Under clear skies on the lawn of Colby’s College’s Miller Library, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair advised the 465 members of the Class of 2012 to continue learning with humility, to maintain an open mind, and to serve others.
Blair, who now works to promote peace, respect, and understanding worldwide, spoke at the College’s 191st commencement ceremonies May 20. Blair followed class speaker Samuel Deeran ’12 of Falmouth, Maine, and the awarding of the Condon Medal by President William D. Adams. The medal, for constructive citizenship and the only award presented at graduation, went to Nicole G. Sintetos ’12 of Winslow, Maine. Following the speeches Adams presented honorary degrees to five distinguished recipients and bachelor of arts diplomas to each graduating student.
Blair shared seven lessons in life.
Lesson one: “Never stop learning. Carry on. And have the humility always to know that you can learn more,” he said. “Successful people are not defined by a restless search for fame and fortune but by an insatiable desire to be better and an infinite curiosity as to how. They’re perpetual voyagers on the journey of self-improvement.”
Lesson two: Maintain an open mind. “Be open to those of different faiths, cultures, races, and nations,” Blair said. “These things are the boundaries of division in history, but the open mind crosses them.”
Lesson three: “Giving is as good as getting,” Blair said. “Compassion is as important as ambition. So don’t just choose a career, choose a cause. There are many to choose from. … The noble causes — believe me they’re there amongst all the drudgery and self obsession of human existence — find them and save a bit of yourselves for them. It’s worth it.”
Lesson four: Friendship matters, and family matters most. “It’s in the family that you learn one of the most important lessons of life: that it is not all about you.”
Lesson five: Be a leader, not a follower. “And above all else, be a doer and not a critic, Blair said. “Human progress has never been shaped by commentators, complainers, or cynics. Progress is forged by the courage of the change-maker. Courage is not the absence of fear, it’s the overcoming of fear. And the leaders that I’ve met — all of them have always had their doubts, anxieties, periods of acute lack of confidence, worry,” he said.
Lesson six: Make use of the interconnected world. “It’s a fascinating and energizing and exciting world out there,” Blair said. “Take advantage of it. See the world. See its possibilities.”
Lesson seven: This time of challenge presents unprecedented opportunity. “Have confidence,” said Blair. “Because we’re not an empire based on interest but a way of life based on values. And those values — democracy, liberty, the equality of each human being regardless of race and religion, faith, or gender, free enterprise, fair play — these values that define your nation at its best and my nation at its best — they’re not a monument to our past, they are humanity’s best hope for the future.”
In a discussion of the benefits of failure, Blair said, “Sam [Deeran] is right; don’t be afraid to fail — we all do. Be afraid of not trying. That’s a lot worse.”
In his speech Deeran recounted a failure of his own. As a sophomore he left Colby to attempt stand-up comedy in Los Angeles. During a stint as a telemarketer Deeran realized how much he had left behind. “I had gone on thinking that a magical real world existed somewhere and that I just needed to find it.”
“I don’t know any better than you what your new world will be like,” Deeran told his classmates. “It will be at first unreal. My question to you, the Class of 2012, is what will you do to make it real?
Five individuals with very real accomplishments were awarded honorary degrees: David E. Shaw, managing director of Black Point Group and founder of IDEXX Laboratories; Ralph J. Cicerone, president of the National Academy of Sciences and chair of the National Research Council; Tonya Gonnella Frichner, president and founder of the American Indian Law Alliance; Robert D. Putnam, Malkin Professor of Public Policy at Harvard University; and National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Master and 2011 Guggenheim Fellow Randy Weston.