Commencement Address to the Class of 2011

Full Search Ahead

Janis Clark ’69 Johnston, Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters

May 22, 2011



President Switzer, Entrepreneurship Professor Falkiner, and members of the Board of Trustees, thank you for this honor. It is a privilege to address the dedicated faculty and staff, proud parents and families, loyal friends, and the excited GRADUATES of the class of 2011.

When I was 18, only a few years ago, a high school friend and I dreamed of our futures. Initially, we laughed about glamorous possibilities that might lie ahead, but we turned serious when we decided that we would set a lifetime motto for ourselves: “Full speed ahead.”  To be truthful, I did not know then that the motto was a paraphrase of a Civil War Admiral’s charge. In 1965 we giggled a lot; we did not “Google.” We ate apples. No one had heard of a droid.

I never thought much about my motto in college, marriage, graduate school, first professional job, first baby, second job – part time, second baby, third job … I lived full speed ahead, carrying with me the gifts I received from Manchester. Among my many enduring influences from college days are my major in psychology and a special book, Man’s Search for Meaning.

As I traveled the decades, our world shifted into the digital Information Age. Imagine decades of life without search engines, without a laptop! Imagine a life without a cell phone! Speed defines our new millennium. College professors are using social media in classes, but texting-on-task is still new. How many of you twitter? Your graduating class is in the first generation of humans to join the birds in tweeting! Twitter just flew into its fifth birthday. Face and book used to be two separate words. Now people spend more time on Facebook and less time reading books. However, books have something to offer every generation. Catch three current books, if you can: Drive, Switch, and Alone Together.


I sailed Fast Forward into my fifth decade, only a few years ago. Not everything happens the way you imagine it should work out in your life. I asked myself, “What is this stage of life?” It was time for me to switch mottos; I chose “make something good happen everyday.”  I have more day-to-day consciousness about this motto.


In her poem, “The Summer Day,” Mary Oliver asks the vital question for all of us: “…what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” What is “something good” that you can make happen today? Graduates already realized one motto, spoken or silent. You have accomplished something precious by fulfilling requirements for a college degree. But what new venture or idea will you envision now? What entrepreneurial efforts will you dream into existence? Undoubtedly, your full search ahead will result in efforts that will make news tomorrow. You may be asking, “How can that happen?”

Set a conscious motto for yourself, and trust your intuition about your journey.

Here are a few mottos worth modeling.


My mother often recites a motto from her childhood days: “Good, better, best. Never let it rest. “Til your good is better and your better is best.”  A saint coined this saying. St. Jerome provided the first translation of the Old Testament into Latin directly from Hebrew texts, rather than Greek texts.

Harold Thurman was a philosopher, theologian, educator, and civil rights leader, the first African-American named tenured Dean of Chapel at a majority-white university, Boston University. He said: "Don't ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive and then go do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive." Thurman must have encountered a few fears in his life, but he turned those challenges into opportunities, writing a book, The Search for Common Ground.

The first American woman in space, physicist and astronaut Sally Ride, once quipped, “Maybe I wasn’t paying attention, but nobody ever told me I couldn’t ….”  If Sally had fear about her ride into space, she faced her doubts full search ahead. Living a life of purpose and meeting your potential can motivate great accomplishments.


It turns out that the Greek philosopher, Pythagoras, who inspired both Plato and his student, Aristotle, understood the secret to motivation: “No man is free who cannot command himself.” And today we paraphrase: No person is free who cannot chart his or her own internal course. Australian entrepreneur Mike Cannon-Brookes decided to give employees one day every season to work on any problem they wanted, even if it was not part of their regular job. The creativity flowed. New discoveries accumulated from the freedom of tinkering with ideas.

As you take the next leg of your odyssey, find ways to follow the wings of your creativity in your search for what is meaningful. Few of us can fly into outer space, but all of us have choices in how we travel in cyberspace. It is a time for reflection. It is a time for action.

In the words of novelist Richard Peck, “I read: not for happy endings but for new beginnings; I’m just beginning myself, and I wouldn’t mind a map ….” However you proceed in setting personal mottos, be grateful to Manchester College for helping you begin to map your own FULL SEARCH AHEAD

BOOK SUGGESTIONS in Commencement address, Full Search Ahead

Frankl, Victor E. 1959.  Man’s Search for Meaning. Boston: Beacon Press.

Heath, Chip, & Heath, Dan. 2010.  Switch: How to Change Things when Change is Hard.

     New York: Broadway Books.

Pink, Daniel H.  2009.  Drive: The Surprising Truth about What Motivates Us. New York:        

      New York: Riverhead Books.

Turkle, Sherry.  2010. Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from

     Each Other. New York: Basic Books.

Thurman, Harold. 1971. The Search for Common Ground.  New York: Harper and Row.