Jerry Dunn, Clinical Associate Professor and Director of Child Advocacy Center
Toward Your Emerald City
Thank you Dean Yasbin, Chancellor George, distinguished platform guests, faculty , families and friends-and most importantly, the Triton class of 2011.
The situation into which we are ushering you is fierce, you are walking into a world that is at war with itself, into a nation with economic and environmental concerns which have a different urgency than those which were present when we sat in your chairs, however many years ago that might have been.
It is this urgency that compels us to make sure you have everything you need to find success. It occurred to me, all they really need to know can be found within the pages of L. Frank Baum's classic, The Wizard of Oz. Indulge me for a few minutes.
As you turn your tassel this afternoon, you will leave here in search your own Emerald City. Your Emerald City is, no doubt, a glorious place ; a location which represents success and where everyone wants to be. But because the road away from University of Missouri- St. Louis may not be paved with Yellow Bricks; we want to make sure to send you off with some things that will make your journey toward your Emerald City a little easier.
Luckily, unlike the Scarecrow, you've already got a brain. More specifically, while you've been here you've developed your mind. You have gained skills to think critically about the problems facing you and your generation. Use them. Start spending that intellectual capital you've been earning for the past four (or sometimes more!) years. Invest it well and your generation, as well as others to follow will reap the dividends.
But always remember, knowledge is different from wisdom. Acquiring knowledge can be solitary , it can be done in isolation, but it is impossible to acquire wisdom without understanding how your knowledge impacts others. So, no matter how sharp you keep your mind, you will never be successful unless you learn to collaborate with each other and those around you.
As you keep moving toward your Emerald City, you are also going to need the same heart which the Tin Man so deeply desired. Dr. Martin Luther King said, "The single most persistent question on Earth is "What are you doing for others?" Find your passion-whatever it may be. Ask yourself---What would you do if you knew you could not fail?
Dorothy really was right, "There's no place like home" . Once you find that passion, open up that big heart of yours you will be leaving with today and engage in your community. Each of you can use your passion to find a way to give back; give back to the University, to a non- profit, to those less fortunate. The need has never been greater than it is today. You, graduates, are our community's greatest commodity. Build a better life for you, for us, for children, for those children's children!
In order to build that better life, you are going to have to find courage just like the Lion did. There are people in this world who have flying monkeys and aren't afraid to use them. There will be poppy fields along your journey---times when there will be the temptation to close your eyes, go to sleep and ignore the world's problems. Trust me graduates, the world's problems are not going to melt away by tossing a bucket of water on them!
You'll need courage--stand up for those who can't. Find the courage to stand up to ignorance and intolerance. Find the courage to detest apathy. Train your own flying monkeys and don't be afraid to use them. But use them in the moment when they are needed most. Those boys who are involved in the sexual abuse allegations at Penn State needed someone to have courage, then, not now, but then, in that moment. Don't' let those moments pass you by. In the end, who will you have defended? What cause will you have championed?
Don't be naïve, there will be tough times as you make your way toward your Emerald City. Sometimes it will feel like a house falls from the sky out of nowhere and lands on you in the middle of your life. You're going to fail and you are going to make mistakes.
Here on campus at our center, I have the extraordinary privilege of training young psychotherapists who work with traumatized children. I always tell them, "Be wrong enough of the time to stay in good practice at it!" It is your mistakes and how you handle them that will get you where you need to be because they will cause you to look at things in a different light, from a different perspective.
Also, I caution you to remember that it was not until they reached the Emerald City and had secured an audience with the Wizard that Dorothy and her companions realized what was behind that curtain. Along your way, beware of those behind curtains who will try to trick and control you and mind that you've worked so hard to develop. More importantly, learn to look for and recognize those curtains. What curtains will you find hanging in your Emerald City once you arrive there? What are the moral blind spots of your generation? Hopefully, while you've been here-your professors have taught you to pull back that curtain and recognize that there is no wizard.
Remember , Dorothy, and the Scarecrow and the Tin Man and the Lion didn't need the Wizard. They didn't need the Wizard because everything they needed to realize their dreams was in them the whole time. It is the same with you. You have everything you need to deal with the world the way it is. You are the ones who have the power to make the world what you want it to be.
Every day children walk into our center, children who have been abused, children who have been neglected, children who have essentially been discarded. Some pity them but we don't. We don't because we know that, with our help, they have everything they need, to become someone who is strong and capable despite what has been done to them. They have the opportunity to learn something about themselves, the opportunity to learn that they can face unbelievable challenges and prevail, that they have the strength to do incredibly hard things. This resiliency is nothing short of awe inspiring. I tell you this to remind you that even in the face of crisis, there is always an opportunity for you to grow and become stronger.
Regardless of where you were born or where your journey to your Emerald City began, today you will leave as sons and daughters of Missouri. More importantly, you will be Tritons for the rest of your lives. Tritons were mythical creatures who possessed a tool, a specially shaped shell that made a sound so powerful it was said that it could cause giants to take flight. This tool, this shell, also could control the waves of the Ocean.
So fellow Tritons (and I am one of you) , take your brains, your hearts and your courage and use the tools your faculty and this University have given you. Go into the world toward your Emerald City, and never, ever, be afraid to make some noise and raise some waves.