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Ball State Commencement Address by NPR's Steve Inskeep -12/18/10

Ball State Commencement Address by NPR's Steve Inskeep -12/18/10

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Published by Steve Inskeep
Final text (written afterward from memory) of graduation speech to approximately 1,000 graduates and their families and friends at the winter commencement of Ball State University, Muncie, Indiana.
Final text (written afterward from memory) of graduation speech to approximately 1,000 graduates and their families and friends at the winter commencement of Ball State University, Muncie, Indiana.

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Categories:Types, Speeches
Published by: Steve Inskeep on Dec 22, 2010
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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Ball State University, December 18, 2010Fellow graduates, we all know it’s a great feeling to receive a degree today.Let me tell you from personal experience: it’s an even greater feeling for me toreceive a degree that I don’t even deserve.Even though I don’t deserve this degree, I’m going to accept it. And let me tellyou why.Many years ago, my mom, Judy, filled out an application to attend Ball State.She had an opportunity to become the first person in her family line to go tocollege. Her mother had wanted to become an English teacher, but could never afford to attend college; now my mom had a chance to attend. But there was aproblem. She had a boyfriend back in Sheridan, Indiana, who was going to adifferent school. So she had a choice:Boyfriend, or Ball State? Boyfriend, or Ball State?She chose Ball State.But she didn’t forget the boy, and when her studies were almost done, she wrotehim a letter. And he came to see her. They got married. They became myparents. They became public school teachers. All my education began withthem. If I’ve done anything at all to deserve this honorary degree, the creditbelongs to them.So Mom and Dad – please stand and let people see you. Because I accept thishonorary doctorate on behalf of my mom and dad.Now then: Fellow graduates, I would like to congratulate you on your timing. Youhave chosen to graduate into the worst job market in this country in generations.Clearly, you like a challenge.I can relate to that challenge, because I graduated in the spring of 1990, just intime for the start of a recession. I learned some lessons that I would like to passon to you. It turns out there are some upsides to looking for work in a tougheconomy.For example, people really underestimate the amount of nutrition you can getfrom eating an entire year’s worth of Kraft macaroni and cheese.People say money isn’t everything – but that’s just a saying people have. Youget to find out if it’s really true.
Your parents may have trouble selling their house, but that means you can stillmove back into your old bedroom.Above all, you don’t have to worry about looking for job security. There is no jobsecurity-- which means you are free. You don’t have to limit yourself. You don’thave to make safe choices. You are free to range across this country and theworld. You are free to try what you love.You will begin an education. You have completed an education here at BallState – an education in how to think. Now you will begin an education inapplying your thinking to the world. And along the way, you will find out who youare.When I graduated in 1990, I moved to New York. So my first decision, as agraduate with very little money and no real job, was to move into the mostexpensive city in the United States.I was chasing a girl. She later became my wife.I did find temporary jobs and freelance work; I was hired and laid off a few times;and I had a little money saved from mowing lawns in Carmel, Indiana. But Iwasn’t making much, so gradually I had to spend those savings. It took morethan a year before I was finally offered a full-time job. It was doing the morningnews at a public radio station in Newark, New Jersey, coming to work in themiddle of the night. I got a phone call and was told, “The job pays $25,500 per year.”Today, of course, I understand that if someone offers you a job with a funnynumber like $25,500, they are probably negotiating. They are leaving room for you to say, “Can you make it a little more?” and they can say, “Okay, twenty-sixthousand.” But I didn’t ask for more. I needed that job. I said I’ll take it.And I loved that job. And on my first payday, I had to cash my check at the bankdown the street from the station in order to have $3.75 to ride the train backhome. My cash reserve was down to less than two dollars. But I’d made itthrough. And I found out who I was.I am a journalist. I listen, and learn things, and pass on what I learn. It’s a greatprofession for me. It is almost the only profession that requires no qualifications,experience, or ability of any kind.Just turn on the TV- you know it’s true.This is actually enshrined in the Constitution. Freedom of the press means thatanybody can say almost anything.
In fact I have no qualification at all except one: I am citizen, just as all of you arecitizens, of this country or another. And my job is to work for my fellow citizensand share information.But if you want to attract an audience, and gain your fellow citizens’ respect, andbe helpful in the world, you have to know what you’re talking about. You have todo what’s necessary to learn.And let me tell you about a time that I stretched a little too far to do that.In 1999, I accepted a journalism fellowship, a chance to do some reporting inColombia, which is a dangerous country today and was then one of the mostdangerous countries in the world.I decided to do this, and decided to work without an interpreter, even though Ididn’t speak Spanish.I had a few months in advance to learn all the Spanish I could, and then I went;but my Spanish was still uneven. Once, to do an interview, I had to catch a flightfrom Bogota to Medellin. I got in a taxi, but the driver and I didn’t communicatevery well. He thought that since I was a foreigner I must be going to theinternational airport, not the domestic airport. So he took me to the wrongairport, and by the time I got to the proper place, my flight was leaving in tenminutes.I got to the airline counter, and said I was there for the flight, and the woman saidI was too late. I said the flight time hadn’t come yet, and asked the woman to letme proceed.She answered,
“Siempre, siempre, siempre cerramos la puerta quince minutosantes volar” 
– “Always, always, always we close the door fifteen minutes beforeflying.” I had missed the flight.Now, here’s another lesson that I learned. If you are in a dangerous country, andyou are struggling to speak the language, and you put yourself in an airport andmiss your flight, you will pick up the words you need very quickly.I did find the words, and while I didn’t get on that flight I made the next one.Then we landed in Medellin and I got in another taxi. The airport was in themountains outside the city, and we rode down into the valley of Medellin, brilliantgreen mountainsides with white skyscrapers down at the bottom. And the taxidriver started talking – and that’s when I realized that the Medellin accent wasdifferent than in Bogota, and the Spanish I had just finally begun to master wasnot going to be very useful.

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