Atlantic Cape Community College 2008 Commencement

Remarks of President Richard L. McCormick
Thursday, May 29, 2008

President Mora, members of the Board of Trustees, members of the faculty and staff, friends and family, and most especially, members of the graduating Class of 2008: Thank you for this great honor. I’m proud to be here and even prouder of the bond that the state university and ACCC have formed that enables students to take Rutgers courses and earn a Rutgers degree right here in Mays Landing.

I will do my best to heed President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s admonition to all public speakers, “Be sincere; be brief; be seated.” So first, let me say with sincerity and admiration: This is a great day for Atlantic Cape Community College, and a justifiably proud moment for every graduate and for your families and friends.

You come from many towns and backgrounds. Some of you came here after high school, some while raising a family. During your time here at ACCC, you have dedicated yourselves to many different areas of study in Atlantic City, Cape May Court House, and here in Mays Landing.

You overcame a variety of personal obstacles and challenges, some quite difficult. Each of you knows your own story and your own triumphs. Congratulations!

Today, having taken your last final exam, having turned in your last paper, and perhaps having made your last run to Strudels, as fellow Buccaneers you have reached the finish line together, and you all deserve our applause.

Let me offer a special congratulations to the 47 of you who will take your Atlantic Cape degree and attend Rutgers beginning this fall; I warmly welcome you and applaud your outstanding taste in universities. To the 50 of you who were accepted to Rutgers but have chosen not to come, well, I’m sure Harvard is a nice school, too.

Commencement speakers over the years have offered many pieces of advice, the best of which may have been summed up in just eight words when Jon Stewart of the Daily Show told the graduates of his alma mater, “Love what you do. Get good at it.”

Love what you do and get good at it. Whether “it” is running a business or nursing, teaching or digital design, law enforcement or social work or something you haven’t even discovered yet, I hope you will always love what you do. If you do, I know you’ll work hard to get good at it.

I can’t offer you anything better than that in the way of career advice. The last thing you want to do is take advice from me. Heck, I entered college in 1965 and still haven’t left yet.

Instead of advice, I want to make a simple appeal. We need you. Things have become rather troubling in this world, and we need your talent and energy to help fix them.

For example, the gap between rich and poor in America is pretty wide, but it’s nothing compared to the chasm between wealthy and poor nations, where half the world’s people live on less than two dollars a day.

We humans also have heated up our planet with greenhouse gases to the point where polar ice caps are melting and sea levels are rising at an alarming rate. The consequences of climate change include coastal flooding, intense heat waves and wildfires, violent storms, severe droughts, and deteriorating air quality—some of which we have already begun to see.

At the same time, the record-high prices we are paying for a gallon of gasoline are a shocking reminder that we need to find new forms of energy as soon as possible. And while we mourn the loss of life in China and Myanmar as a result of natural disasters, a famine that is at least partly human in its origins is causing suffering and death in east Africa.

Now, I don’t pretend that any of us has the solution to global warming or income disparity. Even the most brilliant minds and most gifted entrepreneurs haven’t been able to solve those crises single-handedly. But people of good will are doing important things to make a difference. You can, too.

A couple of years ago, the sports writer Rick Reilly used his perch to write a column about the need for mosquito netting in Africa to prevent malaria. Within a very short time more than 17,000 people responded, donating enough to buy 150,000 nets. Malaria hasn’t ended but thousands of lives have been saved.

The New York Times reported about a group of Oberlin College students who started a dorm dedicated to reducing carbon emissions. In addition to steps such as keeping the thermostat low and studying in a common room so they could turn off the lights in the rest of the building, the students competed to see who could take the shortest shower. The polar ice caps haven’t stopped melting, but those young people are inspiring themselves and others to think twice about wasting energy.

One more example, closer to home. A New Jersey woman who loves horses wanted to help those who don’t normally get to ride—people living with cerebral palsy, autism, multiple sclerosis, and other physical and emotional disorders.

She started a project called Pony Power Therapies that now has more than 200 clients. While the search for a cure continues, she is helping people to gain flexibility, strength, and self-confidence—and to regain their joy in living.

Wherever you find yourself, no matter what line of work you enter, I hope you will identify real problems and determine how you can help solve them in whatever capacity and with whatever opportunities you have. Set yourselves to addressing the major challenges of the 21st century—and also the challenges you meet in your daily lives.

Wherever you find yourself in an organization—your office, your community, your church, your company—be the one who sees and tackles problems that need to be fixed. Whatever situation you are in, size it up, identify the issue, analyze it, and be the one who proposes a solution. Don’t be dogmatic about that solution, but rather work on it with others until you’ve got consensus on an outcome that will succeed.

This may sound too obvious, but it really works in ordinary life and in your career. Be the identifier of problems, and be the one who proposes the solution. You’ll be astonished how grateful people are, and how far this approach will take you, both personally and professionally.

Each of you has the gift of knowledge and the advantages of a college degree. My appeal is that, whether your next step is more education or a job, you make the most of that talent and intellect to spend some part of your life helping to relieve suffering, create opportunity, and solve problems. You can do it, and we need you to do it.

Thank you again, and congratulations!

Richard L. McCormick
Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey