Lt. Governor Lawton Speaks at UWFox Commencement
[This page is preserved for historical and reference purposes only. The information contained on it may no longer be current.]
Lieutenant Governor Barbara Lawton's Speech at the University of Wisconsin-Fox Valley Commencement Ceremony
May 20, 2005
Students, faculty, Dean Perry, Trustees, family and friends:
I couldn't say "yes" fast enough when invited to speak at your commencement tonight. There is much talk of late about our two-year campuses; I believe they are critical to Wisconsin's economic outlook. And the Fox Valley is not a complacent place, but rather a restless and growing part of the state that counts on its home University of Wisconsin campus as a center for study to attract and hold the best of its citizens. This is a place where
· the doors are always open to the community and its many organizations;
· where you build knowledge and learn how to penetrate groundbreaking fields;
· where students of all ages may continue to develop their gift/talent and open doors to endless career possibilities, and do so living at home if they choose;
· this is a place where the community begins to integrate your dreams into its vision for the future.
And this is a triumphant moment, our tribute to your years of disciplined work.
These diplomas are emblematic of both your personal success and your potential. I am deeply honored to share in the celebration of your accomplishment of the institution that is now inscribed on your life story. And I want to talk about the chapters left to write in that story.
Many of us have something in common. I had the good fortune of circumstances that made it possible to finish high school in customary fashion (which is not to say I didn't make my parents nervous at times), but the rest of my education career falls into the category of "non-traditional." I made halting progress toward a degree over many years.
When, in the fall of my freshman year of college, my father sold our family's beloved vacation retreat at the time my tuition was due, without consulting anyone, I questioned whether I or my work could ever be worthy of that sacrifice.
So I went to work full-time, nearly made the mistake of seeking (false) security in what would have been a disastrous marriage, and finally found my way back to school, this time while working three jobs, and then later working around a husband and two children.
Some days that's a lonely place to be. You're studying alone after the rest of the family is asleep, sometimes after a long day's work; friends who've already moved on may not grasp the magnitude of your project; sometimes it feels like there's just not enough of you to go around.
But many of you wear the badge of a non-traditional student which means you put together a winning combination of courage and tenacity, you managed long hours and your families and friends are here with you tonight along with your faculty to cheer you on to the finish line. And we all say, Bravo!!
I hope that this is only a punctuation point in your academic work. You've proven you have the right stuff to succeed, and your investment will pay far greater dividends if you parlay this diploma into a baccalaureate degree. It is a very different work world you will ease into in a few years, and the assumptions that drove your parents' decisions don't necessarily hold up today. The idea of employment for a lifetime in one place as an ideal is long gone. What catches an employer's eye on a resume is very different today. The entire aesthetic sensibility of a younger generation is different. That became abundantly clear to me recently. I was at a wedding and, when the bride and bridesmaids' shawls slipped to reveal tattoos on each one of them somewhere, my first thought was that they must have served in the Navy together and all got drunk in Singapore. Yes, the assumptions have changed.
In some very real way, it matters little what major is listed on your diploma. My path to elected office started in the Nutritional Science department, meandered through Mass Communications and Accounting, eventually bringing me to this threshold as a Spanish major.
Your chosen course of study may drive your career today, but my bet is some day it will be only distantly related to your chosen work. If you had been at your studies as long as I was, you would know that careers in the computer field you may have thought were a ticket to sure success have already been outsourced.
In the shift from a primarily manufacturing-based economy to an information- and knowledge-based economy, talented and educated citizens emerge as the central asset. And it becomes clear that what will endure, the talent we can't outsource, is innovation in every field.
Your work is to develop the ability to build a field of expertise, learn how to recognize it in others, to critically analyze work outside your own discipline, and know what questions to ask. Your degree is the hard-earned ticket to choose that will keep you on the balls of your feet, ready to pivot when necessary.
Other things to consider:
· it's easier to get into Harvard School of Business (10%) than the graduate program in U.C.L.A. Art Department (3%);
· the hottest credential in the eyes of today's corporate recruiters is an arts degree, and they're circling and wooing students at unlikely spots like the R.I.S.D. and the School of the Art Institute in Chicago;
· plentiful supply of M.B.A.’s today, but demand for artistic aptitude is surging: the M.F.A. is becoming the new M.B.A., and it's the Harvard Business Review in 2/04 that's announcing it.
Financial services may be moving overseas, but product differentiation through design stays here.
Listen to auto industry legend Robert Lutz. When he took over as chairman of General Motors North America, a journalist asked him how his approach would differ from his predecessor's: "It's more right brain. . . . I see us as being in the art business. Art, entertainment, and mobile sculpture, which, coincidentally, also happens to provide transportation."
Making headlines in the Wall Street Journal last week: "Future CEOs may have the need to have a broad liberal arts foundation." Physicians with a liberal arts background are better diagnosticians. And we would hope that those involved in genetics or weapon development have the ethical grounding from the humanistic arts.
My Ph.D. work in Spanish was also a way for me to learn my own language and culture better. To think about globally literate citizens, we need citizens literate in their own language and customs and government. And we need you to understand yourselves and the global contest of your work well. Follow a study plan that deals with the experiences and cultural expressions of different peoples and societies over time and in the present, so you find yourself equipped with the knowledge and perspective to make your life experiences and obligations to our fellow citizens clearer to drive thoughtful life decisions.
Toni Morrison charges that if we do not take seriously our role "as guardian of wider civic freedoms, as interrogator of more and more complex ethical problems, as servant and preserver of deeper democratic practices, then some other regime or ménage of regimes will do it for us, in spite of us, and without us."
You are building critical thinking skills and intellectual virtues like honesty, thoroughness, perseverance in searching for truths. Bring that invaluable gift to this wide open space that lies between where you vote and where you buy, between government bureaucracies and private corporations, and help us breathe new life into a civil society. Then together we will negotiate a sea of conflicting interests, not by throwing inflammatory partisan grenades but working together to establish anew, in new economic circumstances, government's role and public policy that will support the success of citizens in healthy communities across the state. We need every one of you to play a role in shaping this democracy that is, by definition, an ongoing struggle.
Pericles said, "We do not say that a man who takes no interest in politics is a man who minds his own business; we say he has no business here at all."
We have nowhere to turn but to politics - the very instrument with which we make our freedom and build and maintain a civil society. We have no one to turn to but you, citizens of the future who will do that hard, sometimes mundane, work every day in a spirit of generosity and with the resolve of true heroes. Your job is to prepare well to take that on; ours is to make this state a place of opportunity that will be an irresistible choice for you. We'll jack up the cool factor across the state; you convert this opportunity into an exciting vision. We want a front row seat for what follows.
Your diploma pays tribute to your raw energy, spirit of adventure and
even audacity - all the right stuff to open doors to an exciting future
for every one of you. Now it's up to you to keep the doors to our democracy
open for the next generation.