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Congratulations to the Class of 2012

For some reason, this picture (credit to graduate Larry Shulman, who tweeted this picture of graduation as it happened) seems to perfectly capture the state of Lehigh's graduating class of 2012.

Lehigh graduates are entering an uncertain world, where youth unemployment is high and the jobs of tomorrow aren't exactly as clear as they could be.

Some, like the young woman in the picture, seem just a bit apprehensive of what's up ahead.

Here's a dirty little secret, grads: there's always something to be apprehensive about.

But you have the tools - starting with your Lehigh degree - to make it.

I remember my Lehigh graduation well.

I kept thinking, even with a mere hour before receiving my diploma in Stabler Arena, that somehow, some way, president Peter Likins was going to take me aside and have to break the terrible news that my "D" in accounting - my second go-round in the Discipline of Doom - would mean I wouldn't be receiving my diploma today.

Of course, such fears were completely unfounded.  I did indeed get my diploma - though for years afterwards, I had nightmares of my Lehigh diploma being taken away from me, the bureaucratic oversight being found by a particularly astute member of the Mountain Hawk records department.

I had a few courses that were the bane of my existence at Lehigh, partially due to my own flawed philosophy of curriculum design.

Somewhere around junior year, I stopped taking "courses that were scientific, fun and interesting" and instead tried to take courses that would "help me in the business world" - evidently to develop my inevitable destiny to be a middle manager in IBM someday.

Gone were psycholinguistics and social psychology - courses that I found fascinating, and classes in which I did very well - and instead came introduction to microeconomics and accounting 101, which would teach me skills which, presumably, I would need to make sure IT projects finished on time.

I talk a lot about my time in those psycholinguistics and social psych classes, since the study of the mind is something fascinating, how it picks up language and how group psychology can affect the world.  I talk a lot less about microeconomics and accounting, which was more a form of self-imposed junior year torture than anything else.

In all seriousness, I learned a lot from micro and accounting.  An understanding of accounting and economics seems to be a prerequisite these days to divining the flawed reasoning as to why Boise State thinks joining the Big East makes some sort of financial sense.

But I learned two things above all.

One, never allow weeder courses for economics majors to be one of your electives.  College is a time to pursue your intellectual passions, not just learning a trade, and it's important to have that be a critical part of your education.  I find myself wishing that I took a music or journalism course, instead of taking accounting - twice - in an effort to be a better middle manager.

The second thing I learned is that you don't let your choices then define what you are today.

Lehigh, for me, was a chance to reinvent myself yet again in a young life where I had to continually reinvent myself.  (When your family relocates every so often, it's something you have to do.)

I had always been a very avid sports fan, but since I moved around so often as a kid, there was something rootless to my rooting interests - one team from Column A, another team from Column B.  There were always good reasons (and even some geographic sense) for the teams I chose, but the truth was that I was always a follower from afar of these teams.  I never saw Bird in the Garden.  I only went to the Superdome for the first time after I had been following the Saints for almost a decade.

Lehigh gave me roots.

You could say that it was actually fairly unexpected that I became such a fan of Lehigh football.  Though I had been a huge fan of the NFL since I was seven or eight, college football, to me, was largely a bunch of schools that you'd see on ABC's scoreboard when, say, Michigan was playing Ohio State.  I never made the connection with those scores and an actual team, which you could follow and watch.

Being at Lehigh gave me a home for this passion.  It gave me a place where no matter what happened to me in my life, whether I was a middle manager in IBM, or an IT expert, an accountant or a journalist somewhere, I could still be passionate about Lehigh beating Lafayette.

While still an undergrad, that passion spilled over into men's basketball, where I'd join the basketball boosters and attend Lehigh's final appearance in the East Coast Conference in basketball and the Brown & White's first-ever Patriot League tournament, hosted at Stabler Arena and a near-sellout the entire tournament.

And after I left, I could still be connected the place where I started to figure things out.  I could go back on Saturdays, whether I lived three hours away or one hour away, and be a part of that.

At first, it was crashing on the off-campus house where some Lehigh friends were living.  With an awful job market, a few friends stayed at Lehigh to get their masters' degrees, and it ensured there was always a party to attend or a couch on which to crash.  These parties and connections helped me get through some rough times.

My experience at Lehigh was the first time when I didn't need to completely reinvent myself.  That's not to say I stopped improving myself - after all, I'm not the same kid who made the stupid decision to take microeconomics instead of journalism - but the fact that I came from Lehigh and had this degree and shared in the passion of our sports teams was something I never needed to explain or apologize for.  The passion then, and the passion now, in its essence, did not change.

That passion has brought me a long, long way.

I think that's my message to the class of 2012.

Today, you're graduates of Lehigh.  You won't stop growing, or changing.  You will grow older, and wiser.  You are poised to be successful, and maybe not even in the subject you majored in, or what you did best in college.  You have to opportunity to succeed, fail, and succeed again.

In high school and college, you made choices.  Some were great - like choosing to attend Lehigh, for example.  Some were not so great, like taking microeconomics over journalism.

That degree you have opens up an awful lot of doors.  It gives you so many options, no matter what choices you made as an undergrad.  You will have the opportunity to reinvent yourself - from college student, to adult.

But don't reinvent yourself completely.  Keep a part of Lehigh with you, and it will make all the difference.  It has for me.


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