This year, Penn State’s Shenango Campus is celebrating its 50th anniversary. It served its first freshman class in the 1965-66 academic year. I came along as a freshman the following year. In 2005, I was honored to be invited to deliver the spring commencement address as the campus was preparing to celebrate its 40th anniversary. In the spirit of helping to celebrate the 50th anniversary, here is the speech I gave on that occasion:
First, let me say congratulations to the graduates who are here with us today. I also want to recognize our graduates’ families, friends, and loved ones. No one achieves a goal like this entirely on her own--you all deserve a share of the congratulations tonight.
I also want to thank Dean Disney and Dr. Leeds for inviting me to be here. I am especially proud to join you tonight for several reasons. First, as a Penn State administrator. Second, as a Penn State Shenango Alum. Third, as a Shenango Valley native. And fourth, this year Penn State Shenango is celebrating its 40th anniversary of service to the community here in Western Pennsylvania. I am a member of the second class to go through the campus. I graduated from Hickory High School in 1966. I am a classic Penn State first-generation student. When I was in high school, I had few prospects of ever attending college. However, some of my teachers told my mother and me about this new campus that would allow me to attend Penn State without having to bear the expense of leaving home and that would allow me to continue to work part-time while I studied. The campus was not yet at its current physical location—our classes were held at Kennedy Christian High School during my freshman year—but the very fact that Penn State was here in the Valley was a godsend to me back then and it has been the same for many other students as the campus has grown and become a part of downtown Sharon over the past four decades. So, it is a distinct honor for me to be back with you this evening.
Back in those days, you could only complete the first two years of a baccalaureate degree at the campus. I finished my undergraduate degree at University Park in 1970. The following month, this book came out—Future Shock by Alvin Toffler. It was, as the cover on the paperback edition said, “a runaway best seller.” But more than that, it was a kind of social exclamation point that announced that something very big was happening in our world—it proclaimed the beginning of the Information Revolution. It described the many changes that were beginning to take shape in our culture . Especially explored a variety of changes—changes in science and technology, in organizations, in families, in education, in relationships—and the challenges facing us as individuals and as a society learned how to cope with increasingly rapid and radical change. Most of us were only vaguely aware of all this in 1970, but it was not long before we all began to feel the impact and began to sense that things would never be quite the same.
Well, we are now more than a full generation into the Information Revolution. Most of you who are graduating today know no other world than a wired—and increasingly, wireless—world. Most of the rest of us have trouble remembering what it was like in the “old days.” (Notice that I did NOT say the “good old days”). And yet we are still discovering the true dimensions of change that the Information Revolution has created—and is still creating. We are, in a very real way, in the same situation that Penn State’s graduates of a century or more ago might have been: they were a generation into the Industrial Revolution and I am sure most of them could not have envisioned what the 20th century would bring. We look out today on the edge of the 21st century and only one thing is certain: there is a lot more change to come. Some of them will be what one author calls “predictable surprises.” But some will be total surprises. It’s going to be an exciting ride. And it’s time for you to take your turn at the wheel.
One that is still unfolding but that has incredible potential for transforming how we will live in the world in the coming decades—is how the Internet and wireless communications are transforming the concept of “community” in our lives. We all live in several different overlapping communities. Our family and friends are a community that we take with us throughout our lives. We also have our local, physical community—like the Shenango Valley itself—where we have many different kinds of associations and, often, where our cultural heritage rests. And, as we move on in life, we develop communities that share professional interests and communities of interest around other dimensions of our lives.
Today, those communities are no longer as tied to local geography as they used to be. A generation after Future Shock, we know from experience what Alvin Toffler was telling us: that the information revolution was not about technology, but was about US. I work with Penn State’s online courses. My professional community is national and international. Just in the last two weeks, I have interacted with colleagues in the United Kingdom, Brazil, Mexico, and Norway—all without leaving State College (a town that my graduation speaker in 1970 described as “equally inaccessible from anywhere in the world”). Students in our online courses come from all 50 states and all 7 continents. Their experience of a learning community is a bit different from mine 40 years ago.
For me, at my age, all this is an adventure. For you, well, it may be pretty normal. But this idea of technology is changing how you will define your community in the years ahead is well worth thinking about. All of you have the ability now to carry your communities with you wherever your life’s work will take you. For some of you—and I hope this is true of a good many—it will allow you to stay right here in Western Pennsylvania and still be citizens of a rich community of colleagues and friends far from here. Pennsylvania is facing a powerful challenge. Many of our communities—and the Shenango Valley is a wonderful example—were shaped by the needs of the Industrial Revolution. The challenge—and it is an immediate challenge for all of us—is to re-envision our communities for this new economy. We’ll need your leadership here at home or wherever your careers take you, to make that happen.
Tonight, you have received your degrees from Penn State. But I think it is important to note that you did “receive” your education. It hasn’t been handed down to you. Instead, you MADE your education. You had lots of help from faculty members and other students, but it is YOURS. In the process, you’ve created a new capacity within yourself to face the changes ahead. One thing we DO know about the world that the information revolution has created is that, for us—because the world continues to change rapidly—education doesn’t end tonight. It is a lifelong process. I wound up getting two more degrees from Penn State as an adult learner. I hope that, as you move forward you will continue to turn to Penn State for renewal and to help you to reach new goals as you move ahead in your life.
For tonight, though--from one alum to another—congratulations and the very best wishes for the future.