The Colgate Scene
A proven asset
Commencement speaker Stephen Burke '80 told the Class of 2004 that "more than ever" they needed to "build meaning" into their lives. "I believe the best preparation for a dynamic world is an education that gives you common sense, curiosity, and historical perspective," said Burke. [Photos by Timothy D. Sofranko]
There was only one computer on campus when Stephen Burke '80 graduated from Colgate, and he "never came within 10 feet of it."
"There's probably not a room at Colgate today without one, two, or three powerful computers," Burke said during his address at Colgate's 183rd commencement in May. "And many of you have computers in your pockets."
Burke, the president of Comcast Cable, told the nearly 650 members of the Class of 2004 that the "digital revolution" -- fueled by ever-faster computers and more powerful servers -- will continue to radically transform the world.
We are only in "the early innings" of the digital revolution and there is much more to come, according to Burke, who heads the nation's largest cable television company. He added that there are important skills needed to sift through the sometimes overwhelming options presented to us each day.
"Today, we are literally bombarded by choice. Hundreds of television channels, magazines for every imaginable niche, millions of websites offering every perspective under the sun. This explosion of choice can make life more interesting and rewarding, but it can make it more confusing and crude.
"Now more than ever, you need to build meaning into your own life. A liberal
arts education gives you the context to do that," said Burke. "You are now the
owner of a proven asset that is more valuable and more necessary than ever,
your liberal arts education. Learning a narrow trade is risky in a world that
is constantly changing. I believe the best preparation for a dynamic world is
an education that gives you common sense, curiosity, and historical
Burke told the graduates that it's important for them to find a job that they feel passionate about and that despite what they might hear in the media, there are many ethical, hard-working men and women in the business world.
Burke compared the importance of the digital revolution to the invention of the printing press and the discovery of electricity, and predicted that half of the homes in America will watch on-demand television programming in the next three to five years.
But even more dramatic changes are imminent, he said. "In fact, the person who delivers this address 20 years from now will probably chuckle at how quaint my digital vision sounded, because we will have gone so far beyond it," Burke said. His career advice for the graduates: Balance your career with family and friends, and make time for yourself. Do what you enjoy. Don't be afraid to try things and don't shy away from tough assignments. Carefully select the people you work with.
"Most of you will have many opportunities, and life is too short to work for someone you don't respect," said Burke, who received an honorary doctorate in law.
But he said choosing the right life partner is probably the most important decision they will make, adding that he met his wife, Gretchen (Hoadley) Burke '81, when she was a first-year in West Hall. They now have five children.
Burke surprised the audience by confessing that he was the last member of the Class of 1980 admitted into Colgate, which wasn't revealed to him until after he graduated.
"It's almost a miracle that I'm standing up here in front of you today," he said. "Despite my mediocre grades, Colgate took a chance on me, and I'm forever grateful that it did."
The religion and philosophy courses he took as part of Colgate's core curriculum were as important as anything he learned about economics, said Burke.
"By the time I graduated," he said, "I developed ways of looking at the world that are part of who I am today."
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