Commencement Address

Dr. Scott Dalrymple, President

You know when you see somebody in their robe at 3:30 in the afternoon, usually it’s a sign they’ve given up.

I actually stole that from Ellen DeGeneres.

Some of you may have heard that I'm a fan of science fiction, I even write some myself periodically. So instead of giving you that top ten of advice, I figured I’m the president, I can talk about whatever I want to, so I'm going to talk about something I’ve always been fascinated by: time travel.

My interest in time travel began in the sixth grade, when our teacher was telling the class about some of the immutable laws of Newtonian physics. I love physics and found it fascinating, even then. But my teacher was one of those people who liked to point out what you can't do. You can't defy gravity, you can't travel faster than the speed of light, that sort of thing.

At one point the teacher asked the class, "After everything we've just discussed, who still believes in time travel?" Now, you know how you can tell from the tone of a teacher’s voice that it would be pretty stupid to raise your hand?

I raised my hand.

"I’m sorry," she said, "but I’m afraid there’s no time travel machine. It’s not possible."

And I looked at her and I said, "Well, you don't need a machine."

So, she said, "Alright, Mr. Wise Guy. Prove it. You say there’s time travel? You prove it."

I thought about that for a minute, then I walked to the front of the classroom. Once there, I just stood there and closed my eyes. I waited probably 30 seconds. Then I opened my eyes. "There."

"I just traveled through time. A minute ago it was the past, and now it’s the present. And in a minute I’m gonna travel to the future. Wait… there."

Now, if life were like the movies, that teacher would have smiled and shaken her head, and kind of given me that look that said "OK, you got me." Some cute girl in the second row would truly see me for the first time, and she'd be impressed…. The other kids would all high-five me on the way back to my desk. That’s what it would be like in the movies.

But life isn’t a movie. What really happened is the kids all rolled their eyes like I was a complete dork. The teacher just gave me a nasty look and pointed to my chair.

But you can use time, and specifically time travel, to your advantage. I want to give you a specific example: one that I promise will help you get a good job someday. Because that’s probably what you’re thinking. If I were you, I’d be sitting there thinking, “Ok dude, that’s all great about physics and everything, but, you know, this is supposed to be a commencement speech. And in a commencement speech you’re supposed to talk about people getting a job.” So I want to do that.

Some of you already have jobs, and I congratulate you. Dinner is on you tonight! In case you didn’t know.

The rest of you will all get jobs, I’m certain. You’re well educated and the world needs you. In fairness, though, I have to be honest. Your first job may not be your dream job. That happens.

So what do you do if that does happen to you? Let’s assume that a year or so from now, you’re in a job that’s just OK. It’s not what you wanted to be when you grew up. It’s only so-so.

Here’s the time travel part. I want you to project yourself 5 years ahead of that. We’ve already established that you might not love your current job. What I want you to do is envision the sort of job you would love, 5 years out. Whatever that is.

It’ll help if we use a specific example. Say you’re a Business major and you’ve always dreamed of working in Marketing. Only a year from now, maybe the best job you could find was in retail—maybe you’re an assistant manager at, say, Home Depot or some place. There is absolutely nothing wrong with retail; the managers of some of those big box stores make well into six figures I assure you, and many retailers are really great places to work. But let’s just assume it’s not your cup of tea.

The dream job for many Marketing folks is to be a brand manager for a big consumer products company. The typical one when I was in school that people thought of was Procter & Gamble—they make all sorts of things. So let’s say your goal is to be the brand manager for (and this is a real product)… Old Spice Smooth Blast High Endurance Long Lasting Stick Deodorant. (Hey, don’t laugh at me. It’s your dream. It’s not my dream.)

Most graduates coming straight out of college are unlikely to find a job like that right away.

So here’s the time travel part: I want you to search the Procter & Gamble website, or monster.com, or wherever, to find job advertisements for positions like that. Read them very carefully. Pay attention to what skills they ask for. Do they require an MBA? Make a note of that. Do they require supervisory experience? Make a note of that. Pay close attention to all of the skills that the job requires.

Guess what? You now have 5 years to go out and get those skills. You just looked into the future, at the sort of job you envision yourself in. And you now have a roadmap to success. You know what to do for the next 5 years, so you can achieve that future state.

Does the job require a master’s degree? Fine. You go get one. (And I know it sounds a little easier than reality, but you’re all capable of doing that. I’m certain).

Does it require significant experience in budget management? Fine. I’m confident you can probably get that right at Home Depot where you’re working, but if not, you can find another interim job that will get you that experience.

And so on. Make yourself into that person you see 5 years out. Will yourself into being that person. All it takes is a plan.

It’s a form of time travel: You envision yourself in a future state, and then come back to today, and complete the actions necessary to achieve that future state.

Congratulations! We’re very proud of you! I want you to live long, and prosper. We want you to be kind to each other. I want you to call your mother more often than you think you need to. And remember you’re always welcome here in Columbia. Thank you.