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Mark Kennedy: UND grads, learn to master change

EDITOR'S NOTE: The Herald routinely publishes UND commencement speeches. The following is the speech given by President Mark Kennedy to fall graduates last week.

By Mark Kennedy

When my children were in middle school, the school hosted a 1950s-style sock hop for families. While we were bebopping to Elvis and Buddy Holly, my 14-year-old daughter pointed to the vinyl albums on the wall for decoration and said, "Look Dad, there's a big CD." She had never seen a vinyl record before.

How many of today's 14-year-old students have never seen a CD before?

In 1964 Bob Dylan issued a vinyl record entitled "The Times They Are a-Changin." If Dylan thought that change was happening fast a half century ago, his message has even more urgency today.

As Dylan sang: Come gather 'round people

Wherever you roam

And admit that the waters

Around you have grown

Then you better start swimmin'

Or you'll sink like a stone

For the times they are a-changin'.

For five centuries encyclopedias were on a shelf. Then in 1993 Microsoft replaced traditional encyclopedias with Encarta on a CD. I loved not just reading about Neil Armstrong taking one giant leap for mankind but being able to watch an embedded video showing him doing so.

In 2009 Microsoft closed the Encarta division. It had been replaced by Wikipedia, which had been founded in 2001.

Wikipedia was eclipsed when Siri launched in 2010, followed by Alexa from Amazon in 2014 and Google Assistant in 2016.

Encyclopedias in book form lasted 500 years. Encarta lasted 15 years. Wikipedia held dominance for nine years before Siri, which only remained unchallenged for four years. The times they are a-changin' at an ever-faster speed.

This is why we at UND are so focused on cultivating your critical-thinking skills in order to enable you to adapt to change. Those skills will be put to the test in as you enter the next phase of your life.

Speaking with a group of honors students, one observed that he was hesitant to go into accounting. He said that he had done his tax return in 15 minutes with a software package and worried that someday accountants would be automated. He exhibited a blossoming of critical thinking. I encouraged him to take it further and appreciate that in a digital world, those who understand data, like skilled accountants, are likely to remain in high demand, though the skill set required of them is likely to continue to evolve, even if bookkeeping becomes extinct. I would still bet on a UND accounting degree.

How will these changes impact the career path you seek to travel?

Let's focus on the year 2030, a little more than a decade from now. You will still be considered young—except by your children.

Moore's law that computing power doubles every two years is in its sixth decade of coming true. If it continues until 2030, the amount of computing power available in your smartphone, or whatever replaces it, will be 64 times greater than today. By 2040, it will be 2,000 times greater than today.

McKinsey, a world-renowned management consulting company, predicts that by 2030 over half of the work activities performed in jobs typically filled by high-school graduates will be automated, as will 44 percent of the activities performed by those with associate degrees and 22 percent of those performed by college graduates.

McKinsey predicts that the number of jobs requiring an associate degree will decline. The good news for you is that they expect jobs requiring a bachelor's degree to increase 6 to 12 percent, while demand for graduate degrees is expected to increase 9 to 11 percent. Yet your skills will only be in demand if you do what college grads are trained to do and as Dylan advises - you better keep swimmin' or you'll sink like a stone.

Eric Hoffer observed that, "In times of change, learners inherit the Earth, while the learned find themselves beautifully equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists."

With your college degree, you qualify as learned, but as a UND alum you are prepared to be a Leader in Action. You are experienced at being a learner. So keep on learning, keep on swimming. Stay involved in your professional associations. Prepare in advance for changes to come. Keep your credentials updated.

The bend in the road is not the end of the road, unless you refuse to take the turn.

The content you learned at UND has prepared you for your first job. As time rolls forward, your success will depend more and more on how you apply critical thinking and prepare to ride the waves of changes rather than get washed up by them.

Better yet, make us UND proud by unleashing the waves others must surf.

UND graduates of 2018. Master change and become the Leaders in Action you are meant to be.

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