After receiving an honorary degree of humane letters in December, Melissa Jamula spoke to the graduating Class of 2012. The following are her full remarks.
I truly was honored when Dr. Flynn asked me to address you today. I have tremendous respect for him, in part because, over the years, I’ve had many opportunities to observe him interacting with students, and I’ve seen the genuine affection students have for him. I presume that’s so because he has consistently demonstrated to you that he cares about you.
And, graduates, I assure you that he has taken your best interests to heart up to the very end. No sooner did I accept his invitation to be here today when he responded in a rather stern voice, “I want you to know that I am not a fan of long speeches!”
Mercifully, neither am I, so the time is drawing very near when you will flip those tassels!
For a few minutes, though, I thought we could ponder some opportunities, as you get ready to pursue your next great adventure, armed with the admirable credential of a college degree.
So, could I please see a show of hands of those graduates Alvernia has prepared to be space pilots? No one? Oh my. Ah! I know…how about Animal Migration Specialists? No? Vertical Farmers? Climate Change Reversal Specialists? Galactic engineers? Fusion Workers? I know. Classroom Avatar Managers!
Does that all sound ridiculous? Maybe as ridiculous as it sounded when we first told someone they could participate in our discussion of Nanotechnology through our WIKI space! Actually, those professions I just mentioned are a few of the jobs that respected futurists predict will be needed by the year 2030, and some before 2020. Not too far away.
So, did Alvernia let you down? Did it fall short of its responsibility to prepare you for what lies ahead?
Not at all. We are living in a time in which change is occurring exponentially…at a pace so fast that we sometimes find it difficult to catch our breath, let alone to fully adjust.
Consider this: It is estimated that 4 exabytes…that’s 4 times 10 to the 19th power… of unique, new information will be generated worldwide this year. That’s more information than was generated in the past five thousand years!
The amount of new technical information is doubling every two years.
A week’s worth of news in the New York Times provides more information than a person in the 18th century was likely to come across in their lifetime.
And, all of that new information generates new vocabulary. Today, there are approximately 940,000 words in the English language….5 times as many as in Shakespeare’s time. I love to read the Bard’s plays, and I can testify that in not one did I ever read about a widget, a web-surfer, an e-learner or a dot-com-mer!
Today, our technology enables both old and new information to be communicated at warp speed. Think about this: When the radio was invented, it took 38 years to reach a market audience of 50 million people. It took Facebook two years.
As a matter of fact, if Facebook were a country, it would be the third largest populated in the world, next only to China and India!
Did you know that the number of text messages sent and received each day exceeds the population of the planet!
It’s estimated that the average 21 year old has sent or received 250 — THOUSAND emails, instant messages or texts.
It’s a changing world. As we sit here today, being perfected is a super computer that exceeds the computational capabilities of the human brain. And, it is predicted that by the year 2049, a $1,000 computer will have greater computational capabilities than the entire human race.
So, what does all of this mean?
How do we resolve that children are being prepared by those who can’t begin to comprehend the world in which these young people will live?
How can teachers…faculty… prepare students for jobs that don’t yet exist; jobs that will require the use of technology that has not yet been invented; how do we give students the capacity to solve problems that have yet to be identified?
How do institutions, like Alvernia, possibly prepare students, knowing that the US Department of Labor predicts that today’s learners will have seven different professions — not jobs, professions, in their lifetime?
What do we do now that we know we will never again out calculate a computer?
I would argue that the only way we will effectively prepare our students for their world will be to maximize the talents and tap into the multiple intelligences of each and every learner.
And, I believe that the only hope we have of doing that is to be willing to lay it all out on the table, jettison our comfort zones, and have the courageous conversations about what education really should look like today.
Friends, we live in the most intensely intellectually stimulating of times. More than ever before, we need to consider the skills that will be essential to thrive in this world.
We need to embrace creativity, not conformity. We need to create environments that encourage, not quash, risk-taking. Do you know that some studies show that 4 year olds exhibit greater divergent thinking skills than 18 year olds? Though we have the best of intentions, by honoring that concept of ‘one and only one right answer’, we have beaten our kids into compliance.
There’s an old YouTube video about training fleas. Honest. In essence it says that training fleas requires a jar and a lid. You place the fleas in the jar, put on the lid and let them remain undisturbed. After three days, remove the lid, and you will find that never again will the fleas jump higher than the level set by the lid.
Well, if you appreciate dark humor, someone did a parody of that video regarding students. Place their ideas in a jar with a lid, keep them there, and, after three semesters, no idea will again ever emerge that is higher than the level set by the lid. If we are serious about effectively preparing our children, then teachers, parents and mentors cannot be the lid!
If young be people are going to be successful in their world, we need to think differently about human capacity, and recognize that most great learning and great ideas occur in groups.
Collaboration and communication are the skills that the world will require of its workforce.
And, if we question that, we need only to look to the ITER project, already well underway. ITER, International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor… clean energy now being developed, not just by professionals in 38 different states working together…no, being developed collaboratively by the European Union, India, Japan, China, Russia, South Korea, and the United States. Imagine that, very different countries working together to build the world’s largest and most advanced experimental tokamak nuclear fusion reactor. And, by the way, it is not just the scientists in those different countries collaborating, it is professionals in the fields of science, engineering, research and industry, to name just a few. (Hey! Remember those Fusion Workers I was seeking? Hmmmmm… there might be a job for you in the south of France!)
If we believe the statistics of the Department of Labor about the number of professions young people will enter, then we better learn how to be lifelong learners. We need to wake up the right side of students’ brains. We need to teach them how to use technology, to create, and to synthesize.
Are we up to the task? I’m not sure.
In 2002, alone, Nintendo invested more than $140 million in research and development. The US government spent less than half as much on research and innovation in education. Ten years later, perhaps we are witnessing the fruits of both levels of commitment.
I know it’s an ominous task. It is so much easier to espouse change than to lead it.
I recently retired, after spending 38 years in education. Twenty-four of those years were spent either as an assistant superintendent or as a superintendent of schools. Being a superintendent of schools is the best job in the world. Not only did I get to interact with children of every age any time I chose, I also had the authority, within reasonable constraints, to make decisions I felt to be the most beneficial for students.
Thirty-eight years, is a long time, and, so, there are decisions I made, actions I took, of which I am proud. But, believe me, there certainly is no dearth of woulda, coulda , shouldas —
And I will tell you honestly that the times I most regret are those when I had the opportunity to make a meaningful change, but mitigated the potential of its full impact by not having the courage to be bold enough to disrupt the status quo.
We MUST be willing to abandon what is comfortable, and embrace the reality of the future. As new information environments, economic realities, and learning landscapes form before our very eyes, our challenge is to transition our school systems, and, as individuals, our own ways of thinking, so that they are relevant for today and tomorrow.
So, what does all of this mean to all of you, who are waiting so patiently to receive a degree which symbolizes the successful culmination of years of study?
Well, depending upon your level of intellectual curiosity, I have either very good or very bad news.
Friends, the degree that will be conferred upon you today is anything but the end of the road. But it is a significant milestone in what will be an ever evolving, ever changing journey, in, perhaps, the most exciting time in the history of our world.
My most sincere congratulations to you upon your graduation. May your professional and your personal tomorrows be filled with all of life’s blessings.
— Dr. Melissa Jamula