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Graduates Receive Words of Wisdom at ODU Commencement

More than 1,100 students and their families, along with faculty and staff, braved inclement weather conditions to take part in Old Dominion University's Commencement ceremonies on Saturday, Dec. 19 in the Ted Constant Convocation Center.

Dr. Benjamin S. Carson, the world-famous physician and a bestselling author and inspirational speaker, gave the morning address to graduates of the Frank Batten College of Engineering and Technology, Darden College of Education and College of Sciences. He received an honorary doctor of science degree.

Carson, a surgeon who was the first to separate craniopagus conjoined twins, told the audience that they shouldn't be afraid to take risks, even if they end up failing.

"People who are really successful are the ones who keep striving, keep working to get better," Carson told the graduates. "Do you know why they called the cleaner 409? It's because the inventors tried 408 formulas that didn't work before they got it right.

"It's a matter of learning from who came before us, and from our own mistakes."

Carson's own life is a testament to the power of effort. The child of a single mother, Carson grew up in poverty. He always wanted to be a doctor, "I was the only kid who liked going to the doctor's office," he said. But Carson was struggling in school until his mother challenged him to reach for his goals, make a real, honest effort.

By 33, Carson was director of pediatric neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions, the leading neurosurgery facility in the country.

"As a young person, graduating right now, this is really the time of achievement for you," Carson said. "If you look at all the Nobel Prize winners, and other achievers, they're all older like me. But they win their awards from work they did when they were in their 20s and 30s, like you."

Carson, also the author of the bestselling book "Gifted Hands," which was recently made into a television movie on the TNT network, closed his address by encouraging young people to fight against "political correctness" - and not be afraid to stand up for what you believe.

"If two people agree on everything, then one of them isn't really necessary. We need to be able to discuss things reasonably, even when we don't agree," Carson said.

"We need to make it perfectly clear as you go out in the world that it's OK to have guiding principles."

The crowd gave Carson a standing ovation for his speech.

Tam, a corporate consultant, speaker, author, executive director and founder of Us Foundation, addressed graduates of the colleges of Arts and Letters, Business and Public Administration, and Health Sciences at the afternoon ceremony. She also received an honorary doctor of humane letters degree.

The former CEO of Aveda Corp., president of Reebok Apparel and Retail Group and vice president of Nike, Inc., told graduates that the day represented one of the most important things they have learned in academia.

"You have earned and learned that you have the ability to accomplish a goal…ask questions…and solve problems. You can accomplish whatever you set your heart upon.

"So what are you going to do next? How are you going to make a difference in the world?" asked Tam, whose passion for social and environmental issues is reflected in her consultation to global organizations and governments.

She recalled her arrival in the United States from Hong Kong as a teenager with "two suitcases and a teddy bear" and a determination to learn how to change the injustices she had already seen and experienced. She noted that life isn't always fair, but that you must learn to deal with what you encounter.

"You can grow and benefit from being world-centric instead of me-centric."

In closing, Tam urged the graduates to "live each day as if your life depends on it, because it really does."

This article was posted on: December 19, 2009

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