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Commencement is really about Being Ready for Lifelong Learning

I recently had the honor of watching over 500 West Fargo Public Schools students graduate in

our various ceremonies, and I had the privilege of speaking to them briefly. What was on my

mind was generations, and how important education has been, is currently, and will be to future

generations. At our graduation ceremonies, there were probably four or more generations

present. There were the graduates, their parents', and certainly, there were grandparents and

perhaps great-grandparents there and possibly even children of older brothers or sisters of the

graduates. While much has been written about differences in values, dispositions and

characteristics of past generations, I want to focus not on the differences, but on one great


My parents were members of what has been called "The Greatest Generation"—those that

fought and won World War II. My generation, their descendants, are the Baby Boomers, born

after World War II. Many of the parents of our graduates were children of Baby

Boomers—Generation X. What have these generations had in common? Each generation has

come together at graduations to celebrate, support, cheer on, and be proud of the NEXT

generation. Why do we do this? Why do we march in to Pomp and Circumstance, wear gowns

and mortarboards, and receive a piece of paper? It is because each generation has become

greater, more knowledgeable, more advanced in science, technology, medicine, and social

services beyond the previous generation because of education!

For our current generation of graduates, we celebrate their education THUS FAR, and look

forward to their future, and all that they will accomplish, just as each generation in our great

country has done before. Yet here is an additional thought about this particular generation:

whereas previous generations may have been able to celebrate a real milestone, if not an end

to educational endeavors, this currently graduating generation will never be able to cease

learning in order to survive. They must indeed become lifelong learners, prepared to invent

their own careers, prepared to adapt, react and grow through change that is happening and

accelerating more rapidly than ever before.

When my mother died a year ago, I reflected on the changes she had seen in her life, having

been born in 1920. She was a member of the Greatest Generation—having lived through the

Great Depression and World War II. She went through the transition from outdoor to indoor

plumbing, from listening to radio, not having TV and using hard-wired party line telephones, to

computers and cell phones and reading e-books on her Kindle Fire. However, that took 95

years—time to adapt and change more slowly. This year's graduates have seen more changes

in technology since they were born around the turn of the millennium than my mother saw in 95

years, and the pace of this change will only accelerate. Education will be the key to their

adaptation and growth—whether in a formal setting inside bricks and mortar schools, or through

online and other means that now make it possible to learn any time, any place, through many

pathways and at any pace. The key is to continue learning. I hope that we have prepared our

graduates to love and embrace learning, for learning and adaptation are the only tools that will

help them navigate the whitewater rapids that will be their workplace, their economic milieu,

their information glut, their world of rapidly accelerating change. Good luck, graduates! Learn