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Excerpts from Don Tapscott’s convocation speech to graduates at Trent University last week.

Given the complexity, challenges and choice for today’s graduates it makes sense to design your life. Design your vocation and consider new options like being an entrepreneur, social innovator or an independent contractor. Design your personal networks, your brand, your strategy for being healthy and the principles on which you will build a family.

My colleagues and I entered the workforce with a base of knowledge and “kept up” in our chosen field. We thought we were set for life. Today you know this idea is laughable. Even with today’s milestone, your higher education has just begun.

You’ll need to reinvent your knowledge base often as you go through life. And as graduates from a liberal arts and sciences university, you know that it’s not just your knowledge that’s important. It’s your ability to think, collaborate, solve problems, synthesize and to learn and learn again, again and again.

Furthermore in a knowledge economy, working and learning are almost indistinguishable as activities. When you begin your first job what will you be doing — working or learning?

This raises some interesting imperatives for you:

  • Bake learning into work in innovative ways. Don’t take the “best” job offer based on traditional criteria like how much it will pay. Select a job that maximizes your opportunities for learning. The differences in income will get lost in the rounding figure of your lifelong income and fulfilment. Look for ways to increase the learning components of your work. Seek assignments that are not only interesting or where you can make a contribution but where you can learn the most. MOOCs (massive open online courses) will be a godsend for you.
  • Design your media diet. When I graduated, there were several TV stations and newspapers that we all relied on and you could trust Walter Cronkite to tell the truth. Today you have millions of choices where you get your information. You need to develop your BS detectors and make choices about how you will interact with this avalanche of information. Don’t be cynical but be skeptical.
  • Increase your formal learning. Get a diploma or a master’s degree. During the Industrial Revolution the leaders of society understood that the population needed to be literate, and everyone had to go to school. What is the equivalent for the knowledge economy?

If the ’60s were a turning point in history, they pale in comparison to the challenges facing your generation. You are being called upon to fix a broken world. Many of the institutions that have served us well for decades — even centuries — seem frozen and unable to move forward. The global economy and financial services industry, governments around the world, health-care systems, newspapers, the media and our institutions for solving global problems like the UN are all struggling. Our energy and transportation systems are spewing enough carbon to threaten our biosphere.

The world is becoming even more unequal, unstable and unsustainable. Your generation will need to turn this situation around — to rebuild our institutions and the world.

I’m not suggesting that each of you work for an NGO or become a candidate for high office. Rather, each of you will have a role to play in this historic transformation whether you are an entrepreneur, consultant, business executive, educator, researcher, public sector manager, politician, social innovator or parent. It’s an opportunity for each of you, if you will it.

One simple thing you can do is just to vote! All around the world young people are cynical about our political institutions. And justifiably so — from the mayor of Toronto to the paralysis of the U.S. Congress, “something seems rotten in the state of” democracy. Although young people care about the future and are active in achieving change, youth voting is on a precipitous decline across the western world. More and more of you agree with the bumper sticker “Don’t vote, it only encourages them.” This is leading to a crisis of legitimacy of our democratic institutions.

But don’t give up on democracy. The alternatives for you, your future families and loved ones are not desirable. So I encourage you to be a political person — with a small P — for starters by voting in every election that comes along. Please don’t ever, ever miss voting in an election at the local, provincial or federal level.

Canada needs your good judgment, critical thinking, passion and demographic muscle to ensure that this smaller country your children inherit is a better one.

I am actually optimistic about the future because I believe we are in the early days of a new civilization — one that is enabled by a communications revolution and forged by young people around the world. Because each of you can participate in this new renaissance, it is surely an amazing time to graduate and to be alive.

Posted from The Star