The End of the Beginning

– Brandon Packard

This is the text of Dr. Packard’s commencement speech for the College of Business Administration, Clarion University, May 4, 2019.

Brandon Packard

Hello everyone, before I get started I would first like to thank Dr. Dale, the members of the Platform, the Trustees, and my fellow faculty members for giving me this terrifying honor.  The people I would most like to thank, however, are the students.  If I ever had any doubts as to my life’s path, working with you all during my first year here at the University would have chased them away in a heartbeat.  It is my honor to be talking to such a talented group of individuals. Oh, and for all you nerds out there, May the 4th be with you.

My name is Brandon Packard, Dr. Packard if you want to be formal (although those of you who have had me for class know I’m usually anything but formal), and I graduated from Clarion myself in 2013. It has become more and more common to get a college degree and also more expected, while at the same time we tend to underestimate just what really goes into being a college student. I think this is a great injustice to you all.  When you say you have, for example, a business degree, people expect you to have expertise in business.  However, they also expect you to have soft skills like communication and teamwork.  In fact, in just four years we expect you to go from being high school students, who often have a vague idea of their future career plans, to fully functional and mature college-educated adults ready for the real world.  I don’t know about you, but I don’t think we as a society properly appreciate just how hard that actually is.

Now, let’s talk about another great injustice.  There are many of you who know exactly what you want to do next, but I’m willing to bet there are many of you who are still figuring it out – and that’s okay.  To both groups, I want to talk about the idea of a passion.  I’m sure we all know what a passion is, a great fire within us to do something or achieve something, whether it’s professional or just a hobby.  If we were to believe Hollywood on the topic, we would believe that passions will pop up out of nowhere and slap you in the face yelling “LOOK AT ME, I’M AWESOME.”  Shockingly enough, Hollywood is not reality!  Passions don’t always start off as a blazing flame.  Sometimes all you get is a tiny spark, and it’s up to you to kindle that spark.  This isn’t to say that every spark will become a flame – many of them are going to go out before you can properly cultivate them–however, don’t let that stop you from trying to kindle them anyway.  When you feel the warmth from the fire you’ve created deep within yourself, it will all be worth it.

I said earlier that I attended Clarion University myself starting in 2009.  Let me tell you something: when I started, I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life, except that I liked computers and was never fond of people.  If you had told me, even for a moment, that I would be standing up here today or that I would even THINK of being a professor, I probably would have laughed you out of the room.  I never even talked to anyone!  Go to class, go to the dining hall, then go home and play video—Oops! I mean study. That’s what I did every day.

I did eventually make friends, as college has a way of forcing you to do, and at one point one of my friends came to me and asked me for help.  She was in an introductory programming course and, although she was smart, she was really having trouble with the material.  She had a D in the course, and was in serious danger of getting an F.  I worked with her for a couple weeks, helping her to understand the material.  She seemed to be grasping it better and told me that she should be okay from then on.  Near the end of the class, she came up to me and told me that she had a B in the class, and thanked me and gave me a hug.  That’s when it happened – I sparked.  The teeniest, tiniest little spark of “hey, that was actually pretty fun.”  I could have stopped then.  I could have gone back to being my loner self and let that spark die out where it laid, but I didn’t.  I pursued that spark; I did everything I could in order to help it grow.  Now, six years later, that spark has become a towering inferno.  I spend every day doing what I love, and love what I do every day – and all because I wasn’t afraid to pursue a passion that I wasn’t sure would, wasn’t sure COULD ever work out. 

I tell you this not for my own sake, but for your sakes.  Graduation is not the end, graduation is the beginning of the rest of your lives.  Even if you think you know exactly what you want to do, don’t be afraid to pursue those passions, whether personal or professional.  Don’t be afraid to stoke that fire, and let it warm the wind beneath your wings. We say “Fly eagles fly” a lot around here, but any bird can fly.   However, you aren’t any bird – you are all eagles, with Clarion University your nest.  Unlike most parental birds, I don’t want you to fly. I want you to pursue your sparks, stoke the fires of your passions, and use their heat to rise to greater and greater heights, until you are higher in the sky than you ever thought possible.  I don’t want you to fly, I want you to soar. As you soar to greater and greater heights, just remember that Clarion University will always be your roost, and we will all be watching you through proud, teary eyes as you disappear into the great blue sky.

Brandon Packard is a new faculty member in the Computer Information Science department at Clarion University.  He earned a doctorate in Computer Science from Drexel University in 2018, and received his Bachelor of Science in Computer Science and Bachelor of the Arts in Philosophy from Clarion University in 2013. He is the co-advisor for two student groups, Techfloor and AITP, and the founding co-advisor of the Gaming Living Learning Community.  He says that he attended grad school with the sole purpose of returning to Clarion University to teach one day. His research interests focus on Gaming, Artificial Intelligence, and Machine Learning – as well as ethical questions raised by these areas. Clarion University and its students are two of the great loves of his life. He is engaged to be married to Mandy, the other great love of his life.

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