Susan K. Feigenbaum, Professor and chair of the Department of Economics


Emily.. Ijlal.. Michael.. Lauren.. Brian.. parents.. grandparents.. spouses.. esteemed faculty colleagues.. Dean Burkholder.. Provost Cope..Chancellor George.. honored guests..members of the class of 2005..

WE MADE IT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

It seems like only yesterday - rather than 30 years ago - that I sat where you sit today.. elated by my new-found freedoms - a life free of exams, of professors telling corny jokes, and of all those all-nighters to finish the last term paper..

As I began to reflect upon the 30 years that have passed since my own graduation, I quickly recognized that much has changed during that time.. changes that will have considerable impact on your success as you move into the wider community beyond this campus. As I see it, these changes are largely the result of three megatrends that have swept the world since my halcyon days as a college coed.

The first megatrend is the dramatic reduction in information costs resulting from the revolution in technology and computing. 30 years ago I grudgingly sprang for a $100 TI hand calculator to avoid having to use a sliderule to take square roots. Today, an even more sophisticated calculator can be had at the dollar store. Today, a 6 lb laptop computer has processing power far in excess of a 30-year-old room full of IBM mainframes. The Internet can be accessed at virtually instantaneous speed to retrieve information that was previously the exclusive purview of specialists in a wide range of disciplines - electronics, medicine, interior design, accounting. Monopolies over information have been competed out of existence by technology! It is no longer enough to possess information to succeed in the world.. one must now know how to use this information in creative ways to solve problems, clarify issues, expand our scientific horizons, improve productive processes and our quality of life. The skills you have acquired as a CAS graduate - in the areas of oral and written communication, quantitative reasoning, and scientific as well as humanistic inquiry - give you the expertise to add value to a world flooded with low-cost information. These skills assure that technology will enhance the value of your human capital rather than serve as a substitute for you in the marketplace.

The second megatrend is the globalization of our culture and economy, resulting in large part from advances in communication and information technologies. Many in today’s audience recall quite vividly a world once comprised of discrete empires; a time when physical walls and metaphoric curtains carved up the globe. These barriers have since come crashing down and Americans now enjoy a plethora of opportunities to explore history, culture, and people who are remarkably more alike than unlike ourselves. At the same time, a global economic community has arisen, nurtured by competitive forces that favor low cost production, forces that have little regard for national boundaries. Whereas my New England parents were concerned about the exodus of textile factories from the Northeast to the U.S. south, my generation worried about the flight of these same factories, accompanied by automotive and steel manufacturers, to overseas locations, enticed by the promise of cheaper labor. Today, we anxiously monitor the outsourcing of jobs requiring a college degree - in accounting, software development, and even in the reading of X-rays and CT-scans - to foreign lands with increasingly well-educated populations. My generation worried that the immigration of professionals from England and India would displace native-born college graduates in the U.S. Today we worry that these same jobs will be exported to foreigners who can now remain in their home communities and still enjoy a vastly improved standard of living. This trend will intensify as more and more individuals, worldwide, gain access to the global marketplace.. as foreign governments liberalize their economies.. and as these governments invest increasingly in the health and education of their citizens. For this reason, today’s college graduates must have a broad liberal arts education that will ensure that they remain ahead of this trend.. an education that permits them to reinvent themselves as the need arises.. an education that imparts a resourcefulness and ingenuity to assure continued participation in new innovations, markets, and intellectual pursuits.

The third megatrend derives from technological innovations in the area of health. We are living longer than any other generation in the history of mankind. For women like myself - born in the first part of the 1950s - average life expectancy was 71.1 years. For those women graduating today and born in the first part of the 1980s, life expectancy has risen to 78.2 years! The results are comparable for males. A 10% increase in life expectancy in a matter of only thirty years! With this rise in life expectancy has come the increased likelihood that economic change will occur that will displace an individual from their employment, even their career, at least once during their working life. We know, for example, that the success of scientists in receiving federal research funding drops dramatically as they age, largely because new scientific approaches make them increasingly obsolete. The most accomplished individuals have been able to redirect and augment their skill sets to ensure themselves a second, successful career opportunity. Scientists become chancellors; physicians become legislators; philosophers become applied medical ethicists. It would not be surprising for you, the members of the class of 2005, to have three or more career changes during your productive, working lives. Your willingness to take risks and to regard these career transitions as beneficial to your long-term well being will depend crucially on having the intellectual resilience to respond to new economic challenges in novel, creative ways.

The three megatrends I have just described will create an economic future for each of you that is undoubtedly more uncertain and insecure than the future I faced 30 years ago. As I pondered the wisdom of delivering this bad news on this, your graduation day, I was comforted by the realization that in spite of these whirlwinds of change in the world around us, the prescription for attaining economic success and personal satisfaction has remained remarkably unchanged. The core elements of this prescription are as follows:

First, feel passionately about your career choices. One of my earliest students in Economics announced with certainty that she wanted to be a lawyer. I asked her why she had made that choice and she quickly rattled off a number of reasons - including making a difference, prestige, economic security, intellectual challenge. I then asked her if she had ever actually spent time in a law office observing what lawyers spend most of their time doing..she had not. After an internship at a local law firm and another year conducting economic research as my assistant, she decided to follow her passion and obtain a graduate degree in Economics. Earlier this year, this very same student - Nancy McCallin - was appointed, at age 40, the youngest President of the Colorado system of two-year community colleges! She accomplished her goals - making a difference, prestige, economic security, intellectual challenge - without sacrificing her passion. Indeed, it is likely that this passion has been central to Nancy’s professional achievements - and what has distinguished her from the crowd - as she has moved along her lifelong career path.

Second, know your comparative advantages and build upon them to ensure your long-term competitiveness in the marketplace. I happen to love shooting hoops with my kids.. still, I have never been approached by the NBA with a lucrative contract. My comparative advantage is translating economic theory and methods to students, as well as advancing the state of economic knowledge. This strength extends to involvement in public policy formation, business consulting and writing about economic issues for the general public. Who knows where this comparative advantage will take me in the future? I can still enjoy shooting hoops as a hobby that enriches my life, without the frustration that would ensue were I to insist that my economic success depended upon it. Competition will not tolerate does not matter how hard you try. People are born with unique talents that must be constantly cultivated, sharpened and refined. Know yourself and the unique gifts that you can contribute to improving your quality of life, as well as the lives of others.

Third, be a lifelong learner! No job will ever pay you enough to stop learning, whether on or off the job! Lifelong learning protects your comparative advantage and, at the same time, creates new outlets for your skills and aptitudes. A rapidly changing world requires inventiveness and initiative. Oftentimes, new opportunities arise by what seems to be simply a stroke of good luck. In fact, the true meaning of luck is to be in the right place at the right time with the right skill set, receptive to new challenges and willing to take risks. With three or more careers to look forward to, no one in the class of 2005 can afford to become complacent and let their human capital deteriorate into a heap of rusty scrap.

Finally, and most importantly,
Establish priorities in your life and keep them front and center as you make both life-altering and seemingly insignificant daily decisions. You are surrounded today by loving family members and fellow students who felt and shared your teachers who have invested much in your members of the community who applaud your academic success and have high expectations that you will give back through civic engagement and leadership. Never forget that it is in the lives you touch - not in the things you hold - that you will discover the true meaning of success and personal fulfillment.