Jacob Smith: What to expect from a Falcon
Education, action, character are key qualities of BGSU Falcons, speaker tells Firelands graduates
“What can the world expect from you as a BGSU Falcon?”
This was the question posed by Jacob Smith in his May 2019 commencement address to BGSU Firelands candidates. A congressional staff assistant for U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D., Toledo), Smith earned an Associate of Arts degree from Firelands in 2007, as well as a bachelor’s degree in political science in 2009, and a master’s degree in public administration in 2011 from BGSU.
The peregrine falcon, BGSU’s mascot, is known as one of the most fearsome birds in the world and is fearless in the face of any competitor, even if that competitor is a larger bird of prey. Though not the largest bird of prey, it is the fastest bird on Earth, Smith said.
“So why tell you all this? Because we are Falcons," he said. "Although we might not come from the largest university in the state, I can assure you the education that you earned here at BGSU Firelands allows you to be as competitive as anyone from any university, regardless of the university’s size or fame. Do not forget, BGSU alumni are in Congress; we have won Olympic gold medals; we have been diplomats, actors, award-winning members of the press, and every now and again a few us can even cause miracles to happen … at least on ice.”
One special gift that all Falcons possess is an education, and no matter what they accomplish, large or small, he told the graduates, “You have a continuing responsibility to humanity as a person who has been afforded an education.” It is by using education to bring positive change to the world that they will prove themselves worthy of that gift.
Quoting Robert Kennedy, Smith said an educated person owes the world much more than using that privilege solely for personal gain. “It is our responsibility to push freedom’s frontier and to ensure our children inherit the world in a better condition than what we found it. In short, it must be used to produce citizens capable of changing not only this country but the world. This is the task that history has demanded of all those with an education.
“However, that task has never been an easy one to accomplish,” Smith said. “There are those in the world today, as there have been throughout history, who wish to prevent that change, and one of the ways that they do this is by diminishing the importance of education, at least for the general population. They criticize those who wish to pursue a life as an intellectual by labeling them as elitist. Perhaps even worse, there is an idea today of stressing the purpose of higher education as only a means to an end for employment purposes and financial gain.”
This is the opposite of using “education to truly develop free citizens capable reading inquisitively, thinking critically, and analyzing intently the issues of the day, and thus allowing people to truly become citizens who can intelligently participate in a republican form of government where the governed can give their informed consent to the government they have chosen for themselves. In other words, to form ‘a government of the people by the people and for the people.’ I say this as a combat veteran myself: it is not just the military that has ensured the freedom of this country, but also the educated.
“Thomas Jefferson understood this link between education and freedom perhaps better than anyone when he said, ‘If a nation expects to be ignorant and free in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be.’ Time has proved Jefferson wise and prophetic in this idea,” Smith said, urging the graduates to stand up for access to education at every opportunity.
But in order to change the world, education must be combined with two other essential ingredients: action and character, Smith said. “An educated person who is not using their education to improve the world, at least in some small way, would be like a physician withholding medicine from a patient in need.”
“The educated’s responsibility to take action in the world can be fulfilled in many ways,” he said. “It can be done at the local, state or federal level. It can be as a member of a local school board, by running for office or simply by donating your time in ways that improve your community. By doing this, not only will you be helping improve the world, but you will also have the privilege of meeting other good people who will help you along life’s path.
“The second essential ingredient for education to change the world for the better is character. There are many thoughts on how to define character. For us today, perhaps Abraham Lincoln’s quote is most fitting. ‘Nearly all people can stand adversity, but if you want to test a person’s character, give them power.’ Education is a form of power and how you use it will reveal who you truly are.”
Smith said the concept of education and character being intertwined is central to the philosophy of BGSU Firelands. In fact, the first piece of required reading for all is a quote from The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.: “The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. Intelligence plus character — that is the goal of true education.”
“For all who have earned a degree here today, what can the world expect from a BGSU Falcon?” Smith said. “The world demands a Falcon to be creative and knowledgeable, especially in their chosen field, as well as to have the ability to learn and adapt quickly to their environment. A Falcon should have developed strength of character tempered by their education that guides their decision making. Finally, a Falcon’s mission is to take action where and when needed to work to improve a world that desperately cries out for informed leadership.
“Go out, put your education into action, prove your character, and make the world a better place.”