COMMENCEMENT ADDRESS

delivered by

CHIEF JUSTICE BURLEY B. MITCHELL, JR.

NORTH CAROLINA SUPREME COURT

MAY 25, 1996

OAK RIDGE MILITARY ACADEMY


I AM VERY HONORED AND HAPPY TO BE A PART OF THIS MEMORABLE DAY IN YOUR LIVES. I KNOW YOU ARE PROBABLY EXPECTING A LENGTHY MONOLOGUE THIS MORNING. BUT LET ME ASSURE YOU THAT I AM COMMITTED TO AN INSPIRATIONAL AND MEANINGFUL MESSAGE IN UNDER TWELVE MINUTES.

I AM DELIGHTED TO BE PART OF THE COMMENCEMENT EXERCISES FOR THIS DISTINGUISHED INSTITUTION. THIS IS AN INSTITUTION WHICH PROMOTES NOT ONLY ACADEMIC EXCELLENCE, BUT CHARACTER AND DISCIPLINE. AS A FORMER MEMBER OF THE US NAVY, 7TH FLEET - ASIA, 1958-62, I APPRECIATE MILITARY TRAINING AND THE CHARACTER AND SELF-ESTEEM IT BUILDS.

LET ME OFFER SOME THOUGHTS FOR YOU TO CONSIDER AS YOU BEGIN THE NEXT STAGE OF YOUR LIVES. OUR WORLD TODAY -- THE WORLD IN WHICH MANY OF YOU WILL ASSUME LEADERSHIP ROLES -- HAS THE POTENTIAL TO BE AMERICA’S GREATEST TIME. OUR WORLD IS BEING TRANSFORMED AS WE SPEAK. AS A PUBLIC OFFICIAL, I HAVE NOTED WITH GREAT INTEREST THE EBB AND FLOW OF PUBLIC OPINION TOWARDS OUR INSTITUTIONS OF LEARNING, GOVERNMENT, JUSTICE, AND EVEN THE BASIC AMERICAN FAMILY. HERE AT OAK RIDGE, YOU HAVE LIVED WITHIN A FAMILY OF FRIENDS AND MENTORS. AS YOU VENTURE OUT NOW INTO UNCHARTED TERRITORY, YOU HAVE THE SKILLS TO APPLY TO ANY SITUATION.

BUT THE REAL MEANING OF YOUR TIME AND EXPERIENCE AT THIS INSTITUTION SHOULD BE VIEWED WITH CLEAR AND UNCLOUDED VISION. IT SEEMS THAT IN THIS DAY AND AGE THE CONCEPT OF VISION IS HIGHLY UNDERRATED. THE CONCEPT OF VISION CONJURES IMAGES OF CHANGE AND CONFUSION, LIBERALISM, A REJECTION OF THE STATUS QUO. TO SAY SOMEONE IS A VISIONARY IMPLIES THAT THEY ARE STRAYING FROM COMMONLY HELD BELIEFS. MOREOVER THIS USUALLY IMPLIES THAT THEY ARE NOT IN THE MAJORITY AND THEREFORE RADICAL OR INTOLERABLE. VISION IS AN EMOTIONAL CONVICTION FROM DEEP WITHIN -- A PASSION, A MISSION -- THAT INSPIRES US TO THINK BEYOND THE TRADITIONAL. VISION IS A GREATER GIFT THAN UNDERSTANDING. TO MERELY UNDERSTAND SOMETHING GIVES YOU THE ABILITY TO COMPREHEND THE ELEMENTS THEREIN WHILE VISION AFFORDS YOU THE INSIGHT AND OUTLOOK WITH WHICH TO COMPREHEND YOUR WORLD COMPLETELY. THE PROMISE OF YOUR GENERATION IS HELD IN THE VISION YOU CARRY IN YOUR MINDS AND HEARTS.

JOHN HAAS, AN EDUCATOR DURING THE 1920’s, CAPTURED THE TRUE MEANING OF VISION, "VISION PROCEEDS FROM WITHIN; IT IS A PERCEPTION WHICH CLARIFIES AND ILLUMINES ALL THAT THE WORLD OFFERS FROM WITHOUT." HERE AT OAK RIDGE EACH OF YOU HAS LEARNED AND UNDERSTOOD. AND AS YOU LEAVE, MY HOPE IS THAT YOU WILL TRANSCEND UNDERSTANDING TO GREAT VISION. VISION WHICH WILL PROPEL YOU TO LEADERSHIP AT THE NEXT INSTITUTION YOU ATTEND, AND IN YOUR COMMUNITIES, STATE, AND NATION. TO QUOTE FROM PROVERBS 29:18, "WHERE THERE IS NO VISION, THE PEOPLE PERISH."

