Graduating senior challenges peers

College of Agriculture and Life Sciences Fall Convocation 2009 Speech by Nathan Upah

Nathan Upah received his bachelor's degree in animal science and was the first recipient of the Borlaug Scholar Award and Internship, the most prestigious scholarship package in the college. Last year he worked on restoring the farm site where Norman Borlaug grew up. He also is an Honors student and served on the Agriculture and Life Sciences Student Council for two years, one year as vice president, and was voted Ag Man of the Year this year by the council. He grew up on his family’s farm near Clutier and will soon begin work on a master’s degree in animal science at Iowa State.

Thank you, Dean Wintersteen. Many of us first began this adventure as uncertain and timid freshmen making the journey down Elwood Drive, or what is now known as University Boulevard, for the first time. I'm sure some of us can still remember that final hug and the click of the dorm room door as your mom, dad, sister or brother said goodbye to you for the final time and left you to start your college career. And some of you may remember a sick or empty feeling creep up in the pit of your stomach which accompanied that click of the door. The feeling of knowing that you are now alone and are now indeed on your own.

You were alone, but by the same token you knew, or at least hoped, that you were in good hands. Because if this place was half as good as advertised, you were going to be okay. You, or at least your parents, had done the homework. You had read or had heard about the 98 percent job placement rate, highest among the colleges at ISU; a vast career fair to get internships and, ultimately, one day that "job"; a superior study-abroad program responsible for taking students to every continent in the world; advisors who knew their students by name and not just a number; and world-class educators and leaders in their disciplines.

Oh, and you undoubtedly knew that this empty feeling in the pit of your stomach was also due in part to hunger - at which time you also learned the dorm food certainly had the ability to make a person gain 50 pounds, let alone the infamous freshmen 15.

Perhaps I've made it sound more like a recruitment speech, but the underlying fact is - we've always been in good hands. It turns out we knew more than we thought we did when we began this little adventure.

What do we know now? We know that we have made memories, friends and accomplished much. And just as the walks to Molecular Biology in January are long and agonizing (to say nothing of the class when we got there), our road has been long and hasn't always been easy. But it is now apparent the day is upon us when we've reached a milestone. We have reached the end of our adventure and it is time to begin anew.

But before we do, I believe that first and foremost it is important to acknowledge those who have helped us along the way - because we were never truly alone. If you are a parent of one of those graduating here today, please stand. If you serve as an educator or administrator working to sculpt the minds and plant the seeds of knowledge in the minds of one these young people, please stand. If you are friend, spouse or family member of one these fine individuals, please stand. Students preparing for graduation, please stand and face the audience. As you can tell, we have had quite the support team behind us. Without them, this journey wasn't possible. Let's give them a round of applause to thank them for all they have done.

This is traditionally the part where a graduating senior gets up and tells a story about the success of the senior class and how our lives are going to change forever. While our past is testament to hard work, long hours, late nights (or in some cases early mornings), we cannot rest on what we have accomplished. And while our surroundings may change, we as human beings do not, nor do the challenges that await us.

We all know the long and storied past and the rich tradition of Iowa State University and the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and the graduates they produce. While tradition, accomplishments, accolades, trophies and plaques are nice, the bottom line is they serve as a relic of the past. Today and tomorrow, they only have the ability to collect dust. What matters from this day forward is not what we've done in the past. What matters now is what happens after today and tomorrow. Just like our inability to relive past successes, we cannot correct mistakes, we cannot undo the wrongs we've done and we most certainly cannot rest on our laurels. What matters from this day forward is not what we've done, but what we have the potential to do.

Potential, defined by Merriam-Webster, is "an ability to develop into actuality." But is one's potentials ever actually defined? Are we born with a given amount of potential and that's all we get? Are there clues in our surroundings that we can look to code for potential? Does something as random and as arbitrary as the nine digits on our ISU card serve as an indicator or code for our inner potential? I believe so. My ISU card has nine digits, or a number that reflects the hundred millions. What is the only thing I have done that many times in my life? Ladies and gentlemen, its failure. Beginning with the day we began to dress ourselves through this very day, the number of failures or mistakes in all our lives would at least equal if not surpass that number.

Simply put, our inner potential is nothing more than a measure of how many times we've fallen and gotten back up - risen again to meet the challenge.

Challenges and expectations, are they are a blessing or burden? Are they something we're all saddled with or something we are fortunate to have? Certainly, at times expectations can prove to be a burden. Challenges can feel like they have the ability to crush you under their immense weight. But the great power associated with expectations is they have a way of coaxing us to do great things. With the great challenges that loom in the horizon, expectations give us the power to lead, to invent, to fuel, to feed, to cure, to solve, to aid and to help.

I had the great privilege of being able to work with the Norman Borlaug Heritage Foundation and live at Dr. Borlaug's birthplace farm near Cresco, Iowa. Dr. Borlaug is considered to be a founder what is known as the Green Revolution. He saved over a billion lives from starvation and malnutrition and won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970. But the most incredible thing about Dr. Borlaug - he was a farm kid, from small town Iowa. He succeeded because he had big dreams and lofty expectations of himself. He believed that through hard work and determination, he could make a difference and could impact this world for the better. Dr. Borlaug didn't know he would end up accomplishing what he did in his lifetime. Just like Dr. Borlaug, we may not know what lies around the next bend. But we know that for better or for worse, there are expectations of each one of us. The challenges of tomorrow need our attention today. It is up to us to provide a better future for our children and to leave our planet better than we found it. Ladies and gentlemen, to do all this we should expect of ourselves nothing short of perfection.

I conclude by challenging you to be perfect. Being perfect is not about winning or losing. It's about you and your relationships with yourself, your family and your friends. Being perfect is about being able to look your friends and family in the eye and know that you didn't let them down; you told them the truth and that truth is that you did everything you could. There wasn't one more thing you could have done. Can you live in that moment? Can you live in that moment with clear eyes and love in your heart? With joy in your heart? If you can do that, then you're perfect. I want you to take a moment and I want you to take in the memories, the friends, the lessons, the good times and the bad and put those in your hearts forever. Because forever is about to happen here in a few moments. Ladies and gentlemen, my heart is full. Thank you.