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Opportunity of a Lifetime

A SPEECH FOR THE FALL CONVOCATION AT BOWIE STATE UNIVERSITY

 

Provost Ramsey, other platform participants, faculty, staff, students, and friends:

Introduction

The beginning of this week marked the fifth anniversary of an infamous day in American history-September 11, 2001-the day that terrorists used airplanes full of passengers as bombs to destroy the twin towers of the World Trade Center and inflict massive damage on the Pentagon. In so doing, they shook the foundation of our comfortable American lives and served as a poignant and emphatic reminder that we live in a troubled world, that we are all connected, and that our fates are inextricably intertwined. Perhaps the greatest reminder that this tragic event presented is that life is fragile. Indeed, tomorrow is not promised to any of us-young, old, and in-between alike. These horrid events caused many of us to re-examine our lives and our priorities. We were forced to ask the question, "What's really important to me?" Life is indeed short. Am I making the best of my opportunities? This life that I have been given presents me with the opportunity of a lifetime-my lifetime!  And the same is true for you.

Since our mission statement should be the focal point for everything that we do at the University, I want to begin today by reading our current mission statement to you.

Bowie State University, through the effective and efficient management of its resources, provides high-quality and affordable educational opportunities at the baccalaureate, master's and doctoral levels for a diverse student population of Maryland citizens and the global community. The educational programs are designed to broaden the knowledge base and skill set of students across disciplines and to enable students to think critically, value diversity, become effective leaders, function competently in a highly technical world, and pursue advanced graduate study. The University is committed to increasing the number of students from under-represented minorities who earn advanced degrees in computer science, mathematics, information technology, and education. Constituent needs, market demands, and emerging challenges confronting socioeconomic cultures serve as important bases in the University's efforts to develop educational programs and improve student access to instruction.

Students: you have the opportunity of a lifetime. Faculty: you have the opportunity of a lifetime. Staff: you have the opportunity of a lifetime. For the next few minutes, I want to talk to you about the opportunity of a lifetime that we all have here at Bowie State University!

What is "opportunity?" What does the word "opportunity" mean? My dictionary says "convenient time or occasion; chance."

Students, you have the opportunity to learn at a fine university! You have the opportunity to earn a degree at BSU! You have the opportunity to get excellent preparation for the rest of your life! You now have a convenient occasion for personal growth and development beyond anything that you might have imagined. Your enrollment makes you a part of a university that was founded in 1865...over 140 years ago.  We are the oldest HBCU in the state of Maryland and one of the oldest in the nation. This institution has provided educational opportunities for thousands of men and women over the years...helping them to develop into productive and outstanding citizens. This University's graduates include business entrepreneurs, doctors and dentists, university professors, lawyers, public school teachers, professional athletes, elected government officials, and a host of others. Referring to our definition of opportunity, you, too, have the chance

Consider, for example, Dante Lee, a 2002 Bowie State University graduate who was recently highlighted in Ebony Magazine as one the "Top 30 Young Leaders For 2006."  Dante is CEO of Diversity City Media, a successful multicultural marketing and public relations firm based in Columbus, Ohio. The firm produces BlackNews.com, BlackStudents.com, BlackPR.com-and the annual Black Scholarship Guide publication. His company has annual billings of about $500,000-and works with clients like Verizon, McDonald's, NASCAR, BET, Nike, and Heineken. Another fine example of a Bowie State University graduate who has really distinguished himself and is serving the state of Maryland extraordinarily well is Judge William Missouri, a Circuit Court judge right here in Prince George's County. Beatrice Tignor, current chairperson of Prince George's County Board of Education and former Maryland state Senator is one more example of the kind of successful and productive citizen which you can become.

You are coming of age in "the new economy" (the network economy), a world where people work with their brains rather than their hands, a world where innovation and change are paramount and rapid, a world where "communications technology creates global competition."  This new economy has three distinguishing characteristics: It is global. It favors intangible things-ideas, information, and relationships. And it is intensely interlinked."   Globalization, defined as international economic integration, refers to the ease with which goods and services move across national boundaries so that such boundaries are rapidly diminishing as binding constraints on production decisions. Falling transportation and communications costs lead to production facilities moving from one country to another so as to minimize costs and produce profits. Using the Internet, consumers can buy goods at the lowest cost from virtually anywhere in the world.  Through telecommuting, some employees can now live anywhere in the world. For example, some software companies in the U. S. now employ programmers who live in India and work on their PCs.

Students who want to thrive in the new economy must keep certain things in mind. First, the world is changing so rapidly that one author says that 85% of your college-level knowledge base will be obsolete in five years!  "The most valuable thing you [will] have is [the sum of all] your knowledge, which includes all the relationships and other intangible assets you've accrued over the course of your career."   You will need to "manage" your career to a much greater extent than ever before. In doing so, you will need to market your services every day. You will need to understand where the market for your skills is heading. "Rather than being managed by the organization you join, you manage its contribution to your career."   In essence, you must become a free agent!  You will have "to adapt as the information around and ahead of you changes." 

Well, what does all of this imply about the kind of preparation that you need to succeed in this new economy? You will need to know how to acquire and sift through information. You will need to be able to see change coming and adapt to it so that you can take advantage of it.  You will need perspective that comes from some knowledge of history, psychology, and art. You will need to know how to market yourself.  And since all of this will be changing, you will need to know how to be a life-long learner.

