THE BLOG

Tulane Commencement Speech

05/20/2014 07:49 pm ET | Updated Jul 20, 2014

Good morning everyone.

Education is a process of self-improvement, but our education from Tulane University placed emphasis on the improvement of others. Service. In our graduating class, every student has volunteered at or worked for charitable organizations in New Orleans.

But some of our peers also dedicated their time to a slightly different form of service in the Reserve Officers' Training Corps or ROTC. Our service was to the United States, in preparation for our roles as officers in the military. Yesterday, nine of us became second lieutenants in the United States Army.

As ROTC Cadets, we had a different college experience than most. We did everything together, and we did everything early. We woke up early, we exercised early, and on too many weekends, we trained early. Our training consisted of everything from tactical simulations to spending long Saturdays at the rifle range. But I want to share with you all one particularly grueling regimen: Land Navigation.

Land nav is the art of finding numbered, orange signs -- about waist high -- in the middle of a swampy, Louisiana forest. You don't get to use a GPS -- your only tools are a map, a compass, and a flashlight with a red lens. It's dark. You're alone, confused, and you have no clue where your friends are. I still remember the first time we did land nav; a veteran sergeant gave us a list of five grid coordinates -- each signifying one of those orange signs -- and told us to find all of them before midnight. Seeing the looks of horror on our faces, he sat us down and gave the following advice:

"Use the tools we've given you," he said. "Map. Compass. Flashlight."

The map is the foundation of your journey. It's proof that the landscape exists and can be maneuvered; study it, know it -- use it to find out where you are, where you need to go, and how you plan to get there.

The compass - A map is useless if you don't know which way to go. Use this to stay on track and provide direction along your way.

The flashlight - "Trust in your eyes," he said, but use this flashlight to illuminate the path when you're unsure of your surroundings.

Even with this advice, we were terrible that first time! Most of us were lucky just to find our way back to where we started, much less any of those other points along the way. We wandered around for hours. We were tired and overwhelmed in this new environment. We were lost.

Slowly, we began to find our way. It took years. But now, we can identify terrain on the map and plan expert routes. We took our tools and learned their application. We became skilled and precise. Now we trust in our abilities and have confidence in our training. Today, we can navigate successfully in any swamp and any forest.

Interestingly, the army will now issue each of us a GPS. So why do we even learn land navigation in the first place? Well those countless hours of being lost trained us to think critically and forced us to master the craft of navigating. We always know where we are, and we're better prepared to lead troops wherever they are needed.

...And college is pretty similar. Everyone here today navigated through years of rigorous course curriculums and college life. Look back on your journey; wrought with hardships and obstacles. Filled with tests, papers, coffee, late nights, early mornings, all-nighters, more coffee, missed opportunities -- failed opportunities -- but then we had moments of triumph. The moments that validated your hard work, your drive, and your determination. The moments that called for celebration. The moments that led us here. Today. Graduation. Our final moment as the class of 2014.

While none of us know exactly what tomorrow holds, we do know we are ready. We navigated this far, using three simple tools Tulane gave us: map, compass, and flashlight.

The map. Our landscape of knowledge; the foundation for our journey forward. This is our education, showing us where we have been and what we accomplished. We can see our goals, and plan how to reach them.

The compass. Our ability to stay the course. The learned habits and the focused direction that have led us here. This drive will continue to lead us toward our goals in the future.

Lastly, a flashlight - This is us. Tulane, New Orleans. Our friendships, mentorships, and the unrivaled experiences that bring us together as a community. If you're ever lost, these relationships will help guide you.

And anytime you get lost, just remember: when in doubt, whip it out [flash red lens headlamp]. Good luck everybody. Roll wave.

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