Commencement Speech 2017
by Dr. Sam Potolicchio
I want to humbly state to you six challenges that I think we face. And if I had to talk to myself 17 years ago, this is what I would have said understanding the experiences that I have had. When I had my last academic experience as a student, I had spent almost an entire decade reading about a thousand books to write my own book. And at the conclusion of my dissertation defense, I assumed that my dissertation adviser was going to present to me a cake, give me a couple of high fives, and tell me how special I was. And he said, and this is a guy from New York who has an affected British Oxford accent. He said, “Congratulations, Sam, you now know that you know almost nothing about nothing.”
In this era today, in the late 90’s, early 2000’s, when I was going off to college, you think about the way the internet looked. We had Explorer, Navigator, Safari, and this was a great expanse to be exploring. Now when you look at the most profitable internet companies, Amazon and Facebook, they become successful because they are hyper lubricated, they are precise, and they give you exactly what you think you need almost immediately. My argument to you is that in this era you need to have more CURIOSITY than you would have in the past. And that you have to think about as many questions as possible. Ian Leslie writes, “you have to be a curious fox hog.” Someone who knows about discipline. If you have a major problem that you are able to connect to as many different disciplines as possible. The late writer David Foster Wallace once said, “There is no experience you have had that you are not the absolute centre of.” And that we are kings of our own lives, that when you go off to college you have this understanding of your own challenges, what it takes to get outside of your own being. And the way to do that is through curiosity. 
Second, you have this beautiful sense of COMMUNITY here at Canterbury, and hopefully, you will find a way to recreate this where you go next. You should be more willing to engage human moments instead of electronic moments. I told some of you recently that one of my favorite advances is when I used to go out to dinner with my friends, we would try to decide who would pay for the bill. And as a young teacher, hanging out with investment bankers, people who have founded companies, or Russian oligarchs, this was not an exciting moment for me. Because we paid Russian Roulette with credit cards. We would all put our credit card into a stack and pull one out and whoever’s credit card came out got stuck with the bill. So every time I put my credit card in I would be shaking. Then we changed the game to play cell phone roulette. You put the cell phone on the table and the first person to check the cell phone would have to pay the entire bill. That was great for me because I didn’t even own a cell phone. Try to create a network that will help you discover the world. Not just people who share your passions but people who will push you and ask you tough questions. Theo Epstein, in his graduation speech at Yale recently, said he was someone at the age of 28 became the general manager of a storied franchise, basically because he knew a lot about numbers and could quantify numbers. But when the Cubs finally broke their 108-year curse, he realized the reason we won is that they had community and character, and there are some things that just can’t be quantified. 
Number three: COURAGE. I think today when we try to seek the thumbs up on Facebook or the heart on Instagram, think about how difficult it is to go against the crowd and stand up for what is right and to have these moments where you might make an unpopular decision but it is the best decision for the community. And I hope that you start to value disagreement. Just like our muscles grow as we tear them apart, we need to do the same thing with our brains. So I hope that you place this intellectual tension right in the center of your education. 
Number four: CHANGE. I think college is the capacity to change. My first day at the university I was in a class of international relations and the professor asked what happened in the 1990’s in Georgia. And I said the Olympics in Atlanta, not knowing that Georgia was a country. We have a joke that three languages you are trilingual, two languages you are bilingual, and one language you are an American. This was less of a laugh than I got when I was lecturing in Tokyo, they thought it was really funny.  I think if I were to look at my 18-year-old self, and understand now that I barely spend any time in the United States, that I can actually speak some other languages, I would be surprised. The reason why this happened is because I was open to the possibility of becoming someone different than who I was in the 1990’s.
Number five: I hope that you become CRAFTsmen and women. That you understand that self-respect doesn’t come from the trophies or the external accomplishments, that it actually comes from inside, from the passion of what you do. A couple of days ago when I was in Tokyo I made a comment about how good the food was, a little too good, and my friend told me that Tokyo had three times as many Michelin stars as Paris. Michelin stars would be the highest accomplishment you could reach in the culinary world. What’s so amazing about the Japanese restaurants and their chefs is that an unprecedented number, they’ve actually turned down 19 Michelin stars. So they have reached the apex of their profession, they’ve said no, we don’t want it because that’s not why we do this. The fact that accepting that external accomplishment would in some ways take away from why they do what they do. And they use the term, which as an American I will mispronounce, Kaizen, which is to resist arrested development. That we should be continuous learners and improvers. In 1908, the world record in the marathon is two hours and 55 minutes. Today, unless you count that recent stunt that Nike pulled, the world record is two hours and two minutes. You may know Pi, 3.14 repeating in mathematical concept. In terms of reciting a number of repeating digits in 1973, the world record was 511. In 2015, it was over 100,000. In 1980, the record for push-ups was 10,570. By 1993, just over a decade later, it actually had to be timed, the record was 46,000 in 21 hours. The point being is that if you push yourself and you focus on the process and vocation, you can get better. You can reach the peak that you want to reach. There’s this story of three bricklayers being asked what they do. And one says I am putting down bricks. The second one says I am building a church. And the third one says I’m building the house of God. The difference between these three is one has a job, the second one has a career, and the third has a calling. I hope you all find your calling as you go on through the Canterbury gates.
Finally, before I leave you with my wish for you, is to understand the greater COSMOS. Look up at the stars or take a class on cosmology,  and to realize that we are merely measured in decades, which is about 100 million times less than the sun or the stars, and that we are just a flash. And understanding that will teach you not just about some of the insignificant worries that you have, but put yourself in perspective. To realize just how valuable your time is here. To understand that even though there are so many pressing challenges, and there can be lots of disappointment, you should have lots of optimism. Right now, you’re more likely to die from eating too much than not eating enough, you’re more likely to die of old age, of an infectious disease, and we’re more likely to die of suicide and in a war. And if we were to go back 75 to 100 years, if I had said that at a high school graduation, that would not have been believable. I hope that you look at the world with a tremendous optimism. There is a story of a shoe CEO sending two of his best salespeople to a deserted island. One calls back and says, “This is an absolute disaster. Nobody is wearing any shoes on this island.” The other one calls back and says, “Oh my gosh, what an opportunity, no one is wearing any shoes!” In that spirit of trying to understand just how bright your futures are, in the midst of headlines that might not encourage you too much, I would like to leave you with a final poem.  
Sometimes things don't go, after all,
from bad to worse.  Some years, muscadel
faces down frost; green thrives; the crops don't fail,
sometimes a man aims high, and all goes well.
A people sometimes will step back from war;
elect an honest man, decide they care
enough, that they can't leave some stranger poor.
Some men become what they were born for.
Sometimes our best efforts do not go
amiss, sometimes we do as we meant to.
The sun will sometimes melt a field of sorrow
that seemed hard frozen….
And I hope that happens for you. 
Thank you so much and congratulations!