Given on Sunday, April 4, 2004, on the occasion of her induction as an Alumna Member of Phi Beta Kappa, Epsilon Chapter.
I would first like to thank my colleague Judith Stiehm for nominating me for this honor and the faculty members of the chapter for recognizing my work not only as an undergraduate at FIU, but for what I have done since. It is truly an honor.
I would also like to the opportunity to recognize someone who has played a special role in my education and in my career. That person is Dr. Brian Nelson—who has been my mentor, role model and friend for over 20 years.
While I did not quite follow in his footsteps by pursuing political theory in graduate school, it was Professor Nelson who taught me the value of a well-rounded education in the liberal arts and with other members of the faculty, gave me the foundational tools to pursue my own career. He urged me to read broadly and to study intensively. Watching him, I learned to be unselfish with my knowledge and to share my excitement and love of ideas with my students. I think I learned your lessons well, Brian, as I look out upon several of my students who today join me in this honor. Thank you, Brian, for a lifetime of guidance.
I join you today in sharing a special educational accomplishment—we are all now members of a prestigious national honor society. Two of us, however, have the truly unique perspective of some twenty and thirty years beyond our undergraduate education—we can be your crystal ball and tell you what this might all mean to you somewhere down the road.
First, your undergraduate education is foundational—it is a base from which most of you will launch your graduate education and eventually a career. You are likely never again to have the opportunity to study so broadly ever again (and trust me, you will yearn for these days). But by attaining a strong liberal arts and sciences grounding, you have prepared yourself for opportunities that are yet unknown but surely within your reach.
Second, you have reached this place in your lives because you have developed a love of learning. Accomplishing what you have has not been easy, and you certainly have not reached this place simply because your parents wanted you to go to college. You are here because somehow you found within yourselves the inquisitiveness to reach beyond memorizing facts and dates, and bones, and muscles or music scores or famous artists. You are not here because you have learned to color within the lines. You have a desire to learn that will remain with you for a lifetime.
Finally, and you may not know it yet, you have the ability to do something that you think everyone learned in kindergarten—you can connect the dots. But these dots are not simply marks on paper—your FIU education has given you the analytical skills to make connections between diverse ideas and the ability to draw lines that may not necessarily be straight but rather multi-dimensional between those ideas.
So, what do you do with this knowledge and these skills? Use them, of course. How you use them will depend on where the next level of education and your career takes you, but you will find yourself reaching into that tool chest on a regular basis. There is no single formula for the future of a member of Phi Beta Kappa—what we share is where we have been. And what we do with our education is up to each of us individually.
Tools can get rusty and occasionally need a bit of oiling and grinding to remain sharp. Allow me suggest a couple of avenues for keeping them well honed when you have left the academy and find yourself in the throes of a career and family life.
First, take regular time-outs. Whether it is ten minutes or an hour, try to allow yourself to sit quietly on a regular basis—alone in a safe place (that would not be in a car in Dade County) with no computer or cell phone or even a book. And what should you do during this time out? Well... just think. Disengagement from the daily grind is becoming ever more important—yet it is harder to do.
Think about the great ideas, performances, and people that you studied while as a student. Meander about in your mind and ponder what is truly important to life. Keep your inquisitiveness alive—by giving yourself the time to think. I find it a bit absurd that today’s American society treats time-outs as punishment for its children—I keep hoping someone will send me to the corner!
Second, take detours in life, open doors that say “do not enter,” and my gosh, break a few rules. The safest direction is mundane and boring. Taking a detour will force you to use your analytical abilities to confront and solve problems that others will never imagine. And who knows, you might just find a shortcut as well as a little excitement along the way!
Third, ask why? Keep wondering and keep asking. The education you have received here at FIU is one rooted in forward thinking. Even historians study the past in order to understand the present and to anticipate the future. Never accept the status quo as the best we can hope for—keep asking why, keep looking for something better than what is.
And finally, I am taking a liberty on behalf of my faculty colleagues here to invite you to keep in touch with us and FIU in the future. Call us—tell us what you are doing or working on. Come back and enjoy an opportunity to engage in the richness of conversations about great ideas, great discoveries and great performances. Trust me, I have never heard my colleagues complain when one of our best and brightest calls to check in and chat. You will always be a very important part of this university.
So, I wish you many timeouts, many detours, and many important questions. And I wish you success and happiness in your endeavors, wherever they shall take you. Thank you.
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