At Commencement, heart-to-heart talk

Commencement is a time of celebration, but it’s also a time for reflection and advice. Graduates heard the parting thoughts and favorite quoted passages of four speakers during the weekend of May 14. Two were students, one was a faculty member, and one was the parent of a UPS alumna.

That parent, William H. Neukom P’94, chair of the Preston Gates and Ellis law firm and a UPS trustee, advised: “Relentlessly broaden your perspective. Take seriously what you do, but do not take yourself too seriously. As our own Hans Ostrom [see page 12] has written in his poem ‘Judeo-Christian Codicil’: ‘Thou shalt not use any of the Ten Commandments to rationalize what you intended at the outset to do anyway. Thou shalt not kid a kidder.’”

At Academic Convocation, chemistry professor John Hanson, in a talk about how understanding the truth is a process of gathering, sorting, and analyzing information, said:

“Notice that I have equated ‘the truth’ with greater complexity.  Some of you may wish to take issue with me on that. You might want to argue that, in fact, there are simple principles that can explain seemingly complex phenomena. This is certainly true. But when you talk about the big picture, ‘life, the universe, and everything,’ as Douglas Adams would say, the answer isn’t 42! Sure you may be able to use Newton’s laws of motion to understand how objects move.  But what happens when they get close to the speed of light? Then you need to consider relativity. And what if the objects are very small, then you need to use quantum mechanics. And no one ever accused quantum mechanics of being simple. Sure, we use simplifying principles all the time, but the devil is in the details, and those details tend to be wickedly complex.”