June 15, 2018
Good evening, everyone. It's a privilege to be here looking at the best-dressed crowd this ballpark will see all season: starting with our graduates, their supportive families and friends, the faculty who taught them, and the Drexel trustees who have been so committed to maintaining and expanding the unique Drexel experience.
So, other than welcoming and congratulating each of you, I'd just like to ask one question. It is directed to our graduates, but I think it will have meaning for all who are here. And that question is: What would you attempt to do if you could not fail?
What would you attempt to do if you could not fail? That is not a trick question; far from it. It is a question I've been asking myself periodically, ever since I came across it maybe 25 years ago. Robert Frost posed a slightly different version when he wrote, "How many things would you attempt if you could not fail?"
Either way you frame the question, the message is the same: The greatest enemy of success may be the underlying fear of failure. That fear keeps people and whole societies from reaching their true potential. Because the biggest and best ideas often carry the biggest risk of failure.
Of course, there's no such thing as a guarantee that your biggest and best ideas will succeed. And even the brightest people may not push themselves to the limit of their true capacity.
But for our graduates tonight, I am optimistic. Because you have been prepared for success and risk by the rigorous education and profound work experiences that you have had at Drexel.
Right now, I'm looking out at future leaders in fields as varied as ... public health ... the humanities and applied arts ... nursing and health professions … social sciences computing engineering ... physical and biological sciences ... environmental sciences ... media arts and design, education, business, so many more.
Your education and your accomplishments put you squarely in the category of America's educated elite. Don't be uncomfortable with that designation. An educated elite is a powerful force for good, when its members apply their talents to improve the larger society.
When they feel a commitment to what New York Times columnist David Brooks recently described as: "A civic consciousness, a sense that we live life embedded in community and nation, that we owe a debt to community and nation, and the essence of the admirable life is community before self."
“The essence of the admirable life is community before self."
I think Drexel graduates feel that commitment. And your options for leadership in civic engagement are virtually unlimited: They could come through volunteer organizations, philanthropy, and even electoral politics.
Wherever your path in life takes you, don't ever compromise your best efforts. I assure you that good things happen when we stare down our fears and go after life’s abundant opportunities as if failure was not an option.
That kind of courage and creativity is personified by our Commencement speaker — M. Night Shyamalan. He succeeded as a director, producer, screenwriter and actor in the world of movies and TV — where anyone with an Internet connection is a critic. Moviegoers know Mr. Shyamalan as a Hollywood legend. But we also know him as a proud son of the Philadelphia region who has never forgotten his roots, and has given back time, and time, and time again. We're so honored that he's with us on this special night.
And this seems like the right night to remind our graduates that the world — and especially our nation — needs the best efforts you can offer. Our society needs to be rescued from an epidemic of factionalism that is draining civility from civil discourse and allowing chronic inequalities to grow and to fester. Solutions are not easy, but they are within your grasp.
So, I would just urge you to keep narrowing the distance between what you do ... and what you are capable of doing. And as you do that, pause from time to time and ask yourself that question: What would I attempt to do if I knew I could not fail? I hope you will be inspired to action by your own answers to that question.
Graduates, the entire Drexel community is so incredibly proud of you, and we are confident, and we are joyful to place the future into your hands.