May 2017 Commencement Remarks

Welcome everyone. 

Class of 2017, here we are! Today is the day. The rendezvous you planned with our university, and with your families has arrived. You've worked for years to get here, and you've earned it. Within a little more than an hour, you will officially be college graduates and alumni of the University of South Carolina. How does that sound, Class of 2017? 

No one really knows the exact moment during the ceremony when it will happen ... the moment when you will all be transformed from students to alumni, but we need a symbolic moment, so let's agree that it will be at the moment you move the tassel on your cap from right to left. Okay? After your names are read, we'll do that together and we'll recognize that moment as the one that changes everything. From that moment forward, everything will be different ... but I know you're prepared for it.  

Being older means being wiser. I want you to leave here confident that you are much wiser.


Graduates, I know the time passed quickly but you did so much here in the fleeting time! You worked hard, learned a lot, had loads of fun, made lifelong friends ... and by the way, experienced a National Championship in Women's Basketball, a Final Four for the men, and had a private Darius Rucker concert. Do you remember all those things? 

You've also grown older, and I would say you've grown up. In fact, if you started as a freshman and are here four years later, you are 22 percent older than when you started. How many of you are here four years later? Did anybody here take four and a half  years? You are 25 percent older. Took five years? 28 percent older. Six years ... well, let's not go there right now ... but you get the picture. You're a lot older. You're not exactly old, but you are significantly older and significantly wiser. I do believe that. Being older means being wiser. I want you to leave here confident that you are much wiser. 

When Mark Zuckerberg was 22, he stood before a large crowd and said, "Young people are just smarter." He has since regretted that comment. Of course he has ... this May 14, he'll turn 33 and he is wiser than he was at 22. 

Class of 2017, don't fret about getting older and don't frown on older people. A recent New York Times articles was entitled, "To Be a Genius, Think Like a 94-Year-Old" — it's a story of John Goodenough (yes, that's his real name) who at 94, has set the tech industry ablaze by filing a patent application on  a new kind of battery, beyond what's in use today, that would revolutionize the current version of electric cars and end the need for petroleum-fueled vehicles. 

Young inventors file lots of patents but America's highest value patents come from inventors over 55. 

And, personally, I think that 63 might actually be the very best age anyone can be ... at least if, like me, you can no longer be 62! 

So, older makes you wiser, but so does all the hard academic work you did here. And families, they really did work hard! On average, these students all dressed up here today, spent 3,456 hours studying over the past four years. And, on average, they took 128 tests, sat for 40 final exams and turned in 476 pages of written assignments. Those numbers are impressive and come from objective national surveys.   

And from my own observations, the average number of times they tripped over a brick on the Horseshoe is four, and the number of times they screamed, "Go Gamecocks!" is ... well, that had no limits!  

But the greatest thing about your Carolina education, isn't only how hard you worked, it's what you studied. You know this of course, but let me review for your families and guests the core curriculum that we required of you. 

Families, listen to this ... along with the professional skills that they received in their chosen fields, these graduates were required to demonstrate: 

  1. effective and persuasive written communication;
  2. effective, engaged and persuasive oral communication;
  3. communication skills in more than one language;
  4. analytical reasoning and problem solving;
  5. scientific literacy;
  6. historical thinking and understanding of past human societies;
  7. analytic awareness of political and environmental issues;
  8. interpretation of literary, visual or the performing arts;
  9. the capacity to collect, manage and evaluate information using technology; and finally,
  10. comprehension of differing social and personal values in both communities and individuals. 

Wow. That's another reason you're wiser. And you would not have benefited from this robust education had you not received your degree right here at Carolina. That is the Carolina Core and I'm very proud of it.   

You also learned a lot from things that happened outside of the classroom and it's possible that you may also have made some mistakes and even have a few regrets. Let's chalk that up to life ... and let me let you in on a secret. They won't be the last you make. Mistakes help make you wiser, too...especially if you don't repeat them. 

So think for yourself. Be a leader, not a follower; you've earned that wisdom. 


And you've met many people who are very different from you including students from the other 49 states and 109 countries represented here that don't happen to be your own. It may not be obvious that meeting them made you (and them) wiser too, but I believe it did.  

There's one particularly good thing about being wiser. You don't need to rely on others to tell you how to think. In fact, the greatest difference between high school and college graduates is that you now have the wisdom, and let me add, the responsibility to think for yourself. There isn't an original idea in any blog or from any pundit on TV or the internet. In fact, the next original idea you have will be your own. So think for yourself. Be a leader, not a follower; you've earned that wisdom. 

Okay, so let me tell you what isn't better with age. Well actually there are many things ... like physical agility, flexibility and speed ... eyesight, and sporting a full head of hair, especially in males. None of those is overly important. But one other thing is ... something that older people tend to lose, that is just too bad, and that is believing that anything you set out to do is possible.

Younger people, for example, are far more likely to believe that dreams can come true. Our men's and women's basketball teams' deep runs this year were unbelievable to me and to many fans ... but they were not unbelievable to the players. While celebrating the men's team victory over Duke, I nearly blurted out to them — in the celebratory atmosphere of the locker room — "If you never win another game in the tournament, I'll be forever happy." I'm glad I didn't. Because as I looked in their eyes and heard their chants, it was clear that they were saying to me, "We plan on going all the way!" I think that this belief is a key reason why we left Madison Square Garden as champions, and also why the women's team went all the way to a national championship.   

Don't ever, ever stop being a Gamecock or loving your university. If you promise that, I promise you that we will never, ever forget you. That's the reason we have been here for you, and that's the reason we are here for you today, the University of South Carolina Class of 2017!


And it wasn't only the student athletes. Coach Martin and Coach Staley had that belief too. Class of 2017, do  you want to hear something that was unbelievable to me? After the tournament, when the men's team returned to Columbia, I casually mentioned to Coach Martin how good he looked on the sidelines: his jacket, tie and especially his shoes. He told me that he had a brand new pair of garnet shoes that he didn't wear in the tournament. I asked him, "Why not?" he said, "I was saving them for the championship game!" He believed he would have the opportunity to wear them. I absolutely love that and I absolutely think that is part of why both teams went so far this year. So graduates, don't lose your belief that anything is possible, even as you accumulate more and more wisdom.  

Okay, I think that's enough advice. Well, maybe one more thing. Don't ever, ever stop being a Gamecock or loving your university. If you promise that, I promise you that we will never, ever forget you. That's the reason we have been here for you, and that's the reason we are here for you today, the University of South Carolina Class of 2017!   

Ladies and Gentlemen, let's hear it for our older and wiser graduates, the Class of 2017!