It’s a tremendous honor for me to speak today – in front of all of you – the Class of 2023.
Graduation is a momentous occasion – a chance to reflect on your journey, to celebrate your accomplishment, and most importantly – to look ahead. In fact, asking this group to look ahead is a little ironic. From my vantage point, it is this ability to look ahead to the future – indeed to shape your own future – that unites you today. If there is one word that I think defines each of our graduates today, it is “ambition.”
Let’s do a little exercise to support that assertion.
Stand up if you are:
- The first in your family to earn a degree
- You are a parent
- You worked a part-time or full-time job while you took classes
- You are a member of the military or a veteran
- You juggled work and family obligations with tests and papers
So, to sum up, this graduating class is composed entirely of people who were so determined to advance that they were willing to balance multiple commitments, accomplish multiple important objectives at the same time, and even reset the bar for your whole family. I think that – as individuals and as a class – you define ambition.
We are here to celebrate both what you have achieved and what you are now on course to achieve. Please give yourselves a hand!.
While I’d like to say that the hard work is behind you, we all know, commencement means to begin, not to complete.
Before we finalize the transition from being a DeVry student to a DeVry alumnus, I’d like to use the president’s prerogative to give you one final assignment. Don’t worry – there is no need to open your laptop – just want you to reflect quietly on two questions I’d like to ask yourselves.
Let’s take each of them on
Why did I succeed in reaching this milestone?
In speaking with graduates from years past and many of you this weekend, I suspect most of you had two thoughts come to mind.
- You have remarkable focus and resilience.
- Second, you did not accomplish this alone.
Today’s achievement would be worthy of note at any time. But you and your fellow students have reached this milestone against the backdrop of an unprecedented time in history. You lived through a global pandemic that has changed the way we all now live and work. The economy has swung wildly from a steep drop to explosive growth, and every stage in between. This past year alone, we’ve seen inflation impact our purchasing decisions and how we budget. Lest we not forget how quickly technology is advancing and is a constant presence in our daily lives, we’ve also spent the last six months playing with suddenly accessible AI tools like ChatGPT.
The point I’m making is simple – reaching a goal of this magnitude always requires effort. You have shown resilience and perseverance while achieving this goal, during one of the most trying times in many of our lives.
This resolution and focus are assets you always have had within you. You now know how to use these assets to accomplish whatever you want in life.
Even on a day of celebration like today, we all know that there will be hard times ahead – promotions that get delayed, business ideas that don’t get traction, family challenges that create additional burdens.
What I can guarantee, though, is that the resolve and focus you have shown in these times will serve you every bit as well in those times.
One of the most meaningful elements of Commencement is it brings together many of the people vital to your success. Not only within the DeVry and Keller community – including your classmates, dedicated faculty and student support teams – but within your personal community -- the caring figures in your lives who have lifted you up to where you are today. Your family members. Parents. Siblings. Husbands, wives, partners, and significant others. Your children. Friends, colleagues, etc. Each of them shares in your accomplishment today. And each of them will be vital to your success going forward. Let’s give them a round of applause to say, ‘thank you’.
So, if the first question was intended to help understand where your ambition came from, the second question is about how your ambition will power you from here. At DeVry, we talk about Advancing Ambition – you, obviously, brought the ambition, and the faculty and advisors gave you the tools to put it to work. Now you much choose where.
The second reflection point of How will I put my education to work? is the work of a lifetime. And not meant to be answered today or tomorrow. But it should be asked every day, and – in particular – today.
As I mentioned earlier, commencement means “a beginning.” What we celebrate today is not just the attainment of new skills, new insights, and new credentials, but the opportunity to put these learnings to work.
Each commencement, I like to quote the Greek Mathematician Archimedes because what he says is so true and what I believe our graduates can accomplish. He said, “Give me a place to stand, and a lever long enough, and I can move the world.”
“Give me a place to stand, and a lever long enough, and I can move the world.”
I’d like to think the people around you today have lifted you up and given you an incredible platform on which to stand. And – goodness knows – this is a world in need of moving on a number of dimensions.
I think of your DeVry education as the lever you will use to have an impact. I believe DeVry has uniquely prepared you to meaningfully improve your lives, your communities, and your workplaces. And to take on a world that is now shaped by continuous technological change.
The goal of everyone on this stage and in your classrooms has been to prepare you for the world of work as it is today and will be tomorrow. Not how it was, or how we wish it might be. At DeVry, we see a work world characterized by four dynamics that you have shown you can master:
- The workplace is more diverse - across race, gender, identity, generation, life experience – etc. This is a strength for both companies and individuals, but only if leaders and their teams leverage it effectively. Your time at DeVry has trained you to share ideas with people from different industries, backgrounds, etc. You are equipped to convert diversity in the workplace from an opportunity into a strength.
- Second, the workplace is more distributed. Whether your job is remote or in the office, in a small town, or located overseas, the greater workforce will be required to collaborate across time and distance to get work done. Whether by Zoom, slack, text, plain old email, or in the metaverse, the ability to engage others and get work done in new ways is vital to success and leadership. And this graduating class has shown the ability to do that at a world-class level.
- Third, the accelerated rate of digital technology in business and the economy. Before the pandemic – how many of us had a doctor’s visit by video or accessed their health information via an app? How many have done so today? That is just one of hundreds of examples of how quickly digital tools are employed everywhere in our economy. Again, this has been at the core of your education.
- Fourth, ours is a world awash in data. And in desperate need of people who can manage it, analyze it, and protect it. Everyone here has been challenged to think critically, evaluate evidence and use key technologies to manage quantitative analysis.
As graduates, you are called to lead in a world of fast-paced change. Many of you started at DeVry during the pandemic. Back in March of 2020, the unemployment rate was about 4.4%, just up from where we are now at 3.7% (May 2023). So not much change, but between then and now the unemployment rate shot to roughly 15%, then plummeted back. Similarly, the inflation rate has gone from .3% in April 2020 to 9.1% a year ago to 5% today (March 2023).
If I could tell you where the economy would be a year from now – well, frankly, I wouldn’t be here. I would be posing for magazine covers with Warren Buffett. What I do know is you have shown the ability to thrive and push forward in a world of rapid change.
Each of you is ready to lead in a world that is diverse… distributed… digital… and data-driven. You are focused and resilient, skilled in the tools needed to thrive, and supported by those in your life. While we are sad to see you move on, we quite literally, cannot wait to see what you do next!
As you do so, remember your faculty, advisors, and the rest of your DeVry/Keller community are with you every step of the way.
Even as your work is just beginning, so too is ours. DeVry has invested to create an innovative set of tools to help you continue to Advance your Ambition as an alum in the years ahead. These range from opportunities to keep learning in your field of study, to a welter of complimentary on-demand career support services. We know that your ambitions will only change and grow, and it is our job to help you keep advancing.
You’ve made us all DeVry Proud. Congratulations class of 2023!