Listening in an Age of Distractions
Prepared for delivery by
Shirley Ann Jackson, Ph.D.
President, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne
Saturday, October 9, 2010 Ceremony Video
Thank you for recognizing me with an honorary degree from your prestigious university. Your tradition, focus, and high standards make this recognition a great honor for me.
I am struck by the parallels between EPFL and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.
Both universities trace their roots to the 1800s with a strong focus on preparing engineers. We both understand the value of breaking through boundaries and enabling transdisciplinary research. And both of our universities are deeply committed to putting knowledge into practice.
I will not tell you about the future of technology, because you will hear that from someone else today. I will not tell you about the importance of science and technology for addressing global challenges such as disease, energy and environmental concerns, or hunger, because you already know this.
With these thoughts in mind, I will offer two points of advice that I offer my own students.
First, Listening, really listening, is one of the most valuable skills you can develop. When you listen, listen critically. Make sure that what people say makes sense. Do not be afraid to ask where their supposed “facts” come from. And, most importantly, listen to the tone. Be very suspicious of anything someone says if the undercurrent is anger or fear or superiority. Emotions are fine, even vital, but much folly has come from language laced with such emotions.
Second, the most important listening is listening to yourselves. Give yourselves the gift of being still, of putting away the distractions and the noises that fill our lives today. You live in a stimulating and fast-paced environment. That is mostly a good thing, because much creativity comes from this cauldron of stimulation. But take a deep breath from time to time, and give yourselves a chance to just be yourselves, and listen to your inner voice. If you do this, your true creativity and your core values will be revealed, and you will do great things.
Congratulations, graduates. I thank you again for honoring me in this way. Thank you very much.