Commencement Exercises December 2014

Welcome everyone! What a perfect day and wonderful season in which to bring our entire Carolina Family together for commencement—and I mean our entire USC family. Today our graduates represent all USC campuses throughout the state – USC Aiken, USC Beaufort, USC Upstate, our USC Palmetto Campuses in Lancaster, Salkahatchie, Sumter and Union, and, of course, our very happy campus here in Columbia.

We are also awarding degrees to 32 Palmetto College graduates in our online baccalaureate degree initiative. These graduates join the nearly 200 graduates in the online programs since the launch of the College in fall 2013.    

How wonderful to celebrate the graduating Class of 2014 with all of you on this December day.

December is, I think, the busiest month of the year for most Americans, and for most college students. With exams, projects, holiday preparations, packing and travelling, it’s a month full of hustle and bustle. In December you study more, party less, and the time flies by.

December, only half over, is full of hustle and bustle for me too. But a few days ago, many of us who work in the Osborne Administration Building received an unexpected gift. Those of us located on the north side of the building heard the quiet but clear sound of a flute, its notes moving easily through the glass.

A student, in an apparent moment of needed solitude, was playing her flute in the garden below with a sound so lovely that we stopped our work and quietly opened our windows so we could hear more. She offered us a soothing gift during a very busy day, in the busiest month of the year. Maybe she is one of you who are graduating here today. Maybe you were rehearsing for a final project in music? I hope you are here.

In any event, class of 2014, I hope you agree that quiet, reflective gifts are often the most special of the many we might receive in this season, or in life.

We live such hectic lives where even the crevasses fill quickly with noise and distraction. We need time for contemplation, and I hope you found time for that often during your college years.

You’re here to receive advice today, like it or not, as well as to get your degrees. That’s what happens at graduation, so let me offer some. Our distinguished speaker will surely offer more, and your parents are likely to offer even more later tonight. I think that if they’re treating you to dinner, it would be wise to listen. So here comes my advice:

Make time for contemplation daily. Your brain is an incredible machine, but it will serve you better if you are more in the moment, more mindful, as some call it, and treat your mind to some rest once in a while. And I don’t mean during sleep, by the way, when the brain is quite active. Last night’s 60 Minutes, in fact, had an episode on this topic.

I find being mindful and blocking things out to be pretty hard. If I don’t work at it, I let my mind wander a lot. I get distracted, “What do I have to do next? What’s going on later in the week?” etcetera. But sometimes, I am mindful, especially at the Blatt PE Center on as many weekday mornings at 7 a.m. whenever I can. Even though I’m working out, I try to focus on something specific, like my workout. That cuts out the noise of nearly everything else. It’s physical activity but it’s also brain rest time for me.

Others rest by taking quiet walks; I know that many of you tied hammocks between the ancient oaks on the McKissick side of the Horseshoe. If your friends saw you there, they may have thought you were napping, but I know you were resting your brain for the hard work just ahead!

Right after home football games, Patricia and I usually need about an hour of quiet to recover from the excitement, the noise, the emotion. We need to rebound and recharge before moving on.

I recommend some brain rest for you after graduation. This ceremony is the conclusion of a really big, really important part of your lives. College has been long, it’s been loud, it’s been fun, it’s been stressful, it’s been exciting and today it will be rewarding.
So I recommend that you take some time to process the past four years. Treat yourself to some contemplative, mindful time before the New Year, or if that’s not possible, shortly thereafter. Think of what you just experienced and try to focus on the things that you hope never to forget. You’ll remember them better that way.

Warren Buffett, one of America’s most financially successful persons, has said, “I insist on a lot of time being spent, almost every day, to just sit and think. That is very uncommon in American business. I read and think. So I do more reading and thinking, and make less impulsive decisions than most people in business. I do it because I like this kind of life.”

So take time to contemplate and be mindful. That is an unselfish gift you should give yourself this December and whenever possible. Remember the gift of the flute. That’s my advice and I offer it, with great affection, to each and every one of you.