With a new generation of high school students graduated from their primary school educations – whether they public, private or something entirely different – a world of opportunity has opened up for yet another group of ambitious, forward-thinking young people.
Perhaps it is simply the unparalleled promise of youth and the adventures to come, or the blustery speeches that reiterate the hopeful notions of clean slates, open skies and untapped potential – regardless of the reason why, it’s hard to not feel inspired by a well-delivered graduation speech.
We have heard many such orations in the past couple weeks from highly achieving students who seem to have a firm grasp on the accomplishes of the past versus the challenges of the future; who understand that one step in life invariably leads to another higher step, and yet another one after that. Undoubtedly, they will face life’s successive complications with the same resiliency as the generations of high school leaders who have come before them, and we wish them well in their journey.
However, one particular speech delivered by Ronald Machtley, president of Bryant University, at Rocky Hill School commencement exercises on Friday struck us as particularly important for a different reason. In one 10-minute speech, Machtley outlined five areas that, if his advice is heeded, would enable any freshman college student a higher than average chance to succeed and make memories to last a lifetime.
The remarkable thing about Machtley’s steps is their relative simplicity. He recommended buying a planner to become organized and to help manage time; take courses that excite and energize you early rather than slogging through requirements to get them out of the way; to befriend at least one professor who will be an advocate for your success; to find an activity to complement in-class learning; and to be accepting of new people and new ideas.
There’s nothing universally groundbreaking about his advice, however within a very short span of time (surely appreciated by those in attendance) Machtley perfectly encapsulates all the challenges that new college students face their first year on their own, and how to overcome them.
The most pressing concern, he said, is time management. While college is and should be a time of independence, those who have never enjoyed such freedom before can become encumbered by it or overindulge in it. Machtley urged separating the day into three 8-hour segments – one for sleep, one for you and one for academics. This formula may be idealistic, but it is a good goal to shoot for nonetheless.
Academically, Machtley couldn’t be more correct about taking courses that excite and befriending professors. It cannot be understated how many doors may become open by earning the respect and attention of the instructors within a university. It can lead to internships or even jobs following graduation, which can spark life-long careers. At the very least you will have strong references for further educational endeavors or job applications.
Perhaps the most important piece of advice Machtley summed up well enough in his own words, saying, “The academy, I believe, is one of the few places left in this country and this world in which civility, culture and free speech must exist.”
It sounds like a simple platitude, however there is no surer way to guarantee a negative experience in college than to go into it with a mind of stone and a standoffish attitude. College is when you should have long-held beliefs challenged, and you should be inclined to defend or re-shape them. You should actively be growing as a person and as a thinker, as this is perhaps one of the only times in life where you will be surrounded by such a wide array of people with different backgrounds and opinions than yourself. To not take advantage of this sociological melting pot is a major disservice to your own growth and, honestly, a waste of your tuition dollars.
And it wouldn’t be a great graduation speech without inspiring hope for the future. Despite all the bleariness we’re faced with in regards to U.S. politics, foreign relations and concerns over domestic acts of horrific violence, Machtley instead focused on the blossoming so-called “fourth industrial revolution,” a time where artificial intelligence, robotics and further space travel are no longer resigned to the realm of science fiction but are actively occurring and evolving before our eyes.
“As one old man, I am envious of you who are about to go into this exciting world,” Machtley said.
To all of the recent high school graduates in Rhode Island, we congratulate your successes and look forward to reporting on your future accomplishments.