It’s college graduation time. Which means hugging, crying, packing, moving and worrying about what the future holds. And sitting under a scorching sun on uncomfortable bleacher benches hearing long boring speeches.
But this year’s graduation at Ithaca College in upstate New York wasn’t like that. The commencement remarks by college president Thomas R. Rochon used a classic movie scene from The Graduate about the life and times of a college graduate as a way to connect the students’ generation to their parents’.
The Greek philosopher Heraclitus is credited with the observation, “The only constant is change.” Rochon used Dustin Hoffman’s fictional character Benjamin Braddock as a metaphor to remind today’s graduates and their baby boomer parents just how true Heraclitus’ words ring today. “Change has become the only constant we can rely upon,” said Rochon.
If Benjamin had been a real person, he would have received his bachelor’s degree in 1967 – the year the film was released. He would now be 65 or 66 years old, about to retire. Think what he would have witnessed between the day he graduated and his retirement this year.
When Benjamin graduated, the greatest threat to American security was a country called the Soviet Union. The largest corporation in the world was General Motors, the same General Motors that recently emerged from bankruptcy. When Benjamin graduated, no one had ever been to the moon.
And, unlike many of you, we know that Benjamin actually listened to the speeches at his commencement because he had no other options unless he brought with him either a transistor radio or a battery-powered record player.
Today, the odds are pretty good that Benjamin is retiring from a job that did not exist in 1967, or that existed but is now performed in an entirely different way using technologies that were not even dreamed of when his career began.
Of course, 45 years is a long time. But consider the pace of change in just the last four years – the span of time most of you have been at Ithaca College.
When you were freshmen, there had never been an African-American president of the United States and there was no reason to think there would be one any time soon. When you started at IC, there had not yet been a global financial meltdown triggered by misplaced confidence in financial instruments that few people understood.
Rochon then ratcheted the change theme up a notch. Because things have changed since Heraclitus’ time. Change is no longer a constant. The rate of change is accelerating.
The first iPhone came out just before you began your freshman year. Today, as you graduate, you can buy a fourth generation iPhone at your local electronics store. And the blogs are full of rumors about new capabilities that will be added to the iPhone 5, surely coming soon.
It’s a great metaphor and a good analysis…except for the one little fib that Ithaca’s college president told the graduates. “You have not yet reached the generational divide at which one develops a desire to just have technology sit still for a few years so we can get comfortable with our existing gadgets before trading them in for new ones,” said Rochon. “You might never cross that generational divide. You may be the ones for whom change is so omnipresent that the only thing that would make you uncomfortable would be to find out that there will not soon be another major advance in the way we stay connected with each other.”
President Rochon, shame on you for lying to your students. Instead of this innocent fib, you should have told them about what Joni Mitchell, a real contemporary of the fictional Benjamin Braddock, had to say about change in her 1970 song, The Circle Game.
“Tell him, ‘take your time.’ It won’t be long now — till you drag your feet to slow the circles down.”
Dave Zornow is a media research consultant, web applications developer and hyperlocal publisher in Nyack, NY.