Chancellor highlights ‘warm, gooey’ advice in commencement talk

(Editor's note: Chancellor Larry Vanderhoef delivered the following address last week to thousands of graduating seniors and their families during division of biological sciences, engineering, agricultural and environmental sciences, and letters and science ceremonies.)

Let me begin by congratulating the stars of the show, our graduates. This is all about you, and we intend, first and foremost, to recognize your success.

But, I also want to welcome your families and friends, many of whom are here today, because their accomplishment runs a close second to yours. Graduates, let me give you an opportunity to stand up, look to where your friends and family are if you have been able to determine that, and give them a standing ovation.

Rough patches inevitably occur during any university student career — and I speak from personal experience as a former undergraduate at the University of Wisconsin who early on skirted the bounds of academic probation. Actually "skirted the bounds" doesn't quite catch the reality — I was into it full time.

Those tough times require friends and family, people in whom you can confide — about difficult classes, about events in your personal life that are coming at the worst possible time, about almost incomprehensible writing by authors you know you must understand, and the list goes on. Yes, friends and family are essential during the course of college study, so you who are guests today, please know how important you are. You own a piece of the degrees granted today.

Graduates, you must be feeling a sense of relief and accomplishment as you wrap up your studies and prepare to take the next step in your life's adventure. I suspect, as well, that you might be feeling just a bit of anxiety — not unlike the anxiety you might have felt when you first arrived at UC Davis, a place unknown to you then but a place that eventually has become home.

What you've learned these past few years will undoubtedly serve you well as you look out at what truly is the widest horizon of possibility. That horizon, however, may seem fuzzy and unfocused simply by virtue of its vastness. Don't be daunted. And don't feel that a choice made today is binding and forever.

Exploring possibilities, walking new paths, discovering the unexpected is your life's journey. You're not expected to be able to draw that map today — only to be receptive when your internal Global Positioning System occasionally nudges you in a direction you didn't anticipate heading. Taking those side trips and taking your time are essential parts of the journey. In the words of world-renowned soprano Beverly Sills, "There are no shortcuts to any place worth going."

As I considered what I might say to you today, I thought there was value in passing along the best advice offered to new graduates by Davis Enterprise readers in the newspaper's most recent poll.

Their most popular advice was to follow your dreams. Their additional words of wisdom included, in this order:

  • Find a job you love;
  • Make learning a lifelong project;
  • Save from every paycheck;
  • See the world while you're young; and
  • Lastly, earn a lot of money. But only 6.7 percent advised placing a priority on money. By comparison, 24.4 percent advising following your dreams.

A New York Times article earlier this month called this "warm and gooey" advice. Its author, Daniel Pink, noted that, "On every day except graduation day, young people are taught that their futures depend not on following their bliss, but on mastering dutiful (and less lovable) abilities like crunching numbers and following rules."

But, the author says, this year is different. "The students graduating this spring will operate in a labor market that increasingly confers an economic advantage on the activities that people do out of a sense of intrinsic satisfaction — designing cool things, telling stories and helping others," Pink said. "For the class of 2005, 'Do what you love' is no longer a soft-hearted sentiment. It is also a hard-headed strategy."

So what's different this year? Pink sees a combination of things: the force of automation, jobs going overseas, and a prosperity that demands "customized, intriguing, even beautiful products, services and experiences." While what he calls "eat your spinach" skills are still necessary, the abilities that matter more, he says, are turning out to be the abilities that are also fundamental sources of human gratification. So you couldn't be graduating at a better time.

As we celebrate your accomplishment today and toast your bright futures, what I most wish for you is continued adventure of the mind and spirit, the warmth and wisdom of an open heart, and the satisfaction of true success — a success that is neither lucky nor "smart" but something simpler and more natural. A success that is marked by your eagerly beginning each day because you'll get to do something you believe in, are good at and love to do.

That's the destiny you've prepared for and that I know you'll secure.

And so today, know how very, very proud we are of you.

Please come back and visit. You are family and you'll always be welcome.

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Amy Agronis, Dateline, (530) 752-1932,

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