In his address at Hamilton College’s commencement, award-winning author and journalist Christopher Dickey advised the Class of 2014 that “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.”
Dickey's speech was predicted to be "one of the 25 most promising graduation speeches of the year" by NPR.
Dickey, foreign editor of The Daily Beast, gave the address at Hamilton’s commencement on Sunday, May 25, in the Margaret Bundy Scott Field House where 500 students received bachelor’s degrees. He was awarded an honorary degree, along with Deborah Bial, founder and president of the Posse Foundation, and Thomas J. Schwarz ’66 president of Purchase College, State University of New York.
Also speaking at Commencement was class of 2014 valedictorian Sarah P. Hammond of Saratoga Springs, N.Y., and Margaret Doolin of Marlborough, Mass., recipient of The James Soper Merrill Prize.
In his remarks Dickey reminded graduates that “Change comes so fast that we almost forget it's happening. 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.
“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.
“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 hell of an 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,” Dickey said. “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.”
Dickey reminded graduates that “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.
“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,” Dickey observed.
“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,” he said, “and not only on Snapchat and Instagram.
“Meet, talk, share dreams, share ideas, share our shocking, exciting future,” Dickey concluded.
Valedictorian Sarah Hammond acknowledged that “the things I have learned here have enabled me to get an amazing job offer, and have put me on the path to an exciting career.
“But the most important thing that I have learned in my time here is that all this success would mean nothing if I did not have great friends and a loving family to celebrate with. Failure is only bearable when you have people to support you and success is only sweet when you have people to congratulate you. In the coming years when I say I miss Hamilton,” she noted, “I won’t be talking about the Science Center or KJ or Milbank, I will be talking about the friends with whom I shared the good and bad, and the professors and staff whose sometimes small acts of kindness, and sometimes tremendous generosity have helped to make me the person I have grown into.”
Soper Merrill recipient Doolin spoke of “goals and expectations. Not setting goals means suffering fewer disappointments,” she said, “but, it also almost certainly means that you will underachieve. For example, if you had not set a goal for yourself to earn an undergraduate degree from a top college so that you could push your limits mentally, physically, or both, then you would not be sitting in front of me today, ”Doolin remarked.
“Taking calculated risks is part of life” she noted, “and there is bound to be some failure. But when we learn from these mistakes, what follows? Success …Our Hamilton experience has given us the tools to succeed, and we have been surrounded by people who were there to push us in the right direction.
Doolin concluded, “So care about something, surround yourself with good people, and follow your passion, whatever it may be and wherever it may lead.”
The James Soper Merrill Prize is chosen by the faculty and awarded to the member of the class “who, in character and influence, has typified the highest ideals of the College.”