HOWEVER VISION IS NOT ALL THAT IS NEEDED IN THE TIMES IN WHICH WE LIVE. WE DEMAND MORE. THE TIMES DEMAND VISION THAT GENERATES ACTION. TRUE LEADERS ARE NOT MEASURED BY THE VISION THEY INSPIRE BUT BY THE ACTION WHICH RESULTS. BILL GATES’ VISION DID NOT MAKE HIM A TECHNOLOGICAL LEADER. HIS CREATION OF A SYSTEM OF SOFTWARE DID.

THE ACTIONS YOU TAKE WILL BE A REFLECTION OF NOT ONLY YOURSELF, BUT ALSO A REFLECTION OF OAK RIDGE MILITARY ACADEMY. IN TODAY’S WORLD WE DESIRE RESULTS QUICKLY AND ARE IMPATIENT IN OUR REFORMS AND CHANGE. ACTION SHOULD BE UNDERTAKEN THOUGHTFULLY AND GRADUALLY JUST AS VISIONS SHOULD BE DEVELOPED COOPERATIVELY AND COLLECTIVELY. MORE OFTEN THAN NOT THERE IS NO QUICK FIX FOR SOCIETY’S AILMENTS, AND MORE OFTEN THAN NOT EVOLUTION INSTEAD OF REVOLUTION MAY BE THE BETTER PROCESS FOR CHANGE.

YOUR GENERATION IS ONE FAMILIAR WITH TECHNOLOGICAL ADVANCES. LIKE THE AGRICULTURAL REVOLUTION AND THE INDUSTRIAL REVOLUTION, THE TECHNOLOGICAL OR INFORMATION-AGE REVOLUTION IS UPON US AND CHANGING OUR SOCIETY. MOST OF YOU ARE FAMILIAR WITH PHONES, VOICE MAIL, E-MAIL AND PERSONAL COMPUTERS. PHRASES LIKE "WEB PAGE," "DOWNLOAD," "SURF THE NET," ARE SECOND NATURE TO YOU. MOST OF YOU WILL KNOW THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN CHARLOTTE’S WEB, THE COMPUTER NETWORK, AND CHARLOTTE’S WEB, THE BOOK. AND I SUPPOSE THAT SOME OF YOU WILL EVEN HAVE CAREERS AS "WEB MASTERS" AND "WEB CRAWLERS" IN THE FUTURE.

THE TECHNOLOGICAL ADVANCES OF TODAY ENABLE YOU TO OBTAIN INFORMATION IN SECONDS, INFORMATION WHICH WILL FURTHER HEIGHTEN YOUR ENTHUSIASM TOWARD LEARNING. THE QUESTION IS HOW WILL YOUR GENERATION USE THESE TOOLS TO INSPIRE VISION AND PROMOTE ACTION. THERE IS MORE TO YOUR GROWTH THAN SIMPLY ACCESS TO INFORMATION. THERE ARE THE ISSUES OF MORALITY AND DEMOCRACY, AND DEBATES ABOUT FAMILY, CRIME, AND JUSTICE. HOW WE MEASURE THE SUCCESS, AND THE INTEGRITY OF OUR INSTITUTIONS WILL NOT BE UNDERTAKEN SOLELY THROUGH A MERE UNDERSTANDING OF THESE ISSUES. YOUR COLLECTIVE VISION, AND THE ACTIONS YOU TAKE WILL DETERMINE THE FUTURE OF NOT ONLY YOUR GENERATION. YOUR ACTIONS WILL AFFECT FUTURE GENERATIONS.

