Chisel Away

Congrats, grads! Celebrating the Class of 2024 at Spring Commencement

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Alumni, Faculty, Students

May 8, 2024 | jns

Buzzing with the excitement and energy of graduation day, fan clubs consisting of family, friends and mentors settling in to cheer on „their” graduates, and last-minute regalia adjustments and tassel rescue efforts before the first notes of Pomp and Circumstance sounded up, the Morden Center set the stage for the 2024 Spring Commencement.

The ceremony was a beautiful display of the colors, characters and community that Graceland University is all about.

Following a welcome note by President Draves, the Invocation and conferring of a Honorary Degree, commencement speaker David Seda ’83 first invited the graduates to pause for a moment and give themselves and their supporters credit for their accomplishment:

“So this is it. You are here. You’ve studied models and methods and concepts and theories and policies and practices and paradigm shifts, and you’re finally here. You should be very proud. You should be proud of your struggles, your determination, the focus that you’ve demonstrated, the sleepless nights you’ve endured, the self-doubt, the anxiety, to finally get to this day and this place and this moment. Exhale; you did it. It’s okay: make some noise, give yourselves a round of applause.”

Drawing from his professional pathway since his own graduation from Graceland, from the graduate research lab in which he focused on natural language processing to his current work in large language models – both crucial domains of Artificial Intelligence – Seda inferred:

“Everywhere I’ve been, I’ve never once been asked, ‘what do you know?’ No-one’s asked to see any of my degrees. Instead they ask, ‘what can you do for us and how will you involve others in so doing?’ So they ask you to solve a complex real-world problem, and they ask you to engage others in the process: how do you collaborate, where do you delegate, whom do you include, where do you provide allyship, how do you coach and mentor. In other words, how do you lift people up. It turns out, that’s how value is created in organizations, in communities, and in societies. So your journey from here will be less about proving what you know and more about showing who you are.”

Seda provided a powerful allegory for uncovering the essence of who we are, revealing the potential that lies within, and finding direction and purpose in that.

“Michelangelo, the famed Italian artist and sculptor, said every stone contains a statue. It is the job of a sculptor to discover it. ‘I saw an angel in the marble,’ he said, ‘and I carved away until I set him free.’ He could see the potential in a block of marble, and through his skillful hands, Michelangelo would chisel away at the excess until the angel which had always resided in the marble was finally set free. Chisel away. Say it! Chisel away. Say it: Chisel away!”

“In order for us to embrace our uniqueness, to live authentically, we must chisel away. To discover your truest form of yourself, you must chisel away. To confront your fears, the things that hold you back, you must chisel away. It’s a constant struggle: the fear of revealing our true selves, the fear of judgment. It takes courage to make the personal sculpting journey. Albert Einstein put it this way: ‘Do not try to become a person of success, try to become a person of value.’ The reason I love Michelangelo’s approach to his art as a philosophical concept for life is that it requires us to reflect and search within to remove the self-imposed limitations on our full potential. Chisel away.”

Seda offered this mantra as a helpful tool to those graduates who were not sure yet what to do next, but also for any decision process in life and on the job: Through the process of eliminating distractions, asking the right questions and orienting ourselves by what we don’t want, we gain focus and finally clarity on what we do want and what needs to be done to achieve that.

Seda’s encouraging appeal “Chisel away!” continued to echo through the building and minds long after he concluded his keynote address.

Following Faculty Recognitions and the Alumni Award, the big moment came for the graduates to walk across the stage, proudly receiving their Master’s Degree hoods and Bachelor’s Degree diplomas under the resounding support of their cheerleaders on the rows of chairs and bleachers.

“The world needs more Graceland graduates,” President Draves summed up the diversity, talent and dedication of the bright minds gathered in front of her, and in line with the Graceland mission to Carry It Forward, she released the Class of 2024, “Go out and make the world a better place.” For Patricia Draves, this 127th Commencement carried a bit more emotional weight than usual, as it was one of her last official acts in a presidency that began in 2017. Taking in this special moment also for her, she could not help but seize the opportunity for a personal “selfie” from the podium—with the joyful rows of fresh Graceland graduates, which this world really can use more of.

***
Chisel away! And experience David Seda’s commencement address here [Link opens to YouTube].

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