Bowie State University is, indeed, offering you the opportunity of a lifetime!  Here is what you should do to take advantage of this opportunity of a lifetime.

First, be serious about getting your education. Let earning your degree and learning all that you can be your personal mission.  Make up your mind today to let nothing deter you from that. What does it mean to be on this education mission? In very simple, practical terms, it means attending class and studying hard. It means going to class well prepared to follow the professor's lecture, or to participate in the class discussion, and to ask questions that will help your learning.  "Never regard study as a duty, but as the enviable opportunity to learn to know the liberating influence of beauty in the realm of the spirit for your own personal joy and to the profit of the community to which your later work belongs." -Einstein

Being a serious student also means choosing your major carefully. Is it one which will allow you to build upon your talents and abilities? Is it one that will help you to achieve your lifetime goals? It also means choosing your minor or your electives carefully. Every course that you take should have some direct bearing on your personal goals and objectives. Your academic advisors can help you with this; ask for their guidance.

Pursuing your personal educational mission also means trying to get good internships in your prospective field. This will give you some on-the-job experience and can be a real motivating factor in those hard theoretical courses whose relevance is not always immediately obvious.

But I want you to understand that taking full advantage of your opportunity of a lifetime at BSU means much more than this. You have the chance to make friends for a lifetime...to meet people from other communities, other states, and even other countries. My life experiences have taught me that of all the riches that one can have, friendships with other people provide the most meaningful and lasting wealth. Go out of your way to meet and get to know people who have had different experiences from your own and who see the world differently. 

To my colleagues, members of the faculty and staff of Bowie State University:  we, too, have the opportunity of a lifetime. We have a chance to inspire students to greatness. We now have a convenient time to make this university better. We have a convenient occasion
to make the world better through our impact on these students. Though our resources or conditions might not be exactly what we would like, what we have is part of our present opportunity. Booker T. Washington, the great man that he was, said it well:  "Nor should we permit our grievances to overshadow our opportunities."

Faculty: You have the opportunity to inspire, teach, and influence our students! You also have the opportunity to use your faculty position to compete for funded proposals and to engage in meaningful research-to add to the world's store of knowledge. You have an opportunity to build the reputation and efficacy of BSU. Even a single faculty member acting independently can have an impact on retention and graduation rates and with our six-year graduation rate averaging 37.5% over the last three years, we need to improve! You have the opportunity to make a positive real difference in the lives of thousands of students.

Are you teaching your students so that they are learning to think critically, value diversity, and become effective leaders? Or are you using the same handwritten notes that you used 5 or 10 years ago and lecturing to your students just as your professors did to you 20, 30, or 40 years ago?

Are you nurturing your own intellectual curiosity and thereby setting an example for your students? Are you utilizing your research skills to help solve the problems that face mankind? Or our nation? Or our state? Or Prince Georges County?  Are you giving your best to BSU and our students or, are you simply doing the minimum to collect a paycheck?

Staff: You have the opportunity to serve, assist, and encourage our students! Are you serving students with an appreciation that if it were not for them, your job would not be needed? Are you assisting them with patience that you would show to a young Nelson Mandela? Or a young Kweisi Mfume? Christie McAuliffe?

Do you take every opportunity to smile at a student, to offer assistance before it is asked, to actually help rather than sending the student to another office?  Do you really care about our students and show, through your treatment of them and interaction with them, that you care?  "Wherever there is a human being, there is an opportunity for a kindness." -Seneca

I know that each of you can find reasons to not take full advantage of the opportunity before you. What I want you to do is focus on the reasons that you should take advantage of this opportunity of a lifetime!

  • It would be serving the mission of BSU
  • It would mean doing your best to make this world a better place
  • It would mean being able to look in the mirror and not having any regrets about wasted opportunity

None of us knows how long our current opportunities will last.  "Four things come not back: the spoken word, the sped arrow, the past life and the neglected opportunity." -Proverb

Therefore, let each one of us here today resolve to not neglect the wonderful opportunity that we have. I urge each of you-students, faculty members, staff members, and supporters-to make the commitment to be part of the solution to seeing that we have a student-centered University which treats all of its employees with respect and provides a first rate education for every one of our students. 

"Live this day as if it will be your last. Remember that you will only find ''tomorrow'' on the calendars of fools. Forget yesterday's defeats and ignore the problems of tomorrow. This is it. Doomsday. All you have. Make it the best day of your year. The saddest words you can ever utter are, ''If I had my life to live over again. ''Take the baton, now. Run with it! This is your day! Beginning today, treat everyone you meet, friend or foe, loved one or stranger, as if they were going to be dead at midnight. Extend to each person, no matter how trivial the contact, all the care and kindness and understanding and love that you can muster, and do it with no thought of any reward. Your life will never be the same again." -Og Mandino

Thank you.

Mickey L. Burnim
September 13, 2006

 

(Encyclopedia of the New Economy, Hot-wired.com)

(Kevin Kelley, New Rules for the New Economy)
 

Stan Davis and Christopher Meyer, Blur: The Speed of Change in the Connected Economy, Warner Books (New York: 1999), p. 147.

Ibid., p. 148.

Ibid., p. 155.

Ibid., p. 168.