May 14‚ 2004‚ Commencement Address
Georgia (May 14, 2004) — President Siegel, Dean Peterson, faculty colleagues, graduates, families and friends of the graduating class of 2004, I am honored to be invited to address you on this very special occasion. Indeed, the honor is even more special to me because I am both a Kennesaw alumna and a KSU faculty member. When I told my mother that I had been invited to deliver this commencement address, her mouth dropped open, and when she was finally able to speak she said, “You? I thought that they always invited someone important to deliver a commencement address.” Graduates, let me assure you that on this day, no one is more important than you.
As I contemplated what to talk about today, I recalled the advice of one of my English professors at Kennesaw. As a student in freshman composition, I never knew what to write about when assigned the task of writing an essay. My professor repeatedly advised me to write about something that I knew about. Extrapolating that advice to this talk, I decided that I know mathematics so perhaps I should derive the quadratic formula or discuss solving differential equations. You may be aware that a mathematician cannot talk about mathematics without colored chalk and a chalkboard. Unfortunately those pedagogical aids are not available today, so I discarded those topics.
Next, I decided to draw from past experience. After all, I attended four college commencements as a graduating student and many more commencements as a faculty member. Thus, I decided to select a topic from one of the speakers at those ceremonies. I assume that each ceremony had a speaker. However, of all the ceremonies that I attended, the only speaker that I remember is for all the wrong reasons. The speaker talked for a very long time and was very boring.
I suspect that your memories of commencement will be similar to mine. You will remember your name being called, walking across the stage to receive your diploma and your family and friends’ pride in your accomplishment. You will not have a clue who spoke or what was said. So I should stop now; but I can’t.
Now, all that stands in the way of your walking across the stage while your family and friends glow with pride is me. My talk may not be inspiring and it may be boring. But let me assure you it will be brief.
When President Siegel invited me, she suggested that I talk about the impact that KSU had on me. Several friends and colleagues urged me to talk about mathematics.
So, I’m going to talk a little bit about both. I will relate a few experiences at KSU that I think illustrate what we hope makes KSU special. But most important, I will also describe a few characteristics of mathematics that reflect some of my views of the important things in life. One might say, a mathematical approach to life.
To put it simply, people — the students, faculty, and staff — make KSU special to you and to each of us. I hope that you have memories of special people at KSU. I know that I do.
Perhaps you had a professor who had a passion for science and that passion energized you. Professors passed on their love and appreciation of mathematics to me. As a professor, I also endeavored to pass on an appreciation of the beauty of mathematics. Today, I want to pass on to you some of the wisdom of mathematics and mathematicians.
An idea that Howard Eves gives us is, “Mathematics knows no races, no geographic boundaries;
for mathematics, the world is one country.”
The point to remember is we are all citizens of one world. Mathematics is a language that knows no boundaries. In this context 1 + 1 = 1.
As a faculty member, I had the opportunity to spend some time in Russia with a math professor and his family. One evening he showed me a textbook that his son used. The book was written in Russian and I do not speak Russian. However after looking at the book for a few moments, I told him the name of the book and the author. The mathematics were recognizable even though the words were in Russian. Thus, I saw first hand that mathematics is truly a universal language.
I implore you to remind the world that we are proud of being scientists, physicists, chemists and mathematicians. Find ways to make the world understand what is important and be a voice in creating the culture and direction of the society we live in. I challenge you to help others be passionate about mathematics, science and technology.
My next quote is from the book “In Mathematical Circles:” “An expert problem solver must be endowed with two incompatible qualities, a restless imagination and a patient pertinacity.”
The point to remember is that you must be problem solvers. If I were to give you a list of things needed to succeed, the first would be to find an important problem to work on. The second would be don't ever give up.
During my years as a faculty member at KSU, I occupied offices in five different buildings. However, each of those offices had one common characteristic: no window. It was a bit like living in a cave. One evening the entire campus was evacuated because of an unexpected snowfall. I was so isolated that I did not know that snow had fallen or that the campus closed until I left my office to go to another building to teach my class. The classroom building was dark and my car was the only car in the parking lot. My important problem: get an office with a window. I never gave up. I even suggested that I might become a student of the ‘60s and take over the president’s office. President Siegel’s office does have a window. Finally, the last year before I retired, I moved into an office with a window. I found a problem and never gave up.
Albert Einstein reminds us, “The significant problems we face cannot be solved by the same level of thinking that created them.”
The point to remember is to be a creative thinker. Share the gifts of your unique intelligence and creativity with the world. We all know that Einstein’s Theory of Relativity revolutionized physics and changed the world. But we sometimes forget that Einstein arrived at his theory by unconventional means. Because he viewed time much differently than his peers, he had the vision to see the workings of the universe in an entirely new way. Within each of you lies the seed of an idea or vision that, like Einstein’s Theory of Relativity, can change the world, but only if you cultivate it.
I was fortunate that most of my teaching career was spent in an environment that encouraged creative thinking. As Godfrey Hardy said, “I am interested in mathematics only as a creative art.” Students were often the catalyst to my creative efforts. In my case, students helped shape my ideas and strategies for teaching mathematics. Those ideas travel to many other colleges throughout the United States in my textbooks. So, that means that you students, too, have helped shape future leaders, teachers and scientists.
Eric Temple Bell said, “Creative mathematicians now, as in the past, are inspired
by the art of mathematics rather than by any prospect of ultimate usefulness.”
The point to remember is that you should be willing to appreciate some things just for their beauty, not just their utility. One of the most frustrating questions that students in my classes asked me was, “When will I ever use this stuff?” The answer is that I don’t know. The uses of math, or for that matter any discipline, can arise in unexpected situations. You may never use music in your job. Art may never play a key role in your career. However, they add quality to life. Mathematics can be applied to solve important and complicated problems. However, mathematics is also art. Appreciate it as such. Encourage others to appreciate the beauty of mathematics.
One day following class, I observed that one of my students was still sitting at the back of the room with a big smile on his face. I asked whether he had a question and he replied that he did not, but that he enjoyed watching me do math. He said, “Dr. Hubbard, for you mathematics flows like music.” He continued by saying that although math did not flow in the same way for him, he did enjoy listening to the symphony of my doing mathematics.
The mathematician Karl Friedrich Gauss said, “Finally, two days ago, I succeeded. Like a sudden flash of lightning, the riddle was solved. I am unable to say what was the conducting thread that connected what I previously knew with what made my success possible.”
The point to remember is focus on success. I am a mathematician, so I know that 1+1 = 2, 2 + 3 = 7, 3 + 5 = 8 and 2 + 7 = 9. If any of you were still listening, the one thing that you most likely remember is the error: 2 + 3 = 7. Too often we focus on our mistakes and the mistakes of others. Rather than remember all of our successes, we remember our failures. So the final piece of advice is to focus on your successes and your strengths as well as the successes and strengths of others.
Now, perhaps you relate to the line from Hamlet: “I am ill at these numbers.”
The final point to remember is this. Never give up trying to find creative solutions to the problems of the world. I know that you will succeed. Congratulations.
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 kennesaw.edu.