"Star Wars" Wisdom for 2012 Graduates

Release Date: 5/18/2012

On May 12, Ozarks held its 178th spring commencement ceremony. Associate Professor of Sociology and Environmental Studies Dr. Jesse Weiss had the following words of wisdom for the 118 graduates in the class of 2012.

I would like to thank the senior class for selecting me to give the Faculty address this year. It is truly an honor to be able to speak to you today. As some of you in attendance know, and for the rest of you who don't, I am a giant fan of popular culture. I often use music, film, graphic novels and the like in my classes to help students relate to sociology. You just have to visit my office once to see that I am a huge nerd. It is my belief that the stories and narratives found in our popular culture are a reflection of who we are and what we believe in. While there are some examples of popular culture that offer little in the way of redeeming values, others contain wisdom that could easily rival that found in Greek mythology. Many times this wisdom lies beneath the surface and must be mined in order to discover the gems.

On one such mining expedition, I found that one of my favorite pop cultural Icons was influenced by world religions such as Christianity, Buddhism and Hinduism. In his storytelling, this Icon addresses such heavy topics as ethics and morality, the nature of truth and even faith. To some this Icon is a modern day prophet to others a sell-out. Either way, George Lucas has become a significant force in American popular culture and beyond.

For those of you who do not know, George Lucas gave us the cinematic masterpiece "American Graffiti," centering on a generation who cruised the streets in hot rods and grappled with the responsibility of going to war. He gave us Iconic characters like Indiana Jones, which convinced us all that Ph.D.s can be action heroes who quest for biblical relics and fight Nazis. And he gave us "Star Wars," the epic saga that takes place "a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away".

As a child of the 70's and 80's and as the father of a five year old boy, "Star Wars" holds a very important place in both my past and my present. Before you dismiss this as the musings of a 35-year-old fan boy, consider the significant influence that "Star Wars" has had on our culture. For those of you in business, consider that "Star Wars" films have grossed nearly 5 billion dollars in the U.S. alone. For those of you in the fine arts, consider that "Star Wars" fundamentally changed the way that movies are filmed, the way that narratives are told, and the way movies sound. For those of you in political science, consider that in 1983 President Ronald Reagan named the countries strategic defense initiative "Star Wars." For those of you in the sciences, consider that in 2007 NASA launched one of Luke Skywalker's light sabers into orbit.

Not bad for a native Californian who never learned to swim, who barely graduated from USC, and who was rejected by the Air Force because he had too many speeding tickets. Nevertheless, George Lucas has given us pop culture gold. Just think of the memorable lines from "Star Wars" that are now a standard part of our lexicon. Lines like "May the Force be with you." Or "Luke, I am your father." In each episode we learned that generally when someone says "I have a bad feeling about this," something unexpected would happen. We learned that droids speak in Beeps and Boops that only C3PO understands and the Wookies sound like this: "GRRRRRRRRRRRRR". Suffice it to say that "Star Wars" has given us a lot. It would seem that a pop culture phenomenon that has been so influential may contain within it some wisdom for the 2012 graduate.

So here it is: George Lucas' "Star Wars" advice for the 2012 graduate, as interpreted by Dr. Jesse Weiss.

To the graduate, the rogue smuggler Han Solo would say, "Great kid, don't get cocky." Yes, you have graduated from college, but you have most of your life in front of you. Don't get cocky, stay humble, and continue to reach for the stars.

To the graduate, the protocol droid C3PO would say, "Don't worry about (them). I'm sure they'll be all right. They are quite clever, you know...for human beings." I suppose this is for the families of the graduate. They have a college degree, they have accomplished something that only 30 percent of all American have been able to do before the age of 25. They will be okay. They are quite clever. . .for human beings.

To the graduate, Jedi Master Qui Gon Jin would say, "Life tests you! Every day it brings you new chances for triumph or defeat. And if you pass the test, it doesn't make you a Jedi. It makes you human." You have been and will be tested in ways that you cannot imagine. In each test there is an opportunity. Many times the difference between a triumph and a defeat is your approach and attitude.

To the graduate, Jedi Master and mentor to Luke Skywalker Obi-wan Kenobi would say, "Many of the truths we cling to depend greatly on our point of view." In college you have learned many truths, but hopefully you have come to realize that there are questions that have many answers, all of which are right, and sometimes the answer simply depends on your perspective. Keep an open mind to the perspectives of others and appreciate opinions that differ.

To the graduate, separatist leader and secret Sith Lord Count Dooku would say, "I sense much fear in you. You have hate… you have anger… but you don't use them." You are graduating at a time of great uncertainty and are no doubt anxious about your future. Make sure that you do not let that challenge in you breed hate and anger for you fellow man. Remember you always have a choice. It is human to fear, but humans can choose what to do with that fear.

Finally, to the graduate, Yoda, the little green 900-year-old pointy eared Jedi would say, "Do or do not. There is no try." Perhaps one of the most insightful things that George Lucas ever wrote. Be decisive, go after what you want. You may succeed or you may fail. Either way you will learn something about yourself. If you start with a "try" attitude, you will always fail. Do or do not take that job, do or do not marry that person, do or do not move to that city, do or do not be a success. The choice is yours.

To the graduate I say, "May the Force be with you," and may God bless you. Thank you.