The following is the complete text of the keynote address "Hard Work is for the Unimaginative," delivered by Gregg Hartvigsen, associate professor of biology, at the New Student Convocation on Aug. 28:

"Hard Work is for the Unimaginative"

Well, thank you very much. It's quite an honor to be here and speak before you.

I'm pleased to have a chance to say a few words before you head off on your college careers. I'm sure many of you still have a recent commencement speech lingering in the far reaches of your brains. You heard stuff like "work hard and you'll go far." And the infinitely useless "this is the first day of the rest of your life." Well, I'll try not to test your patience with that kind of ... insight.

Instead, I'm here to inspire those of you who believe hard work is for the unimaginative. I'm talking to those of you who might think there's got to be a better way than working hard to achieve your dreams. Why not just ride on your good looks and wit? Maybe some luck, huh, but that's no big deal. You'll be rich. You'll be famous. You'll have attractive life-long partners. It's risky, sure. But isn't life full of risks? Think of it like the lottery. Someone wins it, right? New York state sums it up best in four simple words: "Hey, you never know." It's happened before. Let's examine some case studies of people who have had unremarkable college experiences, yet made it big.

On June 8 of this year the Associated Press released a story on the college grades earned by John Kerry and George W. Bush. Well, what did we learn? First, they both went to Yale. Second, both were C students. And yet, both are rich and famous.

In John Kerry's first year at Yale he earned four D's. Wow, that's bad. But by his senior year John Kerry really pulled things together. In the course "political science" he received his highest college grade – an 89, that's a B+. That was his highest grade in college.

OK, what about President Bush. At Yale President Bush only received one D, and that was in astronomy. I bet you're wondering how the President of the United States of America did in the course "An Introduction—an introduction—to American Political System?" Your President got a C. His highest grade was an 88. (That's also a B+.) That was his highest grade in college.

OK, so maybe I'm going out on a limb here but it doesn't sound like either of these guys worked real hard in college, and yet they've both achieved fame and fortune. John Kerry has said that his grades would have been higher but he spent too much time learning to fly, sail, and scuba dive. Cooooool. What was George W. Bush doing in college? I don't really know. But some people claim he partied on instead of going to classes. Well, others might just call it being imaginative. No matter—he's the President of the United States.

Are there other examples of collegiate underachievers?  Sure! Bill Gates—he's our poster child, right?—completed only one year of college. President Bush's top advisor Karl Rove didn't even finish college—although though I understand he went to four or five colleges trying. Look at how famous he's become. I bet the Nobel Prize judges didn't care that William Faulkner failed to graduate from high school! Wow! And still he got a Nobel Prize! I'll ask the faculty—hi faculty, are you guys ready for this? Here's your quiz—did any of you see Madonna in grad school? Where did Britney Spears go to college? She's pretty famous and rich. Albert Einstein failed his first college entrance exam, although I think he did eventually go on to college somewhere.

There's been a lot written about how to help people succeed. In my extensive research for this talk I was surprised that there's not that much out there on how to succeed by just plain slacking off. I did find one inspirational book, however. The author, Ben Stein, lays out some very practical advice that I'd like to share with you. The details can be found in his self-help guide titled "How to Ruin Your Life." If you're a hard worker, pay attention, take notes.

Chapter 1. Don't learn any useful skills. I quote: "When others sacrifice their fun times studying and attending classes, just laugh at them and stay in bed watching old movies."

Here are some other useful ideas, each covered in complete chapters:

Convince yourself you are the center of the universe.

Never be grateful.

Treat the people who are good to you badly.

Treat people who are bad to you well.

If you really want to ruin your life...... use drugs and alcohol freely.

Live as if truth is relative—a distant relative.

I considered not telling you that I got all these ideas from Ben Stein's book. That would have saved time and maybe you would have thought, well, I was kind of imaginative, you know—to come up with all this great advice myself. But that would be plagiarism and that's another great way to ruin your life. But if I did that these people up here probably would have caught me on that because, you know, they work kind of hard.

OK, OK. Some of you still may not be convinced. You'll want to work hard here in college – take advantage of all the opportunities. Well, for those of you who think that, well, there's actually a lot you can do. For instance, you can pursue work at the newly founded Pamela York Klainer Center for Women and Business. In the near future you might do research in this new Science Building behind me, as President Dahl pointed out, as if you can't see it. Last year two Geneseo students were awarded the prestigious national Goldwater Scholarships (one was in math, the other in biology). Whew, those are hard majors! Maybe that'll be you, though. Who knows? Amy Zielinski, the biology student, actually works with me. At a meeting in Germany a couple of weeks ago she presented her research on ways to understand and stop the deadly spread of influenza. Maybe that'll be you. You can participate in one our great athletic teams – that's a lot of work! You can do research in a laser lab, take a trip to Latin America to work with Mayans or on howler monkeys. Or maybe get involved in some community service, like work at the Teresa House. What will you do? Well, if you have questions about Geneseo's opportunities talk to one of your professors. ... Just go up to them after class and ask them.

So, is hard work really for the unimaginative? Well, you might not be convinced. Being successful by relying on your good looks and charm is like winning the lottery, a really big lottery. It's like getting hit by lightning. It's like spontaneously combusting. It's pretty unlikely. Working with one of these great professors before me, well, that's really possible; and it's actually imaginative, and HEY, you're here—you're already set to go. And you know if you choose to work hard you still might have time to catch an old movie from time to time.

So let me draw this to a close. Frightening as it may seem, you're adults. And how hard you work here during college is your choice. As you make that choice, I suggest you avoid the lottery ... and avoid wandering around in thunderstorms. If you do choose to work hard the faculty before you right here, and yes, the entire college, looks forward to working hard with you.

Well, there you go. You've survived your first lecture. Welcome to college.

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