Colorado State University
December 14, 2012

A graduate school commencement at a Land Grant University is not short in terms of paradoxes.

71% of Americans graduate high school. 27% earn a Bachelor’s degree, 7% the Master’s degree and only 3% have earned a doctorate. Globally, this is less than 1%. By any definition, that makes you elite.

But you earned that degree at a land grant university, dedicated in its soul to the principle of equality in educational opportunity — egalitarian opportunity, meritocracy-based access, elite outcomes.

That is a heritage simultaneously worthy of America’s on-going experiment with equal rights and celebration of the individual and enough to make one’s head spin in terms of tracking this pedigree.

Now this is typically the point in a graduate school address where I’d talk about how this background gives you a responsibility to roll up your sleeves, to get your hands dirty in the figurative work of your life, and in doing so, to use your elite talents and training to make a difference in our world. And I’d remind you of how much work remains to be done and how badly we need you to help tackle the challenges of our day.

But I’m going to head in a different direction this afternoon.

Most of you have had no reason to get to know Mark Gill. Mark was born in Ohio, raised primarily by his mother, entered the U.S. Air Force officer corps and served our country around the world in a variety of postings including White House Military Liaison for the 1st Bush and the beginning of the Clinton administrations. He retired — and failed at it. Came to Colorado for a private sector job helping a company with governmental compliance and did it so well that he organized himself out of a job and applied to the VP for Research office for the position of office manager — I suspect because his wife needed him to have a day job. I hired Mark in a special projects role in 2002, and we’ve worked together for a decade now. He’s my chief-of-staff. He’s calm, reliable, thoughtful and a man of remarkable conviction and integrity. I’m proud to be his friend. He’s not here today because his mother recently passed away in Ohio, and he’s back there settling things on her estate.

That reminded me of a day, 15 years ago this December, when I stepped on a plane in Chicago having just settled my father’s estate, stepped off a plane at DIA, drove back to CSU and gave a commencement address to the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences. That speech started much like this one — but with a veterinary flavor to it, but I tossed it out part way through and reflected that as I had gone through my parents’ home — the home of two people who almost never left the county where they were born, raised three sons, and worked hard as a livestock farmer and a 3rd grade teacher, fought and lost battles with cardiovascular disease and cancer against the backdrop of bitterly cold, dark Midwest winter mornings and pastoral Midwest summer evenings filled with fireflies — I reflected that these were two people unknown 10 miles from where they lived, and worked, and died. But their home was filled with evidence of lives well lived. Not just as a teacher and farmer, but a little league coach, a 4-H leader, a Sunday school teacher, parish council members, volunteers to seemingly everything that little town had done, a piano accompanist, and more. They were strong threads in the fabric of that community, as attendance at their wakes and funerals underscored.

No single thing they did was elite, but their lives were.

Across this small world, 99% of your fellow human beings are not in the position that you are in to really help tackle great global challenges, but many of them are going about the business of leading elite lives. I suspect Colonel Gill’s mother was one of those people. So, in dedication to her, this is my charge to you, members of the Colorado State University Graduate School class of December 2012: Use your elite talents and training to tackle the world’s big challenges — we need that from you and you have prepared well for it; but also live elite lives, lives that make a personal difference, lives that are extraordinary in very little ways.

Our world needs that as well. God speed you all.

– tony

Anthony A. Frank, President
Colorado State University