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UT Arlington Beta Gamma Sigma Induction Ceremony

April 15, 2015

Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen. It’s a tremendous honor to be here today to address a group that has already accomplished so much. I recognize that the audience represents both students and faculty, and I hope you will excuse me if I address most of my remarks to our students since they represent the future. Today we celebrate that future through the induction of the very best and the continued praise of those who were inducted in recent years and are getting closer to graduation.  

From a simple academic perspective, you represent the upper 7 percent of the junior class, the upper 10 percent of the senior class, the upper 20 percent of the graduating master’s class, or you have completed your doctoral degree in business administration at UT Arlington. Those are enviable heights of achievement—and that’s before we even consider all the other activities in which you excel individually and as members of teams and groups. When we talk about the “best of the best” at UT Arlington, we are talking about students such as you. So congratulations on attaining this impressive distinction.

When I was asked to speak to you, I wondered what I could say that you had not heard before and that might leave an impact. As is the case with most speakers, you are likely to forget me the instant I step off the stage. In all likelihood, the words I use are unlikely to be so profound as to be recalled even a few hours from now—and that is the way it should be. Each of you is on a fast path to a wonderful future, and I am merely another obstacle in your way, slowing down your accelerated motion toward being a captain of industry, a leader in policy, or an entrepreneur extraordinaire. In fact, if you are among the latter, I might be in the way of your earning thousands of dollars. So I will be brief with the hope that as you earn them, you will remember UTA and provide a large endowment to us from your profits!

There are no magic words that can provide you wisdom or insight that you do not already have, nor lines that I speak that will cause you to admire eloquence since that is rarely the province of an engineer or scientist. So what I’d like to do is talk a bit about the world in which we live, its future, and how what you do will influence and impact not just your own lives but also the lives of others.

Bebaeos, gnosis, spoude—represented by the Greek letters beta, gamma, sigma—encapsulate what you stand for: honor, wisdom, and earnestness. These three words have so much significance in today’s complex world that is both shrinking by the minute because of tremendous technological advances yet simultaneously growing further apart because of the strains brought through instantaneous delivery of news and juxtaposition of social norms and cultures that were separated by distance and time.

There is no doubt that technological advances have caused the world to become smaller and that telecommunications have changed the way we all think and act. Capital moves across borders instantaneously, and the movement of products, people, and services is faster than ever before. While cross-cultural influences have always been part of the modern world, today they are ever more powerful because of their immediacy. We access the same information and the same websites, and we buy products made all over the world. At times do not even know if we are being assisted on the phone or on the Web by people next door or across the ocean. Finding the right balance between global and local is one of the key challenges of this decade, as is the need to increase our capacity for cross-cultural understanding.

Advances in telecommunications and the use of information have allowed us to overcome the barriers of time, space, location, and even language. Yours is the first generation in which news is not defined by the headlines on paper or even the leading stories read by a TV anchor. Social media has made it possible to expand the scope and accelerate the time of distribution of news—fact or fiction—and the phrase “perception is reality” has never been more true. At a time when the definition of truth and fair reporting can be stretched by the number of “likes” or “re-tweets” or “forwards” on a blog, the need for honor and wisdom are unquestionable.

Reputations are ruined, companies bankrupted, lives changed forever because we rush to believe what is texted across time and space. After all, what is being heard by millions and forwarded organically by people just like you and me cannot be wrong. When one can create “news” from thin air and when rumors can take on a force of their own, the need for gnosis—“wisdom tested by experience and tempered by discerning judgment”—has never been higher. In your hands as future leaders lies the responsibility to assimilate, assess, and decide, to take advantage of the vast amounts of data passing through your fingers every second, and discern fact from fiction, useful information from junk, and knowledge from garbage.

We live in a world that faces tremendous challenges that know no national boundaries. Among them are poverty, hunger, terrorism, water shortages, and the irreparable harm done to our oceans and lakes by industrialization. Others include increasing population, pollution, the escalating global tensions between development and sustainability, and the rise of diseases that are resistant to the very medical advances that were once considered the means to eradicate them. Of course, in today’s world, we face the previously unthinkable complexities and interdependencies wrought by a global economy in which the bursting of a housing bubble in the United States is felt from New Delhi to London, and from Beijing to Nairobi.

Today, more than ever before, we need to recognize that the key to solving these problems is understanding that no one people, no single group or party, no nation by itself—no matter how wealthy or powerful—can address all these issues. The key is the development of an informed and engaged global citizen who acts with earnestness toward a higher good. You represent the very best of this spoude, intrinsically “enthusiasm measured by achievement, disciplined by reason, and ennobled by sincerity.” 

Those of us with gray hair often think of you as representing the future, but in reality you are active in influencing the present and in addressing the critical issues of the hour. We gain significantly from what you are already doing. At UTA, you study in a diverse student body. You have the opportunity to interact closely with students having similar and different backgrounds. Cherish these interactions and the chances to build a community based on mutual respect and love.

You show tremendous commitment to a sense of public ethos and engagement with the community for the common good. You develop new ideas, better ways of enhancing life at this University and in this community. You build powerful, influential, and culturally inclusive networks. You are already building a better world. From your abilities to build diversity and reach over cultural, racial, and economic borders come a better tomorrow for all of us.

I am reminded of the words of Robert Kennedy, who said, “Some believe there is nothing one man or one woman can do against the enormous array of the world’s ills—against misery, against ignorance, or injustice and violence. Yet many of the world’s great movements, of thought and action, have flowed from the work of a single man. A young monk began the Protestant reformation, a young general extended an empire from Macedonia to the borders of the Earth, and a young woman reclaimed the territory of France. It was a young Italian explorer who discovered the New World, and 32-year-old Thomas Jefferson who proclaimed that all men are created equal. ‘Give me a place to stand,’ said Archimedes, ‘and I will move the world.’”

You have shown us that you can indeed make a difference—and in doing so—move the world, but you will have to make a difference, unlike Alexander and Joan of Arc, without going to war or ordering it. Goals will need to be met through compromise. Tolerance for other points of view will need to play an important role. Often our greatest achievements will arise not from convincing others to follow us but in developing a middle ground and a win-win situation that allows for forward motion with integrity, fairness, and honor.

Your ability to be seen as a person of principle—one open to discussion and diverse points of view, one open to new ideas and who respects others’ positions and opinions—will be a critical factor. The great philosopher Spinoza in his work, Ethics, probably put it best: “Men who are governed by reason … desire for themselves nothing which they do not also desire for the rest of mankind and, consequently, are just, faithful, and honorable in their conduct.” Bebaeos, or honor, is “personal integrity and excellence of character. It is an enduring quality found in all persons who deserve to lead others.”

So as you become leaders in your own right, take pride in your accomplishments and celebrate your successes, but let your path be characterized by the principles represented by Beta Gamma Sigma—honor, wisdom, and earnestness—and let your life be therefore impactful and purposeful.

Thank you for having me here and for the opportunity to speak to you.