more people whose advanced education and training cut across disciplines, across programs, across practices, and even across professions. 

A graduate of a school of Arts & Sciences is, by definition, one who is exposed to such a wide range of viewpoints and is able to be fluent, if you will, in the multiple languages of urban places.

I speak of the languages of demographics, of economics, of architecture, of philosophy, of transportation, of engineering, of sociology, and of politics.  These languages are learned and perfected through literature, through social interaction and group problem solving, through research and debate, through curiosity and tenacity.  Such are characteristics of a liberal education.

I dare say that the vast majority of you were drawn to the College of Arts & Sciences indirectly.  You couldn’t make up your mind about a major.  You kept discovering fascinating arenas of academic pursuit.  Discussions in literature or philosophy classes prompted interest in sociology or economics.  Certain political scientists broadened your interest not just in politics but, more importantly, on why politics is important. 

Thus, you emerge from college with a broader leadership capacity than most other college graduates for our increasingly urbanizing world. 

Still, you also have a personal concern that you may not be employable.  “Who wants to hire a philosophy major?”  “How can an economics degree help me if I’m not really going to be an economist?”  “Sure, I have a political science degree, but how many politicians are political scientists?” 

Let me assure you that you are the most employable in a world that needs leadership.  Simply by graduating, you have demonstrated an ability to learn on the job.  With the liberal education of Arts & Sciences, you also have learned to speak in the many languages that are necessary to transcend political and social boundaries. 

You have proven that you WANT information and that you can analyze it. 

You have demonstrated that you can be given a problem and you can find ways to solve it.  Sometimes by yourself, but often working with others.  In our increasingly urbanizing world, we need more people who can work with, indeed lead, others in problem solving.

And you should be confident that your own mind is now your greatest asset in problem solving.

Now, let me let on that I encourage you to leverage your liberal education not just for the good of the world, but for some selfish reasons, as well.  Yes, I need you to help me.

As an employer, I need you to work for me.  To bring your ability to think, to dedicate yourself, and to challenge old ways of doing things.

As a civic leader, I need you to volunteer your brains and creativity to serve on civic boards of directors, to advocate for those less fortunate, to pursue your ideas for improving the human condition in the public arena.

As a tax payer, I need you to be economically productive so that we can better afford to pay for those goods and services that we collectively determine are necessary for everyone’s benefit.

As a business owner, I need you to challenge me to produce the best and most necessary goods and services at prices that maximize my profits while improving the prosperity of all humans.

So I need you, selfishly, as a citizen of the world.

You now stand among the elite of the growing population in a shrinking world.  You have a college education.  Even better, you have a college education from an American university.  Even better than that, you have a multi-lingual degree that demands that you assume leadership in the organizations that advance the human condition.

My very best to all of you in your pursuit of world leadership.