2012 Spring Undergraduate Commencement Ceremony

Below are President Glasser's remarks from the Spring Undergraduate Commencement Ceremony on May 12, 2012.

Distinguished guests, trustees, faculty, staff, students and these special graduates of 2012: thank you for being here to celebrate this time-honored tradition, the passing from one road on life’s journey to another as we look toward the future.

It is particularly appropriate to talk about roads today because our distinguished guest is William Clay Ford Jr. The Ford name is synonymous with pathways and progress, with journeys and change. I’m pleased to share with you some personal thoughts on your journey and your future, the change you’ve experienced already, and some advice for the change that is surely ahead.

William Ford’s great-grandfather, Henry Ford, was born on a Michigan farm in 1863, four weeks after the Battle of Gettysburg. I want you to think of that time – before electricity, before automobiles, before the telephone – now I want you to think of what Henry Ford, who would become a great industrialist and inventor, experienced in his lifetime.

Henry Ford was born when the Pony Express delivered the mail and he died in 1947 at the dawn of the computer age, after the creation of jet engines, rockets and atomic power. Think he saw much during his 83 years? Can you even imagine how much change occurred during those eight decades? Well, the same question can be posed for your future and your generation. What advances in technology and culture do you imagine will take place in this fast-paced world in which we live by the year 2075?  What inventions, creations and innovative ways of conducting business and other activities will you be responsible for? It seems like light years into the future, but time has a way of moving fast.

Young Mr. Ford wasn’t interested in farming. He had a mechanical mind. If he had been born a century later, I could see him as a Bradley engineering student. But Mr. Ford didn’t have that opportunity. Now imagine today how far you’d get in business or industry without a college degree, without the kind of education you received at Bradley. It is amazing how the world has changed since Henry Ford was a young man. The opportunities you have before you are much richer because of your Bradley degree, because you wisely chose to seek a comprehensive education that sets the foundation for your future.

Despite his lack of a formal education, Henry Ford had a dream, and he passionately pursued it, beginning as an apprentice machinist and working his way up to chief engineer of the Edison Illuminating Company, where he met another legendary inventor, Thomas Edison. In his spare time, Ford experimented with creating a self-propelled vehicle, completing his first model in 1896.

That period was a remarkable time of industrial exploration and innovation, particularly for the burgeoning auto industry. Brothers Charles and Frank Duryea were America's first gasoline-powered commercial car manufacturers, doing some of their work right here in Peoria. Ransome Olds had a better understanding of consumers, becoming the most successful car builder in the first years of the 20th century. Like Henry Ford, Henry Royce was an apprentice with larger dreams. He realized them when he designed and built a car you may have heard of – the Rolls Royce. Its great success was the result of the specialized market niche Henry Royce pursued.

Coincidentally, Henry Royce and Henry Ford were both born in 1863. But there were other incredibly successful entrepreneurs born in the flames of the Civil War. Richard Sears began selling watches to railroad station agents and expanded his business with what became a world-famous catalog. Sears was a retailing prophet who became the nation’s largest merchant. William Randolph Hearst, born that same year, started with one newspaper and built a nationwide media empire through shrewd business decisions and engaging storytelling.

These iconic business leaders transformed how we buy goods, how we get our news, and how we travel. They were innovators and agents of change. They were farsighted thinkers, futurists of their time. And you, graduates, hold the future for our time.

You’ve heard the cliché to think outside the box. Just as these men did, you need to take that one step further. I challenge you to tear down the box and think around the corner, to look where you’re headed, but cannot see. Look to the future so that you’re ahead of the curve and not encumbered by anyone’s box.

Henry Ford demonstrated that creative thinking and refinement of the assembly line would revolutionize manufacturing practices. But transforming manufacturing methods alone was not the end of his genius; he was a master of marketing as well.

“If I’d asked my customers what they wanted, they’d have said a faster horse,” Henry Ford is quoted as saying. What did he mean? Just this:

His task – and yours on life’s journey – is to envision what people want before they know it themselves. That advice is appropriate whether you’re selling cars, newspapers or iPads. Know what’s in the best interest of your customer/client/consumer and deliver it. Be out front. Be the first. Be an innovator.

Now innovation requires something that can be frightening: change. We all get comfortable in our routines. But life will throw you curves just as it throws you opportunities. As the ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus (HAIR-uh-cly-tuss) said: “Nothing endures but change.”

Today’s commencement speaker, Bill Ford, has used the phrase Change or Die in referring to modern businesses. That may seem a bit harsh, yet thinking about it, if Henry Ford hadn’t welcomed change, he would have been searching for that faster horse. If Bradley University hadn’t accepted change, we would still have a watch-making curriculum.

So, you might ask, how did Bill Ford’s call for change work out? When he became CEO in 2001, Ford Motor Company had lost $5 billion that year. Fast forward; the company just reported its third consecutive annual profit with earnings in 2011 totaling $20 billion, second-highest in Ford history. Ford Motors has changed and thrived.

Change in today’s world, and today’s economy, is a certainty. You are uniquely qualified to be at the forefront of change. On our campus, this generation of Bradley students went from exercising in stifling Haussler Hall to the state-of-the-art Markin Center. Some of you embraced new majors in sports communication or hospitality leadership.

On a personal level, just a few years ago, the phone was something to talk on. Now it is a computer, a texting device and a way to send tweets. What will come next? … You will decide because you are the thinkers, the doers and the innovators of the next generation. You are the agents of change. Because of your Bradley education, you will be the leaders in bringing those changes to fruition.

I will leave you with a quote from one of my heroes, Robert Kennedy. In an inspirational speech he delivered at the University of Capetown four years before the end of apartheid in South Africa, he said: “Few will have the greatness to bend history; but each of us can work to change a small portion of events, and in the total of all those acts will be written the history of this generation.”

I encourage you to use your Bradley education to change events, to write history and to make a difference. As philosopher Henry David Thoreau said: Go confidently in the direction of your dreams and live the life you’ve imagined.

Graduates, I look forward to your future and to seeing all that you will achieve. Congratulations graduates of 2012, enjoy today and change tomorrow.