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Saturday, May 7, 2005
10:00 a.m.
Dee Glen Smith Spectrum
President Stan L. Albrecht Conducting


This has been a great week for Utah State University. On Thursday we celebrated the receipt of a $4.5 million gift to our university - the second largest private gift that has ever come to our institution. Among other things, this gift will provide scholarship funding for literally hundreds of USU students over the next few years, making a university experience possible for many who might otherwise not have had that opportunity. And, today we celebrate your graduation.

This is not my first USU Commencement; however, it is my first as president. As president, I take particular satisfaction in the accomplishments of each one of you. I want you to know how proud I am of each one here today.

The first students at the original Agricultural College of Utah enrolled in 1890. The very first photo of the college's student body and faculty in 1891 shows 52 people on the steps of Old Main. You students - and especially your parents - may be interested to know that the first tuition bills in 1890 were a whopping $5 a year....

When the College was formed in 1888 - eight years before Utah became a State - the local newspaper called Logan "The Athens of Utah," and later "The Athens of the West." That may have been a little grandiose, but in the 1890s, Logan was home to two colleges - what eventually became known as Utah State, and the original Brigham Young College, as well as various other schools and the first high school outside of Salt Lake City. As reflected in this early history, this community and this state have always been committed to the importance of education, and what is happening here this morning extends that important legacy

We are gathered here today to recognize and honor the 4,217 members of the Class of 2005

We are gathered here today to recognize and honor the 4,217 members of the Class of 2005. At yesterday's graduate ceremony we awarded 431 graduate degrees. Today, we are proud to confer bachelor's degrees on the 3,786 undergraduate students. You come from 47 U.S. states (I don't know which states are missing... we need to recruit there!) and from 36 foreign countries.

Exactly half of this year's graduates are women, and half are men. Our youngest new graduate this year is 18. Our oldest is 70 years old.

The accomplishments of this graduating class are both impressive and wide-ranging. We congratulate you on that.

I am very pleased to report that Utah State University has never been healthier - in terms of the caliber of our students, the accomplishments of our faculty, the support and enthusiasm of our great alumni, and the dedicated commitment to excellence of our trustees, the Utah State Board of Regents, those who serve in the Commissioner's Office, and all our extended family across the state of Utah and the Intermountain West.

USU is one of the flagship institutions in our country's great armada of land-grant universities. This designation underscores our commitment to serving all of the citizens of Utah. The land-grant philosophy - to provide access to education for all - is a central facet of American democratic thought, and it remains the central purpose of this institution.

USU's founding philosophy is to give the sons and daughters of the state an opportunity for a high quality, life-changing educational experience. As befits a land-grant university, USU has always been the People's University, and our connection to the people of Utah runs deep. We were founded in the first place to make discoveries and to use those discoveries to improve the quality of life of all of our citizens. In fact, maintaining and promoting that connection - the diffusion of ideas and innovations, the sharing of knowledge that makes a real difference in people's daily lives - this has been our job for those first days in the 1890s.

Today, Utah State University is a place of hope and excitement.

Today, Utah State University is a place of hope and excitement... a place that revels in the joy of inquiry... a campus characterized by a sense of promise and pride, purpose and accomplishment that - I believe - would astound and delight those who have come before. The Class of 2005 has built on the accomplishments and vision of our alumni, earlier scholars, and all our friends and partners in the extended USU family.

I wish I had the time to share each of your individual stories with our audience today. Lacking that time, I will mention just two:

Yesterday at our graduation ceremonies for our graduate students, we were able, through the magic and miracle of the Internet, to have Army Sergeant First Class Michael Mitchell who is stationed in Iraq join us live to watch his wife, Janelle Mitchell, receive her master's degree in Instructional Technology. Janelle had two messages for her husband: first, thank you for the support that allowed me to complete my degree at Utah State University and, second, keep your head down and come home safe.

Jeremy Ralph Monroe graduates today. His graduation continues a wonderful tradition. His great grandfather, Ralph Monroe was here in 1919, his grandfather, Lamar Ralph Monroe, was here in 1943, his father, Lloyd Ralph Monroe was here in 1977, and Jeremy graduates in 2005. There have been 16 Monroes attend Utah State University, with eleven graduates. The family has had two valedictorians, and five who have graduated with honors. We join the Monroe family in expressing our hope that Jeremy won't be the last.

Janelle, Jeremy, and each one of you - we celebrate you and what you have accomplished.

On behalf of the University, the administration, faculty and staff, I congratulate all of our graduates.


You have heard some important and inspirational advice this morning from our speakers. I do not intend to detract from their contributions, nor will I unduly extend our time together. I conclude our ceremonies with a few quick thoughts:

Frank Rhodes once asked the question of a group of students: "Can a person really get all A's and still flunk life?"

How could that be possible?

He went on to observe that flunking life is a failure to recognize that of those to whom much is given, much is required. Flunking life is to ignore the link between professional practice and personal commitment. Flunking life is to deny that your diploma gives you not only an obligation to lead, but an equally important obligation to serve.

We can add to that list: flunking life is to fail to recognize that absolute truths are elusive. Our world is enormously complex and is changing rapidly. Unless you have learned to see more clearly how that world works, how it and your own lives are enhanced because there are differences among us - whether of color, culture, or belief, then you may flunk life. Unless you have broadened your sense of what it means to be a citizen of this planet with all of its responsibilities and pressures and possibilities, then you may have gotten all A's, but still flunk life.

Flunking life is to compromise your integrity, to forego your special individuality to achieve acceptance at the altar of public opinion. Someone once told me of a friend of his who was fond of saying: "If we both think the same way, one of us is unnecessary."

You can get all A's and still flunk life if you leave here not understanding how dramatically different the world you inherit is going to become over the next few years. Christopher Columbus and his fellow adventurers set out to prove that the world is round. The globe, I believe, remains round, but the fashionable theme of today is that the economic playing field is being leveled as never before; that barriers to entry are being destroyed as individuals and companies anywhere can increasingly compete globally - in other words, that the world is becoming flat. (See Thomas Friedman, The World is Flat: A Brief History of the 21st Century).

In this new flat world, size doesn't matter nearly as much as it once did; military might doesn't explain what is happening in Singapore or Ireland; the pre-eminence of natural resources is being replaced by brain power. As a result, our country's economic dominance is increasingly challenged from many different directions. If you don't understand that, and if you don't have the tools to adjust, you might get all A's but flunk life. China and India are training many more engineers and scientists than we are and even in this country, 51 percent of the doctorates in engineering are being earned by international students.

You have incredible opportunities ahead of you, but you also have some rather daunting challenges - challenges that my generation may not even understand. But also remember, in the face of those challenges, that you can still flunk life if you fail to retain that wonderful sense of optimism and hope that you carry with you as you leave here today. Helen Keller observed that "no pessimist ever discovered the secrets of the stars, or sailed an uncharted land, or opened a new heaven to the human spirit."

We have great hopes for you because we know what you can do. We who have taught you and learned with you hold these high hopes for your future because it is our future, as well. This is our last homework assignment for you. We are confident you will do it well.

Good luck and God bless.