University of Oregon Convocation
Sept. 27, 2009
by Richard Lariviere

Thank you for coming to University of Oregon Convocation 2009.

Students, today, as you walked across this campus with friends, family, fellow students and teachers, I hope you were moved by the beauty of this campus. I hope you noticed the trees, the flowers, the architecture.

You saw a place that will be the focal point of “your time.”

Look around you for a moment right now . . . what you see now are the people who will help you make this “your time.”

Yes, as you live the rest of your lives, there will be many moments that are “your time.” But this time, beginning today and through the upcoming years of academic study, will be a time that is unique – a time to open the wild and curious, amazing and challenging pathways that will be your future.

I recall my first day on a university campus – the combination of fear and excitement, anxiety and expectation – a wondering of whether my efforts would be competitive or my choice of university the right one

This moment, for all the feelings it creates, will never be here again – not ever quite like this, never so open for a near infinity of possibilities . . .

Today I had lunch with an amazing group of men and women – a group of men and women who will be a part of that future of infinite possibilities – a part of that future that can connect your hopes and dreams of today with the vast possibilities of accomplishments tomorrow.

These were just a few of the many teachers at the University of Oregon.

Some of these men and women hold the rank of professor, associate professor, senior instructor, instructor – but regardless of those titles, I believe the most important title that can be given to them is teacher.

In Robert Bolt’s play “A Man for All Seasons,” Sir Thomas More gives advice to a young man seeking a position in the royal court.

More says to him, “Be a teacher, Richard. You would be a good teacher. Perhaps a great one.”

Richard replies, “And if I were, who would know it?”

More answers, “You, your students and God. Not a bad audience.”

Let me tell you just a bit about our teachers who hold that audience . . .

They are some of the best teachers any university has to offer. They know that each one of you here today in this grand old stadium is the most important audience they have. Among these are the Herman award-winning teachers for 2008-2009 and the Williams Award winners and Fellows – the teachers we honor each year for their commitment, their creativity and their passion for teaching.

They are not the only teachers who understand the importance of their audience. There are many, many more. These are just the ones I had lunch with today.

They are:

Alan Dickman, Michael Dreiling, David Dusseau, Steve Shankman, Kathryn Lynch, Shelley Morello, Andy Rothgery, Alex Zunterstein, Gina Herrmann, Robert Davis, Nico Larco, Juli Brode, Erik Churchill, Brendan Bohannan,and John Nicols.

Please join me in giving them a round of applause . . .

They teach a range of subjects from biology to sociology, history to Romance languages. They open for you, their students, opportunities to apply environmental studies to community needs, learn a foreign language at a richer and deeply meaningful level, design and build for fellow citizens, investigate biodiversity at a microbial level, explore history through new media, and find out first-hand whether the humanities can have an impact on men and women in prison.

As I said, I had lunch today with these men and women who represent the best teaching at this university – men and women who have a passion for teaching - and for learning . . .

I do not use the word “passion” lightly. Passion is a deeply-felt enthusiasm, an enthusiasm that is more than intellectual (though it is that), an enthusiasm that is more than a career (though it is that). Passion of this sort is a part of the lives of these great teachers, without which something vital – some elemental energy and meaning would me missing.

Each of you, in many ways, are more fortunate than I am. I spent but a lunch-time with them. You have an opportunity over the course of your time here to spend, not just a lunchtime, but hours, days, weeks, terms, with them and with others like them – to learn, not only their subject matter, but to experience the passion for learning that they offer.

This is what we do at the University of Oregon – this is our contribution to your education – teachers who bring, from that vital part of their lives the opportunity for learning to become an equally vital part of your lives.

We have the teachers with passion.

Students, your obligation is to discover your passion.

Yes, we have labs and equipment, new facilities and spaces for that learning – but more than anything, we have teachers who will send you on a life-long process that means more than graduation and career. Their teaching will endow you with the capacity to pursue knowledge for a lifetime.

Together, student and teacher can find your passion. Nurture it and grow it throughout your life.

Now, as I said, this is your time – your time to engage in this process of learning.

Some of you may be wondering, “What should I study?”

The choice is wide open. But remember, your choice should be driven by your passion.

Your choice does not belong to your parents. Your choice does not belong to your friends. Your choice does not belong to a guidance counselor or the love of your life – or even the president of the University of Oregon.

Your choice should not be influenced by, driven by, your sense of financial security, social acceptance or what they will say at your 25th high school reunion.

Your choice should be driven by enthusiasm and passion.

When that choice is right, an inner voice will say, “Yes, this is me, this is what I can be – this is what I will be.”

Some of you have already heard that inner voice. As I speak right now, you know what that inner voice is saying.

Some of you are not there yet.

Either way, I challenge you to take classes that are not within your “safety zone,” classes that can enrich your understanding of the world beyond your interests, but that also can enrich that study which is – or might become - your passion.

For those who do know, if you are studying business, dare to take a class in literature so you understand the hopes, dreams and tragedies that can befall the very men and women with whom you will do business – and to discover the power of words to bring you to that understanding.

If you are studying biology, dare to take a class in art history. Art, past and present, is a window of perception that can open your mind, spark your creativity, and even influence the way you approach science.

If you are studying music, dare to take a class in physics or chemistry, because sophistication in science will help you understand the very nature of the world in which you perform.

Dare to open yourself to possibilities. Dare to jump into the unknown. Dare to push where the resistance is the greatest.

For those who don’t know – dare to explore in even more ways. Dare to let in a part of the world that is not familiar to you. Dare to meet ideas that frighten you, that push your limits, that cross the line of the safe and the comfortable.

This daring is not just exciting, it is actually practical.

It is estimated that people of your age will make 15 significant job changes in the course of their working lives – and that at least 50 percent of the jobs that you will have do not even exist right now.

Furthermore, the passion for learning that you find here can become tomorrow’s passion, not only for discovering, but also for leading the way into new and unexplored careers.

Don’t be afraid of your passion. It is more than finding a job or a career (although it will be that, too) It is an opportunity to understand who you are – your chance to explore, to question, to go where your heart and mind have never gone before.

The poet Wallace Stevens wrote:

“They said, ‘You have a blue guitar,

You do not play things as they are.’

The man replied, ‘Things as they are

Are changed upon a blue guitar.”

Dare to pick up that “blue guitar,” even if you don’t know a chord. Dare, most importantly within yourself, to be willing to “change things as they are.”

Almost anyone in history whose life has “changed things as they are” for the better has been a person willing to pick up that blue guitar.

I would like to share with you a small part of my passion – Sanskrit and the culture from which it arose . . . There is a verse in the Bhagavad-Gita (3.35) from the great Sanskrit epic, the Mahabharata that I would like to recite for you:

Roughly translated this means it is “Better to do one’s own duty poorly than another person’s well.”

My own life and study have convinced me of this – have shown me just how this understanding, this pursuing one’s own passion and resulting work is the way of achieving what the modern Western tradition might call “a meaningful life.”

As you leave here today, walk across this campus, look at what you see, know that this is where you can find something more amazing than the beautiful grounds and buildings.

Look around you and know - this is where you can find the passion that will “change things as they are” for your lives and for the world that you will shape.

I, our teachers, our staff and administrators, are dedicated to to your education. This is your time to dedicate yourself to it as well.

Thank you.