YOUR EDUCATION HERE HAS EQUIPPED YOU WITH THE TOOLS TO MOVE BEYOND UNDERSTANDING. YOU HAVE THE TOOLS TO INSPIRE VISION AND PROMOTE ACTION TO MEET THE CHALLENGES OF THE FUTURE. AS YOU LEAVE OAK RIDGE REMEMBER THAT VISION AND ACTION DEPEND ON COOPERATION AND COLLECTIVE UNDERSTANDING. AND ACCEPTANCE OF DIFFERENT VIEWS. RECOGNIZE THAT EFFECTIVE PUBLIC DISCOURSE REQUIRES NOT ONLY VISION AND ACTION, BUT ALSO MODERATION AND HUMILITY. TO QUOTE A GREAT SCHOLAR, PRESIDENT WOODROW WILSON, "WHEN ALL IS SAID AND DONE, MAN IS A SPIRIT AND LIVES NOT [JUST] BY WHAT HE DOES, BUT BY WHAT HE THINKS AND HOPES."

AS CHIEF JUSTICE OF THE NORTH CAROLINA SUPREME COURT, I AM PARTICULARLY AWARE OF THE PUBLIC’S MISTRUST AND CYNICISM IN OUR BASIC INSTITUTIONS. IT APPEARS THAT THE PUBLIC HAS REACHED ITS BREAKING POINT WITH POLITICIANS AND PROFESSIONAL BUREAUCRATS WHO SPEAK IN THIRTY-SECOND SOUND BITES. IN ORDER TO RESTORE PUBLIC CONFIDENCE IN OUR BASIC INSTITUTIONS WE MUST RESTORE THE PROCESS WITH WHICH WE ACHIEVE CHANGE. YOU WILL BE AN IMPORTANT PART OF THAT CHANGE. I URGE YOU TO THOUGHTFULLY CONSIDER THE PROCESS AND EFFECTUATE A CURE TO THE LACK OF THOUGHTFUL VISION IN OUR WORLD TODAY.

YOUR GENERATION, WITH ACCESS TO INFORMATION WORLD-WIDE AND TECHNOLOGICAL INNOVATIONS AT YOUR FINGERTIPS WILL HAVE THE TOOLS TO HELP YOU ADDRESS THESE ISSUES, BUT MORE IMPORTANT, YOU WILL HAVE AN EDUCATION WHICH HAS GIVEN YOU HUMILITY, DISCIPLINE, A RESPECT FOR KNOWLEDGE, AND A STRUCTURED MEANS OF FRAMING THE QUESTIONS OF YOUR TIME.

REGARDLESS OF THE PATH YOU FOLLOW, YOU WILL TRAVEL A ROAD OF CONSTANT INQUIRY AND QUEST FOR INFORMATION. I AM STRUCK BY ALVIN AND HEIDI TOFFLER’S BOOK, CREATING A NEW CIVILIZATION -- THE POLITICS OF THE THIRD WAVE, WHEN THEY SAY,

THE ENTIRE STRUCTURE OF HUMAN KNOWLEDGE IS ONCE AGAIN TREMBLING WITH CHANGE ... WE ARE [NOW] TOTALLY REORGANIZING THE PRODUCTION AND DISTRIBUTION OF KNOWLEDGE AND THE SYMBOLS USED TO COMMUNICATE IT.

YOUR GENERATION HAS THE ABILITY TO GENERATE AND STORE MORE NETWORKS OF KNOWLEDGE, MORE HYPOTHESES, MORE NEW THEORIES, MORE LANGUAGES, MORE LOGIC THAN EVER BEFORE. AS A NEW GRADUATE READY TO TAKE ON THE WORLD, REMEMBER THAT THE TRUE MEANING OF WISDOM IS TEMPERED BY THE ACCUMULATION OF FACTS TOGETHER WITH EXPERIENCE.

TURN YOUR KNOWLEDGE INTO VISION AND YOUR VISION TO ACTION. EXPERIENCE ALL THAT LIFE OFFERS YOU. MAKE YOUR DREAMS OF A WORLD WITH RESTORED CONFIDENCE IN BASIC INSTITUTIONS A REALITY BY LOOKING BEYOND THE EASY ANSWERS TO THOSE WHICH INSPIRE PASSION AND ENERGY. LISTEN WITH YOUR HEARTS AND YOUR MINDS TO YOUR FRIENDS AND ADVERSARIES. CREATE A FUTURE, NOT OF IDEOLOGICAL DEMAGOGUES, POLICY AND TECHNOLOGY GURUS, BUT ONE OF DISCIPLINED PEOPLE WITH UNDERSTANDING AND HUMILITY, VISION AND ACTION, AND COURAGE TO CHANGE AND EVOLVE.