Dr. Alex Cirillo speaks to graduates during 89th commencement

Dr. Alex Cirillo, vice president for community affairs at 3M and vice president of the 3M Foundation, spoke to graduates of Bemidji State University during the University’s 89th commencement exercises on Friday, May 16, as the 2008 recipient of the Distinguished Minnesotan Award.

Cirillo spoke to the graduates about the value of education and the value of realizing that education is a life-long experience that is never truly complete. He encouraged graduates to push their boundaries beyond what was immediately visible, comparing education to a streetlight illuminating the road at night.

“You can see by the light and you learn to recognize what you can see,” he said. “If you stay in the light for a long time, you re-examine the same stuff over and over. Nothing is new. It is only by going beyond the beam and into the shadows that you expand your knowledge.

“Today, your ignorance clearly dwarfs your knowledge,” Cirillo said. “It’s this process of continual discovery that is the sign of an educated individual.”

Cirillo said the value of education was not necessarily in the specific information gleaned or the grades received on exams, but in the development of a person. Education was the “table stakes for success,” he said, but a truly successful person required three additional abilities – the ability to serve others, the ability to teach and the ability to lead.

Cirillo indicated service to others as a requirement for building communities; the ability to teach as an obligation to pass on what you have learned to others; and the ability of successful people to know the circumstances in which one should lead or follow the lead of another.

He closed by discussing the importance of having a strong set of personal values to support and guide the three important abilities of a successful person. Values, he said, are created through interactions with parents, peers, teachers and the communities in which you are associated, and that it was relatively easy for a person’s values to be judged through his or her words or actions.

“Although success is not determined solely by the quality of your values — sometimes the bad guy gets rich and may even get the girl,” Cirillo said, “The quality of your legacy is absolutely determined by the quality of your values.”