June 21, 2018
All good things.
All good things come to an end.
This well-known proverb can be traced back to 1374 in Geoffrey Chaucer’s poem Troilus and Criseyde. Of course, since that time, the phrase has appeared in movie titles, popular songs, books, blogs and so on.
But this being an RIT commencement, the important reference for this proverb is the final episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, aptly entitled “All Good Things”, which aired May 23, 1994, after seven seasons.
Typical of Star Trek, the episode features time travel, a spatial anomaly, and extradimensional beings, while Captain Jean-Luc Picard travels between the past, the present and the future in order to save the earth and humanity. But mostly it celebrates the ingenuity of the human mind, despite our many fallible tendencies.
It is, however, the very last scene of this last episode that I want to share with you. The point of Star Trek of course is not the aliens, the silly sets, or the explosions, but rather the human potential, amplified by living and working together in harmony. In the closing scene, the main characters of the show come together to play their regular game of poker. Captain Picard, through his time travels, has seen a potential future where his colleagues and friends have drifted apart, much to his dismay. With a new appreciation for his companions, he finally pulls up a chair and joins them at the poker table. It is--if you’re a fellow Trekkie—touching and embarrassingly sentimental, but classic Star Trek.
(Go ahead, watch the video!)
My point in this silly reference is this. As your chief academic officer here at RIT, I know that the faculty and staff have prepared you extraordinarily well and helped you develop the skills and expertise you need to succeed. I also know that your parents and loved ones have provided you with the values and character you will use to make difficult decisions in the future.
But what I want you to think about today is what you will need to navigate through the tsunami of automation that is upon us. As we turn more and more of our work and lives over to machines, we will see that our humanity – the characteristics that make us humans – will be increasingly important. We are social animals; we need our families, our communities, our countries and our world. And we thrive when we exercise the goodness of our species. Empathy, caring, purpose, the greater good.
So the message from Star Trek is a message pertinent to all of us today:
Embrace your species. Live up to the human potential. Be empathetic. Listen more than you speak, listen more than you ‘do’. Lean in. And especially pull up the chair to the proverbial poker table.
To the class of 2018, … you know how I’m going to end this …
Second star to the right. And straight on till morning.
Live long and prosper.
Jeremy Haefner's last day at RIT will be July 15, 2018. He has been named Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor at the University of Denver.