Speech by Dr. Deborah Zerad Fallows

Thank you, President Kuncl, I am deeply honored to received this degree. This is a very special occasion to me for many reasons, not the least of which is that it is the first time since high school that I’ve actually attended one of my own commencement ceremonies. For all the others, I was either getting married or having children. So thank you to University of Redlands for helping me finally celebrate. 

Thank you to the University trustees and faculty for your part in this moment. And my personal thanks two formidable women who are part of the University family, Nancy Kuncl and Shelli Stockton. It is a special pleasure that my husband, Jim Fallows, a true and loyal Redlander, is here today with me. 

I am eager for the chance to share a few comments with you, the new college graduates. Because of your hard work, you are now in an enviable position: you’re about to receive a degree from a wonderful school with a stellar reputation. You are ready to turn in any direction you put your minds and energy toward.

Such a privilege brings responsibility—to do your best to lead an engaged, interesting, and good life, with optimism and with passion. 

Here are a few things you might bear in mind along the way:

First: take some risks. Not silly risks, of course, but calculated risks. If you have a dream—to make art or write poetry, or if you have an idea for an invention, or you want to start a digital company or a microbrewery, make a plan and follow it.

Second: think about your default mode. That is, do you automatically say no, or yes, or maybe to any suggestion or offer? I would urge you to set your default mode to saying yes.

You might look to Jane Goodall, your commencement speaker, for inspiration on both these points: taking a risk and saying yes.

When she was about your age, Ms. Goodall, dreamed of Africa and of animals. She got herself from England to Nairobi and found a job as secretary to reknowned palaeontologist and archaeologist Louis Leakey.  Soon Leakey offered her the chance to head out into the rain forest, essentially alone, to study chimpanzees. Even though she didn’t yet have a college degree, Ms. Goodall said yes, and mustered the courage to pursue a mission that many others might have declined. 

And my final point, for those moments, which you will face, when you think you’re spinning your wheels.  If you’re waiting tables or being a nanny or a receptionist—and you don’t want to be there—look around yourself. In that moment, be the best waiter or nanny or receptionist you can be. Don’t waste the chance to observe how people behave, or to listen to the children, or understand the place where you’re greeting visitors. What you learn will come back to be of value in surprising ways .

I congratulate you and those who helped get you here today. It is all very exciting. And once you head out, don’t forget to call home. Your parents miss you. They love you. They want to hear from you. And they will always be your parents.