Commencement Address 2008

Paul J. Zingg, President

First, I know that the ice is melting, so I need to keep this short.

Second, I know that your future is awaiting, so I need to keep this relevant. Third, I know that you’ll hardly remember anything that I say. Well, maybe you'll remember that line.

But, I hope that you will remember, fondly and appreciatively, the time that you have spent here in our and each other’s company. And I hope that you'll remember that it was here that you acquired a deeper sense of serious daring in your lives and that you found joy in that discovery.

That it was here that you came to realize that the essence of education is self-discovery, that education's critical role is the nurturing of human freedom in the service of human community, and that neither discovery nor service occur without intention and resolve.

People do not just stumble upon themselves.  Rather, they find and create themselves through their actions and through accepting the consequences of them. 

We achieve personal identity only by making decisions that require forethought, intention, and, at times, courage.  You must look beyond what is known and tried to what is, as yet, unknown and untried. You must search out alternatives, consider their consequences, and then confront these choices.  In a practical and provocative sense, half the jobs for the mid-21st century haven’t even been invented yet.  You must anticipate them and prepare for them if you are to fill them.

To face these tests, I urge you always to seek the truth.  Think.  Study.  Weigh and measure.  To do otherwise may mean that you will become enslaved to falsehoods.  And those who know the least are the most willing to obey shallow signs and follow dangerous deceptions.

I urge you to continue to seek meaning in your own life.  This may require an act of faith when faced with the chaos and complexity, and even the insane brutality, that exists in parts of our world today and which sadly and tragically even visits our campuses occasionally. Whether far from here or in our own community, we mourn the goodness, creativity, joy, intelligence, and potential lost when lives with so much promise are cut short by accident, alienation, violence or despair.  But stay close to your family and friends, find comfort in nature, be kind to one another, and recognize that your spirit, no less than your body, requires nourishment.

Mohandas Gandhi, whose social and political activism was grounded in hope and service, defined several spiritually perilous conditions, when he warned of:

Wealth without work
Pleasure without conscience
Science without humanity
Knowledge without character
Politics without principle 
Commerce without morality
Worship without sacrifice

I urge you to build a life of virtue, which rejecting these deadly sins will enable, and, particularly, to make sure that justice informs all of your actions.  Practice charity and forbearance in your daily life.  Embrace the example of the many among you who have helped with the Hurricane Katrina recovery, who have raised funds and hopes for the children victims of cancer, who have devoted countless hours of service to the Chico Boys & Girls Club, Habitat for Humanity, a cleaner environment and a sustainable future, who have tutored the less fortunate, provided company to the lonely, and fed the hungry.  Examples like these not only reflect a generous community, but also reveal that you and I, and all people, even the weakest and least advantaged among us, share a common humanity and potential for goodness. 

In these matters, I urge you to understand the dignity of human aspirations.  The audacity to hope, to dream of a brighter future, underscores what it means to be human.  We cherish this quality in ourselves.  You must see to it, then, you who know better, that the dreams of others are not destroyed by prejudice and discrimination, by poverty and ignorance.

As a citizen, graduate, and now alumni of the California State University, I encourage all of you to continue to support the university and its mission.  Let your friends, colleagues, legislators and community know how important the CSU has been to you—and how earning a college degree can be such an important step toward a brighter future for you, our state, and nation.  Please help keep the doors of opportunity and promise open to these students who follow in your footsteps by supporting the CSU.

And, finally, I urge you to think kindly of this place—this community of purpose and service—which has equipped you and encouraged you for the daring journeys ahead—whether they be brief forays or deep commitments, whether they test boundaries or cross borders, whether they are intellectual or attitudinal, spatial or spiritual.

We hope you leave us more autonomous, more tolerant, more curious, more imbued with habits of the heart, than when you first joined us.  And we hope these qualities will always mark you and define us.

We are a better place because you have been with us.  We will become even better as you stay in touch with us as an active member of a growing and enthusiastic Chico State Alumni Association and that you will share with us your journeys and decisions always, we hope, on the side of the true, the beautiful, and the virtuous.

Congratulations and best wishes.