Published June 7, 2016
Greetings! It is my great honor to take part in the annual Convocation celebration of this distinguished institution.
I wish to extend my heartfelt thanks to President Jack Lightstone, the Senate of Brock University, and the entire Brock community for your warm welcome. I am deeply grateful for this honorary degree.
As a proud product of Canadian higher education, this honor is especially meaningful to me. Brock University is known across Canada and internationally for its excellence and innovation.
As President of the University at Buffalo just across the border, I am of course deeply familiar with that reputation. As international partners and close neighbors in the Buffalo-Niagara region, Brock and UB have a very special relationship, dating back more than 50 years ago, when Brock first received its charter.
Even before coming to Buffalo, I have long known Brock by reputation from my own student days. I earned three graduate degrees at Canadian institutions—one from the University of Alberta and two from the University of Toronto. And with the honorary degree you present to me today, I am deeply proud to add a third distinguished university as my honorary Canadian alma mater.
So I feel a special kinship with the Brock graduates we honor today. And I know it is customary to offer some words of wisdom to new graduates.
Over the course of your education, I suspect you have heard enough advice to last a lifetime! But if you have the patience for one more piece of advice I would like to share a few principles I have learned and lived by. I hope they will serve you well, as they have served me.
The first is this: Set long-term ambitions, but always be ready to change course. I know that each of you has set a very ambitious course, and many of you are well on your way down this path already. I applaud your bold ambitions and initiative.
At the same time, I would caution each of you not to be so fixed in your intentions that you close new doors before they open. It is critical to cultivate a degree of intellectual nimbleness—so you are ready to seize a new opportunity when it comes along, and ready to create your own opportunities.
I was a college student myself when I first understood the truth of this.
I come from a long line of educators, and I have been focused on education most of my life. But I never would have envisioned that one day I would have the opportunity to lead a major North American research university.
As a young person, I hoped, through hard work and perseverance, that I might one day become a high school principal, following in my father’s footsteps.
And I would have taken great pride in that achievement.
But other opportunities presented themselves along the way, and I am grateful to the mentors and peers who encouraged me to pursue them.
That brings me to my second principle: Be self-reliant—but always seek out the opportunity to learn from and with others.
As a college student, and later as a graduate student in Canada, I found that the opportunity to exchange new ideas and discoveries with other intellectually curious, energized students helped to shape my path in profound and lasting ways.
Canada’s great institutions—including your own—have produced many top leaders in the academy, in the professions, and in business and industry today.
The opportunity you’ve had to engage with some of these great thinkers will surely open up new horizons for you, as it did for me.
I am a firm believer that the truly big ideas and important discoveries take place at the intersection of fields. They involve many minds working together, approaching the same problem from different angles.
Here at Brock, as students of the humanities, math, and sciences, you know the great value of sharing ideas across disciplines.
This is the basis for nearly all the great knowledge and important discoveries emerging from the world’s labs, studios, and clinics today. No matter how brilliant your idea, be sure to test it against other theories, and look at it from other vantage points. It will almost certainly be even stronger for that.
Of course, being willing to step outside of your own perspective, and open your work up to the criticism of others requires a certain amount of risk.
And that is the final principle I’d like to share with you today: Plan strategically and carefully—but always be willing to take risks.
I took a risk in the 1970s when I ventured outside the established field of statistics to explore computer science—at a time when only a handful of scholars were working in this field.
I took another risk when I left India to continue my graduate studies here in Canada.
And over the course of my academic career, I have ventured into the unknown again and again, from my first faculty position at the University of Maryland, to launching a new engineering school in California, to the University at Buffalo, where I had the opportunity to help lead a major research university on an international border.
I served as Provost of the University at Buffalo for seven years, and I’ve served as President for more than five years now. And I am very pleased to tell you that every day, new opportunities present themselves.
Of course, there is no magic formula for success.
There comes a point when each of us must choose our own way.
You are at that point right now. You are ready to chart your own course forward, building on the knowledge and first principles you have learned as students here at Brock.
Today’s world is very much a globalized one. And as graduates of a global university with an international reputation, you are very well positioned to lead and contribute in this world.
As Brock graduates, you are ready to make a profound difference as the next generation of global leaders in your fields—here in Canada and around the world.
Congratulations! And all best wishes for much success!