Many notable people will be delivering commencement addresses on campuses across the country this month. But it is worth looking back to May 31, 1964, when Peter Drucker delivered the commencement addresses at the University of Scranton, in Scranton, Pa. I was born and raised there, and in 2010 I wrote about my return to the city in May of that year, to give a presentation about my book based on Drucker’s work.
The June 1, 1964 edition of The Scranton Times published a transcript of Drucker’s talk, though it is not online. (However, the Drucker Archives has an online photo of his honorary doctorate degree.) While congratulating the all-male graduates – the school began admitting women in 1972 – he reminded them of the responsibility to put their knowledge to work for the benefit of as many people as possible. He said their years of education represented sacrifices from parents and money from taxpayers; and that it wasn’t long before when most people left school at 14 to go to work. Hopes for a society “free from prejudice” and other injustices depended on these and similar graduates; “the first generation of the “knowledge revolution” who will have to prove whether we have invested our faith, our resources and our hopes wisely or foolishly.”
Familiar themes from his books of that period were sounded; the change from producing things to knowledge work; the relatively new demand for educated people and how teaching hadn’t changed much in hundreds of years. “But what education and knowledge mean to society, that has changed drastically, and within the lifetime of the older generation still living.”
Drucker said that power and influence should not be used for selfish ends. They and others like them around the country faced “a very much brighter future than young people have ever faced before.” That, however, also brought a considerable challenge: “I hope you will remember that in turn it is your responsibility to put our knowledge and your education to work where they produce the most – for you, for your families, for your society, for your country and for mankind.”