What will be your gift to future generations?

Published 8:47 am Wednesday, June 2, 2010

EDITOR’S NOTE: The following was excerpted from the author’s recent commencement address at Paul D. Camp Community College.

When the Ford Assembly Plant in Norfolk closed in 2008, Christine DeMonico had been working there for more than 16 years as an industrial truck mechanic.

Upon being laid off, Christine chose an educational package from Ford to seek a new career field. She enrolled in Paul D. Camp Community College’s Nursing Program in the fall of 2008, and now she has graduated with an Associate of Applied Science Degree in Nursing.

Christine will next sit for the State Board examination to become a registered nurse, and then she intends to continue her education by working toward a Bachelor of Science Degree in Nursing through Old Dominion University.

This is the type of motivation and determination that will be needed to successfully address the challenges you will face throughout your career. Let me just mention three of those challenges: globalization, advanced technology and demographics.

■ Globalization. By the middle of the century China will have the largest gross domestic product, and India will have the largest population. Brazil will produce a product from biomass that will satisfy a tenth of the world’s demand for gasoline. Think about the cash flow into that country.

■ Advanced technology. Virginia employers need a “thinking workforce” with the competencies to advance and innovate to ensure the commonwealth maintains a competitive economy. Given the accelerating integration of advanced technologies in products and processes and the associated rapid growth of skills requirements in today’s workplace, employers need educators to provide them with employees who are “trainable” for any job and have a combination of hard skills, including theory and general applied technology, plus soft skills, including the ability to effectively read, write, compute and communicate. They must be trainable for specific jobs and re-trainable as those jobs change. That is the type of education Paul D. Camp provides, and that is why you will be successful building upon the education you received at this college.

■ Demographics. There are approximately 78 million Baby Boomers in this nation who constitute the most highly educated, best trained, most skilled generation this nation has yet produced, but we are going to retire. In fact, I have turned 65, and my last day of work in the corporate world will be June 30.

As you advance in your careers and begin to fill the positions vacated by us Baby Boomers, allow me to offer a word of counsel.

In Virginia, we cannot speak more than 15 minutes without making a reference to Virginia’s favorite son, Thomas Jefferson, so here it goes.

Mr. Jefferson wished to be remembered for three achievements in his public life.

Now, historians tend to remember Thomas Jefferson for his distinction as an architect, naturalist and linguist.

They also stress the positions in which he served: as Virginia’s second governor following Patrick Henry; as U.S. minister to France; as secretary of state under George Washington; as vice president in the administration of John Adams; and as the third president of the United States from 1801 to 1809.

On his tombstone, however, which he designed and for which he wrote the inscription, there is no mention of these offices. Rather, it reads that Thomas Jefferson was the “author of the Declaration of American Independence, of the Statute of Virginia for religious freedom, and Father of the University of Virginia”

The university was the last of three contributions by which Jefferson wished to be remembered — those being freedom from tyranny, freedom of conscience, and freedom maintained through education.

Those were the achievements most important to Thomas Jefferson; those were his gifts to future generations. The offices he held were only important in the context of what he was able to achieve while occupying those positions.

As you obtain increasingly important positions of authority and responsibility, I suggest you remember Mr. Jefferson and occasionally reflect upon the question: What will be your gift to future generations? What will you do with this degree you are about to receive?

For as Thomas Jefferson believed, our worth is calculated not on what we get but on what we give.

May God continue to bless you and this wonderful nation in which we live.