“Society’s future will depend on a continuous improvement program on the human character.”
It’s Commencement Season. The famous and wise will helicopter onto college campuses to share soundbites of wisdom and humor with the Class of 2018. Some speeches will be memorable, others immediately forgotten. It’s rare when an address can transcend the emotion of the day; when the speaker has been to the moon and back.
Thirteen years ago, Neil Armstrong, the American astronaut and first person to walk on the moon, addressed the graduating Class of 2005 at the University of Southern California. The man who announced to the world, on a July afternoon in 1969, “Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed.” never mentioned his achievement.
The day was about the graduates. Not about the man who walked on the moon.
But even the youngest family member in attendance knew who was speaking. A little boy climbed up a grassy hill behind a giant screen projecting the event. He hadn’t come to watch TV, but to see the astronaut for himself, in person. This was his connection to dreams beyond. “Mommy, that’s the man who walked on the moon.”
Can you imagine your life defined by one historical, ‘out of this world’ event?
There are few things today that take our breath away. We’ve forgotten the mysteries of space travel as we contemplate only the familiar. We go about our work day as a space station circles above, with no thought of the explorers at work outside our atmosphere.
On May 13, 2005, the parents, graduates, faculty and staff shared an historic moment with a legend. And the legend expressed his doubts about his ability to give advice.
“I feel a sense of discomfort in that responsibility as it requires more confidence than I possess to assume that my personal convictions deserve your attention.”
He encouraged the graduates to “appreciate the elegance of simplicity” and continued his address following his own advice.
“The single observation I would offer for your consideration is that some things are beyond your control. You can lose your health to illness or accident, you can lose your wealth to all manner of unpredictable sources.
What is not easily stolen from you without your cooperation is your principles and your values. They are your most precious possessions and, if carefully selected and nurtured, will well serve you and your fellow man.
Society’s future will depend on a continuous improvement program on the human character. What will the future bring? I don’t know, but it will be exciting.”
His challenge to us all is to lead a life of continuous learning and continuous improvement, even after you have achieved your ‘signature’ career experience.