Academic Ceremonies - December Commencement
Sara J. Solnick, Associate Professor Of Economics
and Chair of the Department of Economics
I’d like to congratulate all the graduates for your accomplishment in arriving at this moment. To prepare my remarks for today, I thought back to my own college graduation, which was just a few years ago, or, according to your Earthly calendars, 1986. Just before the ceremony, we filed into the school chapel. There the minister said that we probably had a lot of fears about the future. He said we should relax. “Do not worry about your life,” he quoted from the New Testament. “What you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, what you will put on… Which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature? So why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; and yet I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. Now if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you?”
And I thought, “That’s easy for him to say. He has a job.”
It is natural to worry. Worrying makes us put in the effort to do things right and to double-check that we have our passports before we get all the way to the airport. But worrying can also interfere with getting things done. I try to follow the advice which has been my personal motto since I saw the posters in London last year: “Keep Calm and Carry On.” The design of these posters has spread all over the place, and the slogan has been parodied in many amusing ways, but I like the deliberately understated original version. The British Ministry of Information made these posters in 1939 when war was imminent and planned to use them in the event of an invasion. I figure that if “Keep Calm and Carry On” was good enough advice to fortify people for their country being overrun by the Nazis, it can help with all the everyday stress of life.
So it’s best not to worry too much, but we cannot be lilies of the field. When I listened to the minister’s words, I had never taken any economics classes, but still I knew full well that in order to be clothed and housed and fed, I did need gainful employment. Eventually, even though the path was not clear to me on that day, one thing led to another, and I found rewarding work. I know that’s out there for all of you.
The time you spend in college or graduate school is a wellspring. You may feel like you’ve finished, and indeed, today is a day to pause and celebrate your achievement. But the benefits of your education continue to flow. As an economist, I have to point out that higher education usually leads to higher earnings. In addition to the material gains, you’ll always have the memories and the friendships. And in fact you will have more time to savor those memories, enjoy those friendships and spend that money because education is associated with several years more in life expectancy.
But besides the benefit to you personally, the benefit to society is immense. The United States has vast natural resources in farmland, lakes, rivers and oceans, oil, natural gas and maple trees. But economists at the World Bank have estimated that all that makes up just 3% of our total national wealth. We have factories, laboratories, libraries, farm equipment and an amazing interstate highway system. Everything that we have built accounts for only 16% of our total wealth. The rest, the other 82%, is intangible. It’s the strength of our bodies, our willingness to work, the laws and systems with which we operate, and most importantly, the knowledge in our heads. You’ve spent precious years of your lives here with us to obtain and develop that knowledge. Now you’re leaving campus, but your experiences here stay with you. You are part of the intangible wealth that brings progress and prosperity to our world. So thank you for everything you’ve contributed while you’ve been enrolled here and everything you will contribute from this day forward. Thank you and keep calm.
Last modified January 09 2011 03:37 PM