A Post by Michael B. Spring

(A list of all posts by M.B. Spring)

DREAM (May 1, 2016)

Commencement Notes: School of Information Sciences

In George Bernard Shaw's Back to Methuselah: Part1 the Serpent says: You see things; and you say "Why?" But I dream things that never were; and I say "Why not?"

Sometimes, commencement speakers give advice. Sometimes they tell their life story. Reflecting on my career over the last few weeks I have come to some wishes for you as you begin your career.

There are, I believe, four things that are important in life. They are, in order, God, family, others with whom we share the planet, and work-play. Let me say a word first about God, family and others.

I can't tell you how you should relate to God, or make a compelling argument for why you should believe in a God, but I do and it has meant much to me in good times and bad times.

We owe a lot to our family. Sometimes we don't realize until too late just how much they shaped us, sacrificed for us and loved us. Treasure your parents, your siblings, your spouse, your children and all your extended family.

We have a responsibility to our neighbors, locally and globally. "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." This has been the hardest challenge of my life, and the source of my most significant failures. It is one of the things that my wife Cindy excels at. Treating others well challenges us every day; but the rewards of meeting the challenge are great. If we manage to help others, there is little doubt our life will be more rewarding.

I hope you will always treasure yourself, your family, and all those around you. These are the most important wishes that I have for you.

Beyond these, let's talk a little about today, about commencement, about commencing your life of work and play. Remember that the ideal form of work is barely distinguishable from play. If work is not fun, you have not yet found the right job. In your work and play, I encourage you to try to do four things.

First. Be Positive. Always look forward with a knowledge of the past but a focus on what could be. Don't dwell on what happened yesterday. It's done. Learn from your mistakes and failures, but don't let them consume you. Ask what you can do tomorrow. As my colleague Marek Druzdzel is fond of saying, "think of every day is the first best day of the rest of your life."

Second. Think. Try to learn something new every day. Read everything you can get your hands on - both inside and outside your field. Watch TV with a passion for history and documentaries. Always walk with your eyes open and your mind fully engaged. Turn off your iPod. Ask yourself why things work the way they do. Ask how they could be made better. Think about inventing the future every day. Information science is an artifact of human activity. Surely we need to work hard to understand information and information systems, but unlike physics or biology, we can do more than struggle to understand information, we are in a unique position to remake the world of information by reinventing the rules.

Third. Contribute. Work to make your world, your family, your community, and your organization better. Do the right thing. Contribute to the mission and worry less about your next raise. . . it will come. Work to make your colleagues better. Help someone get ahead. Don't bash your colleagues, help them to be the best they can be. Work is not a zero sum game. Make an effort every day to make someone feel better. Say thank you. Smile. Open a door. Donate your time and money to causes you believe in.

Fourth. Laugh. Laughter IS the best medicine. Funny things happen every day. Enjoy the sublime and the absurd. Avoid humor at the expense of others. The best humor is silly or self-deprecating. The best laughter is warmly shared without harm to others.

I hope that you will always dream. In closing, let me share a couple quotes which echo my wishes for you this day.

First, from Fred Rogers, the Pittsburgh legend who helped raise many children through Mister Roger's Neighborhood: Fred Rogers said: " . . . in all that you do, in all of your life, I wish you the strength and the grace to make those choices which will allow you and your neighbor to become the best of whoever you are."

Second, the iconic Steve Jobs of Apple: Steve Jobs said: "I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: 'If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?' And whenever the answer has been 'No' for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something."

And finally paraphrasing Shaw, Senator Robert Kennedy said: "There are those that look at things the way they are, and ask why? I dream of things that never were, and ask why not?"

I wish you all the best in your life, your loves, your work, your play - keep on dreaming.