By CHARLES E. EMERY.
Mr. President and Ladies and Gentlemen: It has not been considered the duty of the speaker, in addressing the graduating class, to dwell on the triumphs of science or the advantage of a liberal education. These subjects have already been discussed, in connection with the regular courses of study, better, and more at length, than he could do. We propose rather to try and prepare the minds of the graduates for the practical problems before them.
All young men are impressed with the consciousness of higher powers as they increase their stores of knowledge, and this feeling perhaps reaches its maximum with those who have made a specialty of the investigation and application of physical laws. Young men who have learned how to harness the powers of nature and guide them to do their will are apt to belittle the difficulties they have yet to overcome, and have a false impression of the problems of life. This feeling is shown to a minimum extent by graduates of the Stevens Institute, on account of their careful practical training, in connection with the thorough study of principles; but it has been thought best for one from the outside world to supplement such teaching by calling to mind instances which may have a useful counteracting effect, and, like parables, serve the purpose of illustrative instruction.
Gentlemen of the Class of '87: It was the pleasure of the speaker to address the class of '79, under the title of "How to Succeed," some words of counsel and warning, which, if they left an impression of severity at the time, were apparently so well received afterward that he has been tempted to continue the general subject, with the title of "Your Future Problems." The notation of your future problems will not be found at once among the known quantities, but with x, y, and z, at the other end of the alphabet. Often word symbols will be applicable, expressing at times disappointment and pain, at other times renewed effort, and finally the active phases of individual thought and exertion.
The first serious problem with many of you will be to secure satisfactory engagements. This problem cannot be illustrated by parables. It needs, in general, patient, unremitting, and frequently long continued effort. It may be that the fame of some of you, that have already acquired the happy faculty of making yourselves immediately useful, has already gone abroad and the coveted positions been already assured. To be frank, we cannot promise you even a bed of roses. We have in mind an instance where a superior authority in a large business enterprise who had great respect, as he should have, for the attainments of young gentlemen who have had the opportunities of a technical education, deliberately ordered out a competent mechanical engineer, familiar with the designs required in a large repair shop, and sent in his place a young gentleman fresh from school and flushed with hope, but who from the very nature of the case could know little or nothing of his duties at that particular place. He was practically alone in the drawing room, and did not know where to find such drawings as were required, and candor requires it to be said that he desired to ask many questions about those he did find.
The superintendent unfortunately had nothing to do with his appointment, and rather resented it. So he did not trust any of his work, and the new comer was obliged to learn his practical experience at that establishment, where he was known as the mechanical engineer, by having all his work done over by the pattern maker or others, under the eye of the superintendent or master mechanic, and be subjected all the time to the jealousies and annoyances incident to such a method of introduction.
His practical experience was certainly learned under difficulties which I trust none of you may experience. This statement is made that those of you who have not yet obtained positions may not envy those who have, and that each and all of you may be careful not to take a position so far above your experience, if not your capacity, as to become unpleasantly situated in the beginning. The educational facilities you have enjoyed are of such great value in some exceptional cases that the parties thus benefited may do you an injury by leading others to expect that you will be equally valuable in performing duties which require much more practical experience and knowledge of detail than it is possible that you could have obtained in the time you have been here.
The incident is ripe with suggestions. No matter how humble a position you may take in the beginning, you will be embarrassed in much the same way as the young gentleman in question, though it is hoped in a less degree. Your course of action should be first to learn to do as you are told, no matter what you think of it. And above everything keep your eyes and ears open to obtain practical knowledge of all that is going on about you. Let nothing escape you of an engineering nature, though it has connection with the business in hand. It may be your business the next day, and if you have taken advantage of the various opportunities to know all about that particular matter in every detail, you can intelligently act in relation to it, without embarrassment to yourself and with satisfaction to your superior.
Above all, avoid conflict with the practical force of the establishment into which you are introduced. It is better, as we have at another time advised, to establish friendly relations with the workmen and practical men with whom you have to do.
You are to be spared this evening any direct references to the "conceit of learning," but you are asked and advised to bear with the conceit of ignorance. You will find that practical men will be jealous of you on account of your opportunities, and at the same time jealous of their own practical information and experience, and that they may take some pains to hinder rather than aid you in your attempts to actively learn the practical details of the business. The most disagreeable man about the establishment to persons like you, who perhaps goes out of his way to insult you, and yet should be respected for his age, may be one who can be of greatest use to you. Cultivate his acquaintance. A kind word will generally be the best response to an offensive remark, though gentlemanly words of resentment may be necessary when others are present. Sometimes it will be sufficient to say, "I wish a little talk with you by yourself," which will put the bystanders at a distance and enable you to mature your plans. Ascertain as soon as possible that man's tastes; what he reads and what he delights in. Approach him as if you had no resentment and talk on his favorite topic. If rebuffed, tell a pleasant story, and persist from time to time in the attempt to please, until his hardened nature relaxes and he begins to feel and perhaps speaks to others favorably of you.