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Making dreams realities

Barry Bishop

Barry Bishop in 1994.

By Barry Bishop, A&S '54
University of Cincinnati
Commencement address

This address (abridged) was given by Barry Bishop at the University of Cincinnati commencement on June 12, 1994, the same event at which he received an honorary degree.

You might be amused to know that in 1954, when I received my Bachelor of Science degree here at the University of Cincinnati I was Ivy Day Orator. Very wet behind the ears, I pontificated that, "As college graduates about to be turned loose into the world, we are constantly told that the world is in a sad and sorry state and that the hope of the future rests with us. We are told that it is our duty to save the world from final consuming catastrophe. This thesis has been stated many different times in many different ways... ad nauseam.

I chose to be more positive, yet there has always been, and probably always will be cause for concern. Real-time communications continues to shrink our world, while increasing our awareness of the raping of our planet's human and natural environments. In the face of this information overload too many people are becoming callous, indifferent, uncaring and purposeless. Camelot continues to escape us!

Bob Hope once took a different tact at a graduation. He regaled his audience with what awaited them in the cold, tough world that lies outside the hallowed halls of academe and ended his remarks with the advice: "Don't go!"

I have also noted that brevity on an occasion such as this gets high marks--particularly with those graduating. Art Buchwald delivered the shortest address I know of. He stood up, said "We've done a pretty damn good job of it -- now don't you screw it up" -- and sat down.

Although I can't promise to be as brief as Buchwald, I continue -- after 40 years -- to refuse to buy into the "Doom and Gloom theme."

Instead, I would like to share with you this afternoon a few positive thoughts and experiences appropriate to my thesis, "Making Dreams Realities.” Hopefully, all of us here -- but especially you who are about to enter the real world -- are full of dreams -- dreams that demand visions! As a child growing up here in Cincinnati I had three vivid and recurring dreams that did indeed become realities.

The first one actually started as a bad scene -- the first spanking I can remember (at age 6 or 7). This was no doubt light-handed corporal punishment carried out by my father because I had cut out pictures of nubile, bare-breasted women from the pages of National Geographic Magazine without first asking permission. But I also began dreaming of one day working at the Society, for in my naivety I thought that everyone working for the Society spent all of their time on exotic expeditions. Later this dream became a reality, and I was disabused of my naivety.

The second dream occurred about the same time. It followed a lecture my parents took me to. I listened in fascination to Admiral Richard Byrd report on his most recent expedition to the Antarctic. "That's the life for me," I dreamed at the time, “Working with Admiral Byrd!" Sixteen years later that dream also became a reality.

The third was the most vivid and frequent of my youth -- climbing Mt. Everest. I had it first on the summit of Long's Peak (14,255 feet), in Colorado, when I was twelve. While dozing in the sun after reaching the top that August afternoon, I dreamed of climbing a peak over twice the height of Long's -- Mt. Everest – Chomolungma -- Goddess Mother of the World (29,028 feet). The scoffers with no vision might view it as nothing more than a boyhood dream of an unattainable goal. But great dreams can become realities. Such was the case for me, for as a member of the first American Mt. Everest Expedition in 1963 I did reach the Third Pole -- the summit of earth's highest mountain.

Bishop signing story

Bishop autographs a copy of the story of his climb up Mt. Everest, 1994.

The same scoffers might say it was just luck. To be sure, Lady Luck was involved; being in the right place at the right time did play a part. But "success occurs when opportunity meets preparation," as Will Rogers said. "In order to succeed, you must know what you are doing, like what you are doing and believe in what you are doing." During my struggles on Mt. Everest I discovered that “it’s your attitude and not your aptitude that determines your altitude."

Back in 1963 President Kennedy viewed our American Mt. Everest Expedition as an example of "the vigorous life" that he so strongly espoused. Now more than a generation later, we live in an over-burgeoning urban age, with most of us divorced from the natural environment by machines and things. It is, therefore, gratifying to see today the swelling numbers of Americans -- particularly young people like yourselves -- who are pursuing a variety of demanding, sometimes seemingly risky, outdoor activities.

