Archive Speeches

Rodney A. Erickson Remarks
Penn State Abington Fall 2000 Commencement
Sunday December 17, 2000, 2:00 p.m.
Physical Education Building at Penn State Abington

Thank you, Dr. Sandler. Congratulations to all of you who are graduating today, and to your very proud families and friends. You are a special group of graduates–members of the Penn State Class of 2000. Each of you has reached this wonderful occasion by a different route. Each of you has an remarkable story to tell–where you’ve been, where you’re going, and what adventures you’ve had on the journey so far.

Students all across the country are getting tons of advice this weekend, most of which will be forgotten as soon as they walk out of the auditoriums where their commencements are being held. I can’t remember much about my own commencement ceremonies, other than a tremendous feeling of accomplishment.

I’m sure that our graduates today are at many different stages in the evolution of their career plans. Some of you have been working at other jobs while you’ve completed your degree programs, and will stay on the career path you’ve already taken. Others of you will be going on to graduate or professional schools. Still others are facing the great unknown: "I’m graduating today–now what do I do with the rest of my life."

All of us in this room have experienced at least some of the uncertainly you are feeling. I suspect that a majority of us have careers different than we envisioned during our college years. There’s a tendency to look at successful people and assume that their lives were planned out from start to finish. But this is rarely the case.

When I was 22 years old, I never imagined that I would someday be a university provost. Actually, the class prophecy in my senior year of high school predicted that I would someday be the president of an eastern girls school. The whimsical editor of the yearbook was obviously closer to reality than I was. If the truth be known, I was a less-than-distinguished undergraduate who changed majors several times, started law school–didn’t finish–and still had no idea what I would do for a career. At one point a friend of mine suggested that I consider becoming a college professor–he said they made lots of money and had plenty of time to fish. Wow, was he ever wrong on both counts! Looking back over the past 28 years, however, I can tell you there is nothing that I would do differently. Being a teacher, a scholar, and serving higher education in a leadership capacity has been an experience I wouldn’t trade for any other. The greatest reward I have is getting occasional letters from former students saying how much they had learned in my class or our conversations, and how it had influenced their lives.
So don’t panic if you’re not yet sure where you’re headed tomorrow or the next day, and even if you think you are sure, I’ll wager you are going to experience many unexpected twists and turns along your career road. The chances of spending your entire working life with one company are quite small these days. The chances that you will be doing the same kind of work are equally small. Many of the most successful people have made major jump-shifts in their career paths, and have even failed one or more times in their ventures.

The May/June 2000 issue of the Penn Stater magazine profiles several Penn State graduates who have followed unusual career paths. Mark Landgren and Paige Wingert completed their degrees from the Dickinson School of Law and landed jobs as attorneys. They also started a company, Legacy Athletic, which makes reproductions of old-time baseball caps; last year they grossed more than $4 million. Robert Johnson earned a degree in landscape architecture and worked for firms in New York, Illinois, and Pennsylvania before changing careers. He combined his childhood knowledge of horses with his wife’s career on a horse farm, and he now works as a horse breeder in Kentucky. And, Michele Gonda, with a bachelor’s degree in microbiology, was a scientist with Smith Kline Beecham in Los Angeles before a chance meeting with someone from the fashion industry. She now has her own designer label, and her clothes are worn by celebrities.

So how do we deal with an unknown future, keep our bearings, and combine a sense of adventure with our quest for security? Knowing how proud you are to become Penn State Nittany Lion alumni, let me give you a few key words to remember when you think about being Lions, L-I-O-N-S.

"L" is for Learning, a lifetime of learning. Hopefully, we’ve given you the educational foundation to work from, but today doesn’t mark the end. Commencement, quite literally, is a beginning. While you may think you can take a good long breather now that you’re receiving your degree, you can’t sit back and assume you are set for years to come. The wealth of accumulated knowledge in each of our fields is expanding so rapidly that technology, best practices, and anticipated outcomes can change in a matter of months, or even days. Focus on learning those things in which you need the greatest improvement, and don’t neglect your communications and people skills–they are high among the keys to most successful careers.

"I" is for Integrity. Honesty is the best policy–always. There are no shortcuts. Only you have to look yourself in the mirror, and I hope you are never ashamed to see who’s looking back at you. Your reputation is one of the most precious assets that you have, and it is very difficult to win back once you’ve lost it.

"O" is for Opportunity–new opportunity and openness to change. I wouldn’t want my earlier comments today to suggest that you shouldn’t be planning strategically for your lives and careers. Our faculty and staff have helped you identify your talents and prepare for a career path or, perhaps more accurately, a set of options. But, let’s face it, there is a substantial element of randomness out there in the world. Luck, fortune, whatever you want to call it, is real. And you’ve all heard the old maxim about "timing is everything." So when an opportunity knocks, don’t be afraid to open the door. Many of the best things in life happen by chance, and result from someone recognizing an opportunity they could never have predicted.

"N" is for Negotiation. You’ve probably heard the old saying: "You get what you negotiate." Sometimes things just don’t go smoothly and people have different views of the path to take. Sometimes we must make choices between two seemingly equally and worthy possibilities. Negotiation begins with understanding and respect for the positions or opinions of others. It means working together to achieve more than we could achieve by ourselves. As a parent, a spouse, a community member, an employee, and a supervisor, I can assure you that give-and-take and the skills of negotiation will go a long way in building positive relationships and accomplishing your goals.

"S" is for Service. Many of you have been involved in service activities during your years as students here at Penn State Abington. It’s important for all of us to give back to our communities, our organizations, and the people around us who are in need. You will find no greater reward in life than giving the gifts of your time, your expertise, and your philanthropy to share with others. It’s never too early to get in the habit of giving. I’m reminded of Matt Arkans, the teenager who recently gave his bar mitzvah money to a scholarship fund here at Penn State Abington in memory of his late father. What a wonderful tribute to selflessness and service to others in need.

So I hope that you will think about these few key words when you think about being one of the more than 440,000 Nittany Lions who have graduated from Penn State. Learning, Integrity, Opportunity, Negotiation, and Service:
L-I-O-N-S, Lions. Developing these five characteristics as habits will go a long way toward enhancing your life’s journey. You will also benefit enormously by staying connected to your alma mater and the friends and contacts you have made here at Penn State.

Today we are celebrating your graduation and the promise of your future. We are saluting your families and friends for their devoted care and support. And, this month, we are celebrating the 50th anniversary of Penn State Abington and its future promise. When Penn State Abington reaches its centennial in the year 2050, I hope that this class will be leading the celebration and looking back on a life filled with great joy, adventure, and service to others. My congratulations and best wishes to all of you.

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