Upon receiving an honorary doctorate of science at Swarthmore's 1994 commencement ceremonies in 1994, John Mather '68 made the following (excerpted) remarks to the graduates.
Swarthmore was the first place I could really become a professional scientist and like it. I also found that the world was set up to reward people who were good at this. I could go ahead and follow my heart.
When I gathered the team to propose the COBE satellite, I had no idea how to make it happen. What we all did together was to solve the problems as they came along. I found out I had to learn about many things I never expected, everything from balancing budgets to running meetings to learning how to type and writing memos all day long. I found out I didn't know how to be the kind of leader that I wanted to be, and I had to ask for help about that, too.
I also found out that cooperation works better than competition when you are trying to get something done. There's no point in trying to be first if you're all riding in one canoe. I try to work with people so that we all get to our goal together, and then we let our creative juices flow. I think that's important because through most of my life in school, I saw people worrying about being better or worse than their fellow students and losing sight of their larger goals. I wish I could get people to stop worrying about comparing themselves with other people and just go after what they really care about.
Competition gets our adrenalin flowing, but our competitors are not really our friends and neighbors. Our competitors are the cockroaches who will inherit the earth all too soon if we don't pay attention to what we're doing and help each other along.
If I could leave you with any parting words, it is the reminder to take the time to imagine what you would really like to do, really think about it, and then go after it with all your heart. You'll be too busy to know if you're better or worse than somebody else or whether you're happy or not, but you can be proud of yourself.