Purdue alumnus James Thomson, president emeritus of the RAND Corp., a nonprofit, nonpartisan group that enables improve policy and decisions via studies and analysis, furnished the keynote cope with at some stage in Purdue University’s August 2019 commencement ceremony.
WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. —
Good morning! Thanks for that type of creation, President (Mitch) Daniels. It’s an honor to speak at a commencement rite at my alma mater. I have a chum who becomes the provost of Harvard and, after that, the chancellor of UCLA. He’s heard a whole lot of graduation addresses. So, at lunch more than one weeks ago, I requested him for advice. He said, “Well, I by no means had everybody complain that the speech becomes too short.” This isn’t the primary time that I’ve spoken to graduates. Probably 12 times during my time as CEO of the RAND Corporation, I spoke to the newly minted Ph.D.’s of the RAND Graduate School, which only gives one degree – a Ph.D. In public policy. Basically, I just passed out congratulations and added the speaker.
A few years in the past, I spoke on the graduation of a commercial enterprise school. Honestly, it turned into horrible. The speech turned into too highbrow. I attempted to research the numerous approaches organizations should locate themselves in hassle via operating in places where they may collide with U.S. National safety pastimes, like China.
I’m no longer doing that once more.
Advice is constantly an excellent concept. So, further to asking my buddy from Harvard and UCLA, I did what any desirable millennial would: go to Google. There, I located Christina Negrud of “graduationwisdom.Com.” She warns towards speeches that expand one average subject matter, like I tried to do some years in the past, pronouncing they’re “tough to drag off and simplest accurate in case you are looking for an e-book agreement and an e-book tour.” That’s not on my timetable proper now.
One of her tips is “a handful of subject matters illustrated with personal. Testimonies.” So I’m going to go along with that in the 10 minutes that I have left. Did I see some of you study your watches? First, about my history: I got here to this college as a graduate scholar in physics. I desired to get as some distance from my domestic nation of New Hampshire as viable. Indiana is a way in lots of dimensions besides distance. Also, Purdue had an excellent football group. And, I had read that Purdue was going to put in a brand new nuclear accelerator in the next year. I wanted to paintings in that laboratory, and I did. I helped set up the accelerator and used it to do the research that led to my Ph.D.
If some of you don’t recognize, that lab nonetheless operates, about four hundred yards from us, buried below the mall. It’s been repurposed as the Purdue Rare Isotope Measurement Lab. I changed into there the previous day. My signature is painted at the accelerator. After Purdue, I went to Madison, Wisconsin as a postdoctoral studies fellow in the accelerator lab at UW. As my -yr appointment became approaching its cease, I turned into making ready to search for some other postdoc. My spouse stated: “Are you crazy? We’ve got two little youngsters and are starving right here. Can’t you get an actual process?” She had a factor. I also found out that I wasn’t all that excited about the physics behind my experiments, even though I loved analyzing the facts that I generated at the accelerator.
As a nuclear scientist, I had long been inquisitive about nuclear arms control and the analysis supporting U.S. Coverage in that subject. To reduce to the chase, I got a job as a structures analyst within the Office of the Secretary of Defense; in different words, the Pentagon. I took on analytical responsibilities related to the defense of Europe. Before 3 years have been out, the president’s countrywide protection adviser, the overdue Zbigniew Brzezinski, recruited me to enroll in his personnel within the White House, wherein I dealt with European defense troubles.
My 4 years on the National Security Council body of workers led me to the RAND Corporation in Santa Monica, in which I, to start with, went returned to research, but on public coverage, now not physics. My work at RAND took me from research to management. After eight years, I became named president and CEO; a publish I held for greater than 22 years. I’ve additionally been on numerous company forums, such as startups, and completing as the chairman of a metal corporation right here in the Midwest. In brief, I put down my soldering iron in an accelerator lab in Madison, and less than 3 years later, I changed into running at the White House for Zbigniew Brzezinski, one of the maximum well-known political scientists of his technology. How in the world did that take place?
Now we get to the part of the commencement speech where the antique man extrapolates from his non-public experiences to present the recommendation to the graduates—first, guidance topics. To be sure, I have been fortunate – proper vicinity, proper time multiple times. But because the Roman philosopher Seneca stated, “Luck is what takes place while guidance meets possibility.” I actually benefited from my training in physics. It gave me analytical equipment and, more importantly, a manner of thinking using common sense and stressful evidence. Never underestimate the power of common sense and proof. I also benefited from my interests outdoor of physics: in history, in world affairs, and defense coverage and hands management.
The 2nd lesson from my profession is writing virtually and get to the point. While this will appear obvious, allow me to let you know a story approximately how writing shaped my career and some rules I’ve taken from that. When I transitioned from the lab to the Pentagon, my writing got me a new activity. I changed into searching out a task in nuclear palms manipulate. To get appointments with the proper officials within the State and Defense departments, I wrote a letter that defined who I turned into and why my education and heritage can benefit them. I was given an appointment with nearly all and sundry I wrote to. None of them hired me, however. But one gave my letter to somebody else, and that man or woman employed me. He advised me that my letter satisfied him that he didn’t need to fear approximately my writing. My profession changed, no longer to nuclear hands manage (as a minimum not proper away), however to European protection. The Pentagon task led me to the White House and then to RAND.