May 14‚ 2002 Commencement Speech

Georgia (May 14, 2004) —  It is a privilege and an honor to address the 2002 graduating class at Kennesaw State. I moved to Cobb County in 1973 when what is now Kennesaw State University was the seven-year-old Kennesaw Junior College. What has transpired in the 29 years since then has been truly amazing as Kennesaw Junior College evolved first into Kennesaw College, then into Kennesaw State College, and finally into Kennesaw State University. 

Kennesaw State is truly one of the success stories of higher education in Georgia and in the South. The faculty, the staff, the administration and most importantly, the students should be truly proud of what has taken place at Kennesaw over the last three decades.

Before I begin my comments today, I would like to assure everyone that President Siegel briefed me on the three Bs of commencement speaking - be sincere, be brief and be seated, and not necessarily in that order. But just to illustrate that President Siegel's briefings had an impact, and that I understand the importance of commencement addresses, I'd like to conduct a brief three-part research experiment here.

First, let me ask everyone who has a college degree to raise your hand.

Second, if you remember who addressed your graduating class, keep your hand up.

Third, if you remember what your graduation speaker said, keep your hand up.

OK. As you can see, I have quite a challenge in front of me - commencement addresses apparently do not rank high on the list of most memorable events in a lifetime.

Even so, as we congratulate you on your graduation today, I would like to ask you - and your parents, friends, family and faculty - to take a few minutes to think about the time that you have spent at Kennesaw State. I'll help you a little bit, but I'm going to begin with the assumption that most of you who are graduating today were on the five or six year plan. So let's go back about five or six years to when many of you were just beginning your career at Kennesaw State, or in other cases were trying to figure out where you were going to go to college. It seems a long time ago, doesn't it?

But it really wasn't all that long ago. In 1996, the world made Atlanta its home as the Atlanta Olympics transformed this city into the world's capital.

1996 also was the year Kennesaw State College became Kennesaw State University.

1997 was a relatively quiet year as many of you made your way through the dreaded core curriculum, but a year later "Monica-gate" began.

1998 also was the year of the bombing of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, bringing home the reality that the United States and its interests were in fact targets of international terrorism.

1999 started with a miracle - the Falcons in the Super Bowl. And throughout the rest of the year, as many of you pondered which major to choose and debated which professors to take - or avoid - we all hoped and prayed that the Y2K bug would be less than it was feared that it would be. Fortunately, it was. In 1999, we also witnessed impeachment proceedings, and Americans were once again reminded how their government works. 1999 also was the year of the Kosovo War - was it really three years ago already?

And in 2000, "hanging chads" were introduced to the American vocabulary as the we lived through the most confused and confusing presidential race in U.S. history.

What can you say about last year? Just as most of you began to realize that graduation was just around the corner, and you began to look forward to life after college, the tragic and horrible events of September 11th changed the way we looked at the world and the way we looked at life. The flag took on new meaning for many of us, and we understood our parents and grandparents a little better, especially how they felt on December 7, 1941. The war on terrorism began soon after September 11th, and it is something we are going to be fighting for a very long time.

What about this year? We're not even halfway through the year, but the highlight for most of you in 2002 will surely be why we are here today - your graduation.

If you are getting your bachelor's degree, you have had a heck of a five or six or seven or more years here at Kennesaw. It's been memorable and eventful. And if you are getting your graduate degree, your time at Kennesaw has been equally memorable and eventful.

Now that most of you are on your way to life beyond Kennesaw, you are probably wondering what life is going to be like out there. To tell you the truth, I don't know. Dr. Siegel tells me that 986 of you are graduating today, 792 with bachelor's degrees and 194 with master's degrees. That means that there will be about 986 different versions of what life will be like out there. And I can't tell you what you will need to succeed in your chosen career - there will be about 986 different versions of that as well.

But in my few remaining minutes with you today, I'd like to stress three things that you should concentrate on if you intend to succeed as human beings. And that, after all, is what an education should be all about.

First, acquire knowledge. That's one reason - but I stress only one reason - why you went to college. Some experts estimate that the amount of scientific knowledge doubles every decade, and predict that by 2015, all the knowledge known to humankind will double every 73 days. The same experts predict that in the first two decades of the 21st century, the average worker will change careers three times, and not always by choice.

These are sobering numbers, so I stress, if you are going to succeed, you need to have knowledge, you need to know how to update that knowledge, and you need to know how to be able to employ that updated knowledge to be productive and to change. They call today "commencement" for a reason. With your graduation you will not stop the quest to attain knowledge. Rather, in a very real sense, you have just begun that quest.

The second component I believe that you need to succeed as a human being is sympathy. As a human being, or I should say if you are going to be a success as a human being, you must be sympathetic to the hopes, dreams, needs and fears of others. Knowledge without sympathy is empty. You must relate to other people, and relate to them well.

You need go no further than the major religions of the world to realize this. Every one of them has either a negative or a positive golden rule. Every one says either, "Do unto others as you would have others do unto you," or "Don't do unto others as you would not have them do unto you." Put differently, people are important, and you need to both understand and be sympathetic to this reality if you are to succeed as a human being.

Finally, you will also need understanding. Understand yourself, and understand others. Don't over-generalize, and don't leap to conclusions on the basis of incomplete information. And make sure your information is accurate. Develop an understanding of people, situations and issues.

Some might call this wisdom, and I wouldn't argue with them. But regardless of whether you call it wisdom or understanding, don't let the incredible quantity of data and information that we have at our disposal hide the fact that wisdom and understanding are what the human condition requires, at least if we are to be successful as human beings.

As you graduate, then, and in the years after you graduate, try to keep these three simple things in mind - knowledge, sympathy and understanding. The K and the S and the U - that is what Kennesaw State University and its faculty, staff and administration have provided you. Now as graduates, go out and show the world what it means to be successful human beings and successful KSU alumni.

Congratulations on your graduation! 


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