Mark A. Pilipczuk '88Vice President, Marketing Services
Neustar Inc., Sterling, VA
August 31, 2009
Good morning. I can't tell you how excited and proud I am at being given the opportunity to speak with the class of 2013 this morning.
I’m told this class consists of about 575 freshman and 200 transfer students, with students from 20 countries. There are also over 100 new graduate students and about 1,000 online students. Welcome to Utica College! Thank you for choosing Utica College.
I think you all made a wise choice, and it's not just because I've spent over half of my life associated with this university. Over the next several years you will find yourself transformed. In fact, UC is so sure about that, they put it on the website: "Tradition. Opportunity. Transformation." After all, if it's on the Internet, it must be true!
The magic of the transformation is that it's something you'll do yourself. Yes, you will have the support of an excellent faculty, staff, administration, and the college community. But, it's you who will bear the responsibility of accomplishing that self-transformation.
I thought I’d start by telling you how UC transformed and prepared me.
I'm a native of Utica and a graduate of Utica Free Academy. I was a pretty good student in high school, but didn't apply myself as well as I should have. My parents, who are here today, were advocates of education. Both had attended Utica College. I knew from an early age that I was destined for higher education. As the oldest of five boys, I also knew that my parents were going to be stretched to pay for that many years of college. I thought that by attending UC, I could live at home and work part-time to earn money. Applying to UC and enrolling are two of the smartest things I've ever done.
I came to campus to study marketing. To me, it was the perfect blend of two topics that I found particularly interesting, psychology and economics. I didn't know a lot about marketing, except that it involved sales, and sales meant talking to people. The problem was that I was deathly afraid of speaking to people. My marketing career was going to be short, if it got started at all.
I decided that I could overcome my fear of public speaking by becoming a DJ at UC's radio station, WPNR. I introduced myself to the Program Director as her new Sunday evening reggae DJ. She either saw my raw talent or couldn't find another volunteer to play reggae on Sunday nights. I suspect it was the latter. She taught me how to cue up records and put me on the air. And, three hours at a time, I was able to overcome that fear of speaking to others. I remain grateful to this day to Tracey Pierce, a fellow student at UC, who helped me transform myself.
My academic transformation took the form of retired Professor of Economics Dr. William Blanchfield. He scared the daylights out of me. Well, as much as a bowtie-wearing economist can. He also inspired me because of his high standards. The first college paper I ever had to complete was for Dr. Blanchfield. It was only after doing well on that paper that I knew that I would succeed in college. I still remember walking out of Hubbard Hall with that A- and that feeling of accomplishment. I was so pleased that I took several other economics courses from him. He was always generous with his time and advice. I am successful today in large part because Dr. Blanchfield took a personal interest in me and helped me transform myself into a strong student. Thank you, Dr. Blanchfield.
If you remember only one thing from today’s address it’s this: Find your own Dr. Blanchfield. The UC faculty is absolutely first rate and all are ready to help you challenge yourself. Build relationships with faculty who will hold you to higher standards than you thought possible. Seek their counsel and heed it.
This year's campus theme is "Preparing for the New Normal." What's the new normal? Let me give you an example.
I was at a Green Day concert last month with my wife and son. Before Green Day went on stage, somebody dressed in a pink rabbit costume entertained us. Among other things, the rabbit lead the crowd through a version of the song "YMCA", complete with the usual hand gestures. I found the combination of Green Day, “YMCA” and a pink rabbit a bit perplexing, to say the least. So, I updated the status on my Facebook page using my cell phone to see who might enlighten me. Within a short period of time, John Casellini, a fellow Trustee and alumnus from class of 1981 filled me in on the story behind the rabbit.
Now, for the class of 2013, this is completely normal. Real time communication and collaboration is the new normal. However, five years ago we didn't have the technology to make this happen. When I was sitting where you are, this wouldn't have been normal at all. In fact, it was unimaginable. Terms such as Social Networking and Instant Messaging weren’t even invented while I was at UC. And of course, I never imagined myself at a concert with my 11-year-old son, singing “YMCA”, with a giant pink rabbit as our conductor.
Of course, the new normal is more than just social networking and pink bunny rabbits. The new normal also includes the U.S. economy in the midst of the worst recession since the Great Depression. There’s a question about what form our economic recovery will take. Will it be a rapid, V-shaped recovery or one that will be more gradual and take a number of years? We are in the midst of a great public discussion about changes to our health care system. The health care system of tomorrow will likely be different in some very fundamental ways. Large corporations, such as General Motors, have gone through bankruptcy and the federal government holds substantial equity positions in those institutions.
We are also seeing global temperatures rise and, with them, disruptions in environmental patterns. The developing world will bear the brunt of those changes. What will we do?
On the positive side, it’s also now normal that we have far more diversity in our leadership, including our first female Hispanic Supreme Court justice and—finally—our first African-American President.
Who could have predicted any of those events, even a few short years ago, let alone be specifically prepared for them?
Even though this year’s campus theme is “Preparing for the New Normal” I’m going to encourage you to prepare for tomorrow’s new normal. As one of the greatest hockey players of all time, Wayne Gretzky, said, "A good hockey player plays where the puck is. A great hockey player plays where the puck is going to be." Start thinking about what the new normal will be in five or ten years. Where will that puck be, and what will you do with that puck when you get there?
Unfortunately, I can’t tell you what the new normal will be when you graduate. I can only assure you that it will be different than today.
When I think of preparing for the new normal, the Boy Scouts of America motto comes to mind: “Be Prepared.” Somebody once asked Lord Baden-Powell, the founder of scouting, “Be prepared for what?” He replied, “Why, for any old thing.”
Here’s three things I learned at UC and in my career that I think will help you prepare for the new normal, tomorrow’s normal, as well as “any old thing.”
First, become an expert in something. Take the most rigorous course of study that you can. As the world becomes more global and connected our problems are ever more complicated. Opinions won’t suffice to solve those problems. Shouting at each other won’t solve our economic, social and environmental problems. Take the next few years to build your ability to reason and think. Then, bring that expertise to the debate. We will need it.
Second, always ask for help. Nobody ever achieved his or her goals without help from somebody else. If you have any concerns while at UC, whether they are academic, social or personal, please reach out. The mission of the Division of Student Success is to help you fully engage in your UC experience. Dean Steve Pattarini and his entire team are focused on helping you reach your educational goals. You just have to ask.
Third, embrace diversity. Look around the room. There are people here who are different than you. They’ve had different life experiences. They come from different economic backgrounds. They have different political beliefs. They come from different countries. They will enrich your thinking immeasurably, but only if you interact with each other.
If you do just those three things, you will succeed academically. If you are also active in the social and community life of the campus, you will thrive. And if you stay active as an alum, I can assure you that one of you will stand here twenty years from now, giving the convocation address. I can’t wait to attend. I’ll be the one in the back—in a pink rabbit costume.
In preparing this address, I asked a graduate of the class of 2008 what she thought the class of 2013 needed to hear. She said, "I wish somebody told me not to take so many naps."
Pursue academics vigorously. Ask for help. Seek out diversity. Get involved.
I wish you much success at Utica College.