August 2009 Graduate Commencement Remarks

Mehrdad Negahban

Dr. Mehrdad Negahban, Associate Professor in the Department of Engineering Mechanics, delivered these remarks for the graduate commencement ceremony on August 14, 2009.

A life with endless starts riding upon your changing dreams

Let me start by congratulating you all, for today you are being recognized among the few that could, yes the few that could, but more importantly the fewer that did. I am sure that you come from many backgrounds, you are a cross section of different ethnic groups, cultural backgrounds and economic classes, but you all have the ability and the motivation, of which this degree you receive today is a certification.

You might wonder, how I might know so well, and trust so deeply, my value of you and your accomplishment. I have walked this road and have seen so many do the same. I was myself a product of an experiment, started some 60 years ago by a student of Library Sciences and a student of Archeology at the University of Chicago. This girl from Iowa and this boy from Iran decided to join their paths in life. So, as a result, I come from the Millers of Iowa City and the Negahbans of Tehran (Ahwaz). I was born and raised to 18 in Iran and I have lived in the US since. But, this would not be much of a story if it ended with the partnering of these two graduate students.

We all walk within the shadows cast by others, people bigger than life that have charted roads before us. A small few of us have the ability to cast these shadows. I was fortunate enough to have one live with me who cast his shadow across a country, and one who cast her shadow over my life. My wish for each of you is that you will find ways to cast your shadow long, to build upon your accomplishments here and go beyond the point your imagination can take you.

My mother once told me that after seeing an Indiana Jones movie with my father that he had mentioned, as walking out of that theater, that he identified with Indiana. I was at first shocked, I only recall wanting to be Underdog, and cannot forget my wish to be Mowgli in the last scene of the Jungle Book. But, my father identified with Indiana. Once I had the chance to think about it, I understood our difference, and I understood our different places in life. At this point, my father was a senior archeologist, he had excavated the graves of kings. The gold vase of Marlik, which currently is at the Iran Bastan museum in Tehran, and which also was the standard face of the 500 Rial bills, was one of the findings of his team. He had spent a lifetime digging, charting and recording the archeological remains of a country. He was even attacked by smugglers during his excavations. He survived all the attacks on his life, which were at least three that I know of, and he was recognized in 1999 by the Islamic Republic of Iran as a national cultural treasure, an award given to him for his lifetime of contributions. I don't know about you, but this was for me a hard act to follow. But I am sure he had no idea this was to come when he started down this path with my mother.

It is hard to throw shadows this long, but I am sure in this group of graduates there are those that can. My main hope is that you will. I speak of my father since he just passed away and, as such, he is on my mind, but there are many like him, people that could and that did. This is the true goal of your education, not necessarily to cast shadows that cover nations, but to try.

As my father was charting the historical remains of a country, my mother was shaping what we kids did and how we thought. She was an educated intellectual, but to us she was mom. She could not be stopped from being creative, and she shared this with us. But more important than that, even though she had her view, she let us grow with our own ideas. I love her for this, and hope you also see your freedom to grow and find and make your art beyond what you have had the chance to do here.

If I would tell you now that life will be easy, I would be lying to you. Life has never been, and probably will never be easy. Of course, there are times in life that are easy. But there is a truth in life, and that is that it is changing. This has been known by many and for a long time. There is a poem by Jahromi that says in its first verse, "Change is the way and religion of the world," and the poem continues in its second verse to say, "This has always been the way of the world." This poem written long ago is still true today. What you see today will not be what you will have tomorrow. The trick is to find your path in spite of what is happening, to make your mark. And, there is no truth more important to learn than the fact that we are defined by our knowledge and by our creativity, these both need to find their way in this now rapidly changing world.

By what you have done, you have given your all to a subject, and I hope you take this clear and definite interest and that you build upon it many successes. There is a problem though. William Butler Yeats noted this danger in a wonderful poem titled "Never Give All the Heart" that starts like this:

Never give all the heart, 
for love will hardly seem worth thinking of to passionate women if it seems certain, 
and they never dream that it fades out from kiss to kiss;

For everything that's lovely is but a brief, dreamy. Kind delight.

O never give the heart outright,
for they, for all smooth lips can say, have given their hearts up to the play.

And who could play it well enough, 
if deaf and dumb and blind with love?

He that made this, knows all the cost,
for he gave all his heart and lost. 

Yeats is right, whenever we give all to something, we have the chance of losing all. But I'd rather believe that it is better to love and lose your love, than to never love at all. And for this I admire your decision to become a leader, not by chance, but by an abundance of hard work and effort, to give yourself to facts, your mind, and your art, and to apply your creativity to build something deemed new by those that have walked these roads before you.

But as Yeats points out to us, love is a dreamy thing that fades from kiss to kiss. Be wary of staying still, to keep your love you will have to discover yourself many times over.

One day you will have the chance to look back, as I have had the chance to do in this past year, to wonder what you have done. I hope you can look back and have the feelings that Feraydoon Moshiri writes of while he recalls a deep love, now gone. With a deep pleasure for this lost love he writes:

One moon lit night I walked without you down that street
         An endless glare I was, I searched to find you there

I filled with life in joy of finding you
         I was again the lover, the one I once had been

In the caverns of my heart, the flowers of your memories blossomed true
         Groves of memories laughed with me, their aroma filling my heart

I recalled the night that we walked together down this street 
We spread our wings, we flew around that private of our wants

We sat an hour at that stream
         Your black eyes filled with all the mysteries of life
                  I, lost among your gaze
                           The weather calm, the night was quiet

One moon lit night I walked without you down that street

If you can recall what you have done with your life and with this degree as Moshiri so happily recalls of his love now lost, I can say you have done well. I wish you all the best, all the luck, the devotion that Yeats had to his love, and the happiness that Moshiri had in recalling it.

For me, today I smile every time I watch this ball, signed by students from UNL and U. Saskatchewan, so marked as the trophy of a life, played one day this summer, with teams from the US and Canada on the mud remains of an ocean's retreat outside Le Mont-Saint-Michel in France, the joining of a globe, and the hope of my life.

You are entrusted with being the holders of knowledge and skill, and you have shown the creativity to do what no one has done. I respect your accomplishment and wish you all success in your art.

Thank you.