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The Scroll.

2014 Commencement Address

Christopher Dickey, foreign editor for The Daily Beast


So, in these few minutes let me tell you what I have learned in 30-some years traveling the world as a war reporter and foreign correspondent that may help you meet the challenges ahead in your lives over the next 30 years.


Or, rather, what I have learned is that never in history has the world changed with such extraordinary speed, rendering so much received wisdom of so little value.

As change rushes at us we are all, young and not so young, in this together. If you are 22 or 62, there is no sitting back and taking it easy.

The law cannot guarantee your well-being any more. Laws today change as quickly as any other aspect of society, and almost as capriciously. Or they don't change fast enough. Legislation is outdated before it is drafted.

Money can help, no doubt about that.  As the cliche says money can't buy you love but puts you in a better bargaining position.But when we talk about the 1 percent who control most of the world's wealth, the lesson there is that 99 percent do not. There will always be someone richer than you, and those somebodies will do their best to run your world for their benefit.

Now there is no security in longevity. Time served in a traditional corporate job is not so different than serving time in a prison: you are fed and cared for, and constrained and restrained by your employer's norms. Even in academia, disruption is erupting wherever you look.

What counts is flexibility and creativity: our ability to take what we've learned in life and school and work, and think about it and build on it, and combine it with the new things being thrown at us by a world full of hugely creative people. Some will be our competitors, some will be our collaborators, and some both.

More than 40 years ago, a journalist-turned-soothsayer named Alvin Toffler wrote a book called "Future Shock" that predicted some of the huge changes we'd see in society, and he's published many books since, including many about the information revolution and the digital age. But none of Toffler's major works are available on Kindle or iBooks so even gurus are overtaken by, well, by future shock.

Change comes so fast that we almost forget it's happening. I could talk about lots of things that hsve changed in my life.  You are old enough to remember when there were no smart phones, when gay marriage was a radical idea, when there was no such thing as a hybrid car. You may even remember the skyline of New York City with two big towers soaring toward the clouds at One World Trade Center. You may remember when most Americans had never heard about or thought about Afghanistan and Iraq. Change, after all, is not only about technology. And change can be frightening - but maybe less for you than for your parents.

So, now, some of you are thinking, okay, this visionary inspirational futurology stuff is all fine, but someday soon -- not too soon, Lord -- I gotta get a job. And theories about the future are not going to get me a paycheck in the present.

Well, maybe not. Statistics show a fair number of college graduates end up flipping burgers for a while. But only for a while. And what we know about the future is going to have a huge impact on the way you and your work is valued as you break into the job market, and then break into it again, and again, and again. Because that's what all this disruption means. You are going to have many jobs, and with each one you'll have to reinvent yourself to a greater or lesser extent, or you'll be reinvented by someone else.

Me, I prefer option number one - reinventing oneself..

But this is not to say each of you must be a temperamental creative genius determined to hold onto your own eccentric identity against all odds and in spite of sane advice. There's something to be said for that. I've had a few relatives who fit that category. But I wouldn't wish their lives on you.

In today's world and in the future, most great accomplishments -- the great films, the great theater, the great architecture and music and design and industries and services will be collaborative. Hell, it's always been that way. Would Shakespeare have been Shakespeare without the Globe Theater? Certainly not. We love to celebrate the auteur -- the lone genius, the haunted artist living in a garret -- but most of the art that moves the world -- that moves you -- is made by teams of people.

And that same sort of creative collaboration -- exactly the same sort of contentious, committed, competitive, cantankerous, inspiring, enlightening teamwork -- exists in the most successful enterprises, especially those that began as start-ups, but also in the bigger businesses that have understood how fast changes come and how important creative collaboration is to their survival. Those corporations that haven't learned that lesson are gone or going fast.

What MIT's Eric Brynjolfsson and others now argue, and with reason, is that the old models of education and training from the Industrial Revolution were essentially designed to produce human widgets, the interchangeable  factory workers sufficiently literate to take instructions, sufficiently disciplined to work in orderly, repetitive rows while leading orderly, repetitive lives. But as Brynjhoffer points out, we now have machines that can do that orderly repetitive stuff just as wells as humans, and, indeed, much better.

What machines cannot do is think creatively. Not individually, and certainly not collectively.

One final thought, if you’ll indulge me as someone who’s been on a few teams in a few tough places. Creative teams are about creative relationships, and even when teams break up for one reason or another, some of those relationships endure and provide the nucleus for new teams. Which is a rather stilted way of saying, remember your friends.

You have spent years here at Hamilton making those friends, working with a very special team of very creative people whose sole purpose is to prepare you to think imaginatively about the infinite possibilities before you. Stay in touch with those friends, and not only on Snapchat and Instagram.

Meet, talk, share dreams, share ideas, share our shocking, exciting future. Thank you.