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'Good Luck Out There, Kids! You Will Need It!'

May 31, 2000

As college students don their caps and gowns in a ritual to signal their transition into the "real world," commencement speakers try to offer up a few pearls of wisdom. Some deliver an unabashed pep talk; others vainly attempt to peer into the future. A few talk about personal experiences and try to divine a life's lesson. Most try to persuade students to cling to their youthful dreams while they get whiplashed by life's hard realities. Here are a few excerpts.

Robert A. Skotheim, president of the Huntington Library,

Art Collections and Botanical Gardens

Whittier College, May 26, 2000

What do we think when we say that the most salient characteristics of a time 100 years ago were: unprecedented new wealth, and deep poverty; a celebration of capitalism and the work ethic; a new philanthropy; a communications revolution, and optimism about what this means; forebodings about class conflict; unprecedented immigration from new lands; bureaucratization of life; pervasive democratic values and unlimited faith in science?

What we think is that, 100 years later, the very same characteristics are the most striking. Or, to put it more precisely, among the most striking characteristics of the year 2000 would be the same ones as in the year 1900.

Yet there is a consensus that the 20th century has been one of unprecedented rapidity of change. What does this mean? It means that a century is not a long time in the larger historical sweep of time. Generally speaking, the trend lines of 1900 remain the trend lines of 2000.

So you are listening to one of the few commencement talks this spring which emphasize continuity rather than change. You graduates are not going into the world of 1900, but neither are you going into a completely new world.

The most significant change, the one which will matter most to you personally, is not technological, but is the role of women in relation to men. I predict that the most significant exploration of your personal lives will not lie in space technology, but in the space between your ears.

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