For most, these activities are far more than just an attempt to escape from the city or to take ego-trips. Instead, they are opportunities that enhance our appreciation of not only the beauty and wonder of the world around us, but of the fragile state of our environment. At the same time, they are highly personal, and unique in intensity, for each usually involves a goal that can only be obtained by pitting mind and body against a challenge. Climbing is one example. Hundreds of thousands of Americans now seek the challenges of interacting with the mountains.

Admittedly, to the uninitiated anyone who would inch spider-like up a crack system on a vertical rock face, or zig-zag through a glacier's yawning maze of crevasses toward a wind-chilled summit must be quite mad -- perhaps even a person with a death wish. What compelling fascination could cause a person to climb? Just what makes these people tick?

To say that climbing is just great fun begs the question. To admit that climbing is a mind-boggling adventure in self-discovery is closer to the truth. When dizzy heights and minuscule hand- and foot-hold conspire to create intense stress, they struggle with themselves. Their own capabilities and strengths -- and their weaknesses -- are identified, yet they discover that they can rise above the stress. They can cope!

The mental and physical efforts the climber makes are personal expressions of his individualism. Only after severe exertion can the mountaineer fully appreciate the calm of repose. At such times he or she often experiences an intimate aloneness with himself or herself. He or she also may clarify and reorder personal values and directions. If one can handle loneliness in solitude, one can handle loneliness in a crowd.

But climbing also requires teamwork and thus teaches essential lessons of close communications, mutual trust and self-sacrifice. Those who reach the summit of Mt. Everest do not conquer the mountain. They reach that point in space because of the individual commitment, motivation and desire of every member of the expedition, welded into a cohesive team effort. To achieve this harmony under stress at great heights is difficult at best. The climber must "have it all together" before beginning such a high adventure. An immense peak is a poor and dangerous substitute for a gymnasium or a psychiatrist's couch.

By now, some of you may be thinking, "Well, this is all very well and good but what do mountains, particularly Mt. Everest, have to do with me and my future?" My response is that I hope each of you will have your own Mt. Everest, better yet many Mt. Everests!

The struggle with the real Mt. Everest is a microcosm of life itself. It serves as a model that can help us cope with the complexities and noise of our fast-paced everyday life. The French philosopher, Rene Daumal, wrote in a perceptive book, titled appropriately, “Mount Analogue”:

"You cannot stay on the summit forever; you have to come down again... so why bother in the first place? Just this: What is above knows what is below, but what is below does not know what is above. One climbs, one sees. One descends, one sees no longer but one has seen. There is an art of conducting oneself in the lower regions by the memory of what one saw higher up. When one can no longer see, one can at least know."

Today most of you celebrate the end of formal schooling -- schooling that some of you may have found easy. Now you move on with your lives, and your education truly begins. You will never finish it, and you will find that it is seldom easy.

Here are a few lessons from life’s education to take away with you today. Consider them observations, not admonitions. You may of course choose to remember them or forget them.

Lesson One
Life is not a free lunch and you should not feel entitled to anything you don't sweat and struggle for.

Lesson Two
Assign yourself. Don't just wait around for someone to tell you what you are able to figure out and do for yourself and don't be a malcontent, cynic or grumbler -- instead, take the initiative and have at it!

Lesson Three
Never work just for money. Money won't save your soul; build a decent, happy family or help you sleep at night. Be honest with yourself and demand the same from others. Don't confuse morality with legality. We have observed D-Day and the crusading invasion of Normandy. Dr. Martin Luther King once noted that everything that Hitler did in Nazi Germany was legal.

Stand up and be counted on the myriad of worldwide economic, social, religious, political and environmental ills that cry for fresh, innovative and selfless solutions. Don't be afraid of taking risks or being criticized for not being popular.

Lesson Four
Find out just who you really are. Marcel Proust wrote:

"The real Voyage of Discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.”

Lesson Five
Never think that life is not worth living -- or that you cannot make a difference. Never give up no matter what the circumstances. Hang in there!

Through it all, keep your sense of humor, especially the ability to laugh at yourself. You'll need to if your dreams are to become realities.

Thank you.