Graduates: remember your ‘peeps’

This year’s graduates have come of age during two decades of the most intense change this planet has ever known — in all its billion years imagining and reforming itself.

For this year’s graduates, change isn’t just constant. It’s both constant and exponential — happening so fast that it seems hard even to catch your breath.

What do I mean? Let me give you some numbers — four, 10, 250,000 and 1 million.

* Four as in exabytes. That’s four times 10 to the 19th power of unique, new information will be generated in the world this year–more information than was generated in the past 50 centuries — 5,000 years — put together.

* 10, as in the warp speed of technology. Think about it: When the radio was invented it took 38 years to reach a market audience of 50,000,000 people. It took Facebook two years. It probably takes Lady Gaga about 10 minutes. “Breaking news” is an oxymoron for these graduates.

* 250,000, as in the average number of electronic messages that the 354 students who will graduate from Mount Aloysius on Saturday sent or received in their lifetime so far — emails, texts, Instagrams, whatever.

* Million, as in we are fast approaching 1,000,000 words in the English language. That’s more than five times what Shakespeare had to work with.

Bottom line: The mall-sized computer that put a man on the moon almost five decades ago had far less capacity than the average iPhone. And by the midpoint of this century, they expect to have an affordable computer that can calculate faster than the computational capabilities of the entire human race — put together.

So, what do all these mach speed changes and numbers say to us? Personally, I am in awe of this year’s graduates as I am in awe of our three sons who are only a little older than them. I am in awe at how you have taken all this change on, all this new information, absorbed it, processed it, reflected it, refracted it, occasionally rejected it, and sometimes even been changed by it.

I am star-struck that you could live in the midst of so much change, and not only keep ticking, but find time to stand up, stand out and still complete all the requirements for graduation.

And frankly, I don’t really think my generation have all that much more that we can tell you. You process more information in a week than your great grandparents did in their entire lives.

Let me rephrase: I don’t think there is much I can tell you about how to live in the Digital Age, but I might have one piece of advice for how to survive it.

And it is this: Remember your people.

You know who I mean. Your family, those friends who were on the swings with you in kindergarten and then again after the prom your senior year. Your gram or pap, or that special teacher who first noticed your talent. The brother you fought with the most growing up. The sister who always thought you were immature. These are all your people.

Remember them when you are climbing your ladder of success and remember them even more when you get there. They will keep you human, they care for you, and they (most of the time) won’t judge you.

But maybe you will become less sure about who your people are — as you go through life and get further away, and develop bigger ideas.

Try not to let that happen. Know who your real peeps are, and keep the ties that bind you together close at hand. By text, by phone, instant messenger, or — better yet — in person.

Tom Foley is the President of Mount Aloysius College. Starting in July, he will assume the presidency of the Association of Independent Colleges and Universities of Pennsylvania (AICUP).