May 15‚ 2001 Commencement Speech

Georgia (May 15, 2001) —  President Siegel, distinguished faculty, most honored graduates, ladies and gentlemen. My sincere thanks to you, Dr. Siegel. I will cherish this link to Kennesaw State University for all my years, and I am truly honored and humbled by this recognition.

And now, welcome to all of you who are joining in this celebration. And that’s what this gathering is: a celebration of achievement. I know firsthand something of what this day means to all of you. I’ve been through such ceremonies as a graduate and as a father, and, God willing, I’ll be blessed to enjoy them with each of my eleven grandchildren.

I congratulate you graduates on your achievement. Receiving your degree is a landmark event. I also congratulate your parents and grandparents, your husbands and wives and friends and everyone who assisted you. You graduates owe them a solid word of gratitude. You also owe a word of thanks to the staff and faculty at Kennesaw State, and you owe a special thanks to President Siegel. She has this university totally engaged with the community. And she is building on all the university’s traditional strengths by aggressively moving it ahead with digital technology.

The mention of technology brings me to the point of departure for my remarks today. As you might expect of a speaker whose career was in technology, my focus today is technology–more specifically, computers and the networks that link them together, especially the Internet. But what I have to say about the Internet and all the related information age technology might surprise you. I will not hype its powers, and go overboard about all the wonders it will perform in the coming years, though many wonders there will be.

Instead, I want to comment on the limits of information technology, what it cannot do for you. Because as we begin to see what technology cannot do, we begin to see more clearly what you can do, not just in your career, but in the art of living life. And of prime importance for today’s celebration as we see the limits of technology’s power is that we begin to see the ultimate power of your education here, and the ultimate power of continuing to learn throughout life.

But before I elaborate on what technology cannot do, I want to make sure I won’t be misunderstood. Technology is indeed generating vast, new opportunities and benefits in education, in research, in health care, in every aspect of world commerce. And it will continue to generate many, many more benefits. So I’m not downplaying technology’s manifest powers: I’m simply putting them in perspective.

As to what technology cannot do, look at it this way: You don’t use a hammer when you need a saw. And you don’t turn to technology when you need human judgment, wisdom, hope, or empathy.

Technology can give you data and analysis–mountains of it. It can’t give you courage and character.

Technology can give you scores of projections from computer models and multiple alternatives for consideration. It can’t make the tough decisions for you. The tough decisions always come back to people, knowledgeable people. And often, the tough decisions come down to that great force in human affairs: judgment. Judgment born of knowledge, experience, sometimes intuition; judgment that benefits from past mistakes–and successes.

I’m sure President Siegel could tell us about the limits of technology for answering some tough questions she’s faced here at Kennesaw State. So could the CEO of any business. So could any parent or grandparent sitting out here, or anyone who has ever held public office.

The fact that technology cannot make the tough decisions for you is not just because you never have all the data, or all the facts, or all the conceivable analyses. It is because technology cannot erase the ambiguities of life; it can’t tell you whether your heart wants one thing, or another.

The nub of the matter is this: Technology can’t tell you what values to value. These are all about the art of life itself.

No software package can tell you the proper balance between work and family, or the best way to care for aging parents who can no longer take care of themselves.

No web site can make you treat people as though you really believe in the "Golden Rule."

Technology can’t make you take liberty, equality, and justice into your heart, and live them in your life.

Nor can it make you fulfill your duty as a citizen–your duty to stay informed, and to do more than just vote; your obligation to be engaged in your community.

Technology can’t give you a religious foundation, or move you to achieve its fulfillment.

Technology gives you speed and information and analysis; but it can’t give you patience and understanding.

Technology connects you globally; but it can’t give you the warmth of a home.

Nor does it lend itself to addressing the biggest question of all. On the Net, you can type in your current location and where you want to go, and the service will draw you a map from where you are to any house or business in the country. But no such service can draw you the path to a happy, fulfilling life.

Here we have run head-on into technology’s limits.

Technology continues to deepen our awe at the eternity of time and space. But it can’t assure us of our ultimate place in them.

Big issues like all these things I’ve mentioned hinge on personal traits and values: they hinge on faith, love, compassion, and curiosity. They hinge on a sense of duty. They hinge on escaping the confines of self–escaping, if you will, self-centeredness. Sometimes they hinge on hope. And hope–like love–can carry you through almost any crisis.

The big issues in life hinge on wisdom–the sum total of all these traits I’ve mentioned. And all these are the qualities of leadership that increasing numbers of people will expect from you as you move on through life–your employers, fellow employees, your family, and your communities will look to you for wisdom and leadership.

But as a matter of fact, if you look back on it, you have already been exercising some degree of leadership and offering some wisdom in these areas for many years–in your home, at school, on the job. As you move through life, you’ll be exercising much, much more, and the questions will become more difficult. And you’ll have to draw not only on your own knowledge, judgment, and wisdom–you’ll also have to draw on that of others.

Fortunately, when it comes to wisdom, we don’t have to start from scratch–if we’re willing to learn from those who have gone before us. Wisdom is a vast storehouse of the most important kind of knowledge the human race has developed. You can find it in history books and novels, in philosophy and religious works, in music and in art.

Wisdom: you can find it in old people sitting on park benches; you can find it in people all around you, even your parents.

All this–what technology cannot do, what you can do–all this is why the education you have gotten here is so important. Education to prepare for a career, to be sure, but even more so, education to open your eyes to the mysteries and wonders of life and the universe, and the people all around you.

Again, I congratulate you for what you have achieved, and for all the hard work you have put forth. You’ve built a foundation for learning, for refining your judgment, for increasing your wisdom.

Now your job is to build on what you have done here. It will take continued formal learning, and the powerful–sometimes painful–learning that comes of experience, of taking part in life, of close observation of people and events, and institutions.

You have great possibilities before you.

The job market isn’t as strong as it was a year ago. But the economy will rebound. That is the story of the proverbial economic cycle. And when it rebounds, it will swing higher than it was before, with still greater opportunities.

The education you have gotten here will be a great asset.

Make the most of it. But please remember that you–not technology–are the vital instrument of this great and grand human enterprise.

Technology can be a tremendous asset for you in your pursuit of happiness. But its ultimate worth for a happy life depends on what you tether it to.

Tether technology to rewarding aims, to moral and intellectual courage, to honesty, to faith, to serving others, to love, compassion, duty, hope–tether technology to these and it will serve you well. But know its limits, what it cannot do: it can’t substitute for human judgment and wisdom.

So don’t use a hammer when you need a saw.

Best wishes in your career; best wishes in your pursuit of happiness.

God bless you all. 


A leader in innovative teaching and learning, Kennesaw State University offers undergraduate, graduate and doctoral degrees to its nearly 43,000 students. With 11 colleges on two metro Atlanta campuses, Kennesaw State is a member of the University System of Georgia. The university’s vibrant campus culture, diverse population, strong global ties and entrepreneurial spirit draw students from throughout the country and the world. Kennesaw State is a Carnegie-designated doctoral research institution (R2), placing it among an elite group of only 6 percent of U.S. colleges and universities with an R1 or R2 status. For more information, visit