Graduate Commencement Address
Dr. Matilda White Riley

I am delighted to be honored by your great University, and to share this Commencement with you. But first I must share some news. This is the only university in the world which guarantees new perspectives. Let me explain. If you stand at one corner of the campus and look up, the remarkable architecture offers one perspective. Then move two feet and look up again-you will have another perspective. Move to a different corner and look up again-well, you get the point. The perspectives are countless. This is the hallmark of this University, which offers wide perspectives in fields of study and in students who differ in age and background.

At this Commencement I am proposing an added perspective. Despite the problems of our country today-social and economic inequalities, uncertainties of corporate restructuring, difficulties of welfare reform, even political paralysis-despite such problems, I can offer you a perspective that glimpses a better future. And I can offer you some proactive ideas which, beginning now, seem certain to translate into that better future.

For at this Commencement, you are among the first to enter a world undergoing an unparalleled revolution in AGE. This Age Revolution is complex and little understood, but it is altering the very nature of society, and it will transform your lives. It will create hitherto unknown choices, more rewarding opportunities, more flexible life pathways. It will bring you the extraordinary benefits of TIME.

At your Commencement, this will be my message. Unlike your forebears, you need not hurry through your lives. The decisions you make today are only the first of the many decisions you will make.

Stop for a moment to think about this Age Revolution and the added time it brings. It has come upon us quietly ("on little cat's feet," as in Carl Sandburg's Fog), so quietly that we are scarcely aware of it. It began with unprecedented increases in longevity. For the first time in all history, most people now live to be old! And those who survive to 85 may well live much longer-centenarians are now among the fastest growing segments of the population! And today's older people are on average healthier and more capable than their predecessors.

It is these added years that have transformed the life course. Today a mother and her daughter are only briefly in the traditional relationship of parent and little child (my daughter and I have survived together for nearly 40 years as status-equal adults). Today women and their marital partners are likely to survive jointly for up to half a century (without counting how often they may change partners)! (My husband and I have been married for more than 65 years and neither of us has chosen to retire.) Today a young person can look ahead to a varied career-with some five changes in jobs and often in occupations. You who are now receiving graduate degrees have more years to look forward to than ever before in history. An entirely new perspective will alter your individual lives, despite the fact that the surrounding social structures have been lagging behind. People's lives are still being confined to those three rigid "boxes:"

But do not allow yourselves to be distracted by this lag. Those outmoded structures may have been suitable for the 19th century, when only a few years of schooling sufficed for most jobs, and when half the population had died before age 50. But those rigid structures are certainly not suitable for your future world, when, at age 50, you will not even have reached the midpoint of your adulthood-and when one third of your adult life may well extend beyond the traditional retirement age of 65! It is no longer tolerable for younger adults to bear the major responsibilities for work and family, while older adults are given few role opportunities for productive work or even for sustaining their own independence.

Increasingly, the age barriers to opportunity and choice are breaking down, and are being replaced with flexible life pathways. Here your Commencement is an historic marker. A new life course is in the making, in which people at all ages-old, middle-aged, and young-will be able to move in and out of education, to change jobs or start new careers, and to intersperse leisure with other activities throughout their long lives. From your diverse perspectives as graduates today, all of you-whatever your age-have TIME to seize new opportunities. Those of you who have already had work experience (in welfare, teaching, law, business) can now feel free to combine your new careers with time for family life, community service, or other activities. Those of you who are leaving education for the first time can feel free to try out various work arrangements; or to marry and have children early-not waiting to start a family (But a special note to women graduates, please don't wait until you are 63!)

And all of you, at every age, will be able to look ahead to new options: varying your careers, returning for more education, engaging in diverse life styles, anticipating the benefits of an active old age, and enriching social relationships.

However, the Age Revolution will set up a hurdle: -It will demand sacrifice because it often runs counter to the basic values and norms of the traditional three "boxes"--

Your new flexible lifecourse will place less value on economic achievement and more on freedom for self fulfillment, relations with others, and contributions to society. But the ride will not be free. Many of you will have to make difficult choices over your long lives between the financial security of guaranteed careers and the joys of more TIME for family and leisure.

Most immediately, opportunities to use your professional training may be limited to demeaning temporary makeshifts-as substitute teachers, trainees, or entry-level workers. Unlike many of your predecessors, you may not start on a "fast track"-but (also unlike them) you will find that TIME is on your side. You will not be scorned as a misfit if you put humane values ahead of material success.

And please remember: You are not locked in by your first set of decisions. Society is always changing-economic prosperity and recessions go in great swings; faulty national priorities come and go. And you, too, will change, along with structural opportunities in the changing society. Now, with your new degrees in hand, you will be challenged to use your education, as you think and act in your daily lives. Thanks to your education, you will help loosen the rigidities of the past. For this new society will be your society. Each of you, from your varied perspectives, will have opportunities to secure the benefits of the Age Revolution:

And all of you will have opportunities to bring your perspectives to bear on the malaise of the world today.

Lofty opportunities, to be sure, but they are real and they are yours. To repeat my message. You are among the first to benefit from, and participate in, the great Revolution in Age. The decisions you make today are only the first of many you will make; and you will have TIME to spread these decisions out. You will have time to explore opportunities for yourselves and for society. So, before you leave today, pause for a moment, look up and across the campus. Then move and look up again. With each perspective, you will see that each year-each day-will bring another Commencement-another beginning.

I congratulate you, your fellow students, your families and friends, and the faculty and staff of your perspective-friendly University . Let us all rejoice!

1997 Commencement