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Commencement Address Reflects on Service, Values

Undergraduate Commencement Address by SGA President Chance Johnson

To the faculty here at OCU, thank you making the past four years challenging. It’s easy to say that now that I’m done. To the staff and administrators, thank you for always looking out for the long-term health of this great institution. AND FINALLY, thank you to my classmates for allowing me to serve as your president. It has truly been the greatest honor of my life.

Someone I greatly admire once told me that “good writers borrow from other writers, great writers steal from them out right”. With those words in mind I have one small request of the faculty before I get to my remarks. If you all wouldn’t mind covering your ears for the next few minutes. This entire speech is essentially one massive, egregious act of plagiarism. I don’t want any of you rethinking my final grades.

On that note, putting this speech together was actually fairly difficult. Considering that we’re all at the same point in our lives, I don’t have any words of wisdom or guidance to offer you really. So what I chose to do is instead share a thought with you that has resonated with me greatly over the past few months and become a source of inspiration and motivation in my life. My hope is that it will do the same for you.

This isn’t a new thought. It’s likely one that’s crossed all you minds in some form or fashion, but it is extremely difficult to express. Until recently, I have heard someone communicate quickly or effectively, but then I came across a video on my facebook feed one morning when I woke up. It was created by a man named Jay Shetty. Jay is a digital media consultant for several online publications and he calls himself a motivational philosopher… whatever that means. The video was called “the paradox of our times”, and he begins it with a quote by Albert Einstein. Einstein is talking to Werner Heisenberg and says “In the west, we’ve built a great big beautiful ship and in that ship we have all the comforts and conveniences of modern life, but actually the one thing that our ship doesn’t have is a compass and that’s why it doesn’t know where its going.

This paradox of our times was propounded by the Dalai Lama when he said that today we have wider freeways but narrower view points. We have taller buildings but shorter tempers. And it was Martin Luther King who said “the irony of our time is that we have guided missiles but misguided men”. It really doesn’t stop there though. Today we seem to have more knowledge, but less judgment. More experts, but less solutions. We’re more politically correct than ever before, and yet we haven’t overcome the prejudices that political correctness was designed to mask. We’ve made great strides in technology. We can communicate with people half a world away, and yet the same technology that brings us close to those who are far away can actually take us far away from those who actually very close.

We’ve developed machinery that was intended to create abundance, and yet it has left so many in want. Our problems seem to be growing larger and our sense of community is shrinking all the time. Now this is obviously not one paradox, it’s many. But I think they all tie back to a few fundamental problems.

I ascribe much of this to how we’re taught to value things. Society tells us to look at everything through the lens of self-interested utility, in other words how whatever I do stands to benefit me in a material way.

We do this with our education as well. We’re led to believe that we should go to school so we can get a job and make some money, maybe have a family and lead a comfortable, independent life.

However, this way of thinking places tremendous limits on what we can achieve both individually and collectively. The reason why I appreciate OCU so much, the reason why the past four years have been so valuable to me, the reason why this moment is so bittersweet, is because I don’t believe self-interest is the prevailing motivation here.

The notion of service is inscribed in our mission and vision and incorporated into the curriculum of every student. Here we have been taught the value of sharing in the success of those around us. Over the past four years we have won together, we have suffered loss together, and those victories were sweetened and defeats softened because we did them together. In even that short amount of time, I have seen so much good spring forward out this community. I have seen you all grow and experienced growth myself.

As you leave this place today, you carry those values and those principles with you. Wherever you go, I would encourage you to maintain that spirit of service. I would encourage you to heed the words of the late Bobby Kennedy, who called on us “to learn to find our own advancement in the search for the advancement of all.” He said, “We must admit in ourselves that our own children’s future cannot be built on the misfortunes of others.”

No commencement speech would be complete without some sort of call to action. So go and do great work, do what you love and do it well. But in whatever you do, remember to always serve those around you and impart the principle of service to as many people as you can. Maybe then we can rediscover our sense of direction and set this grand ship of ours back on course. Congratulations to each and every one of you and best of luck in the next chapters of your life. I know you won’t need it. Thank you.

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