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A commencement salute to IU and Ivy Tech classes of 2010

By Fritz Lieber
May 5, 2010

It feels good to interrupt the grim drumbeat of local education news with something to celebrate.
This weekend and next, nearly 7,000 members of the class of 2010 will graduate from Indiana University and Ivy Tech Community College.

Given our era, it would be more appropriate to send my salutation as a text message than a newspaper column. It is their parents and grandparents who are more likely to read these words than the graduates.
Thus, my first wish for the class of 2010 concerns the older generations. Now that your elders have raised you, enjoy them as people. Especially your grandparents. They survived you and your parents.

The most striking thing my grandfather said to me — because it was so simple and profound — was “Know what you are doing.”

Know your values, know what you are doing, and speak more in deed than declaration. Practicing your beliefs makes you clear about what you hold dear.

I remember when I first failed to keep my word. Since then, I have known no greater source of self-respect than doing what I say I will do.

Wanting things is human, but it makes it easy to say one thing and do another. Add the ensnaring social network, and the road to self-deception is well prepared.

But if you stay true to your best self, you will not only attract what you want, you will be who you are.

Next, let’s dispense with the myth of Yankee independence. Nobody ever made it in life alone. We need each other. We need to help each other. May the gift you give and receive bind you more to the future than the past.
Last month, we witnessed an impressive lesson. I refer to the transcendent run of the Butler University men’s basketball team in the NCAA tournament. These college players lost a championship and became champions. It is no fun to lose. They wanted to win it all, and almost did. But what they learned by falling short — what they taught us — does not just raise us up. It sustains us.

If you stick with what brought you to the dance, and withhold nothing for a personal best, you may lose, but you cannot fail.

Brad Stevens, the young Butler coach, did something old but rare. He traded money for happiness. He left a lucrative job with Eli Lilly to volunteer for the Butler basketball program for nothing.

He worked himself up the ranks, following his heart, and within three years of becoming head coach, he took his team to the national championship game.

Take a chance on your passion. If it takes you nowhere, roll with the punches and choose a different path.
But never to dream is not why you came to college, and it is not what your teachers hope for you now.
One famous piece of commencement advice was “sunscreen.” Not bad, and no doubt more memorable than mine, but it brings me to a closing conundrum.

We who have looked over your shoulder or extended a hand — for a few years, as in my case, or your whole life, as in the case of your parents and grandparents — we know you must find your own way.
But still we advise, whether “sunscreen” or “plastic.”

In that spirit, graduations are designed to make us feel that something important has happened, and indeed it has.

Now, even more important, go forth to love and work, and make your own way, with all the integrity, passion and good humor you can muster, so that you may feel that a life has happened.

Fritz Lieber is an adjunct professor in the Indiana University School of Education. His column appears every other Wednesday in The Herald-Times. You can reach him at

Copyright: 2010