WATERVILLE – The average college graduate will have between seven and nine careers in the course of a lifetime, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Gregory White Smith told Colby College graduates Sunday.
“That was something that was unthinkable when I graduated from school,” said Smith, a 1973 Colby graduate. “Your chances of staying with the same company, much less the same career, are practically nil at this point.
“Serendipity is the new security.”
So get ready, Smith told graduates, for surprises and change.
Smith, who himself has chosen many career paths, said he was there at the lectern Sunday as a spokesman for serendipity — making life discoveries by accident.
Smith and his life partner, Steven Naifeh — whom he said he met through pure serendipity — have written several books, including six New York Times bestsellers on art and other subjects. Smith is also a lawyer.
Their biography “Jackson Pollock: An American Saga,” won the Pulitzer Prize and was a finalist for the National Book Award.
Smith and Naifeh have appeared on the television programs “60 Minutes,” “The Oprah Winfrey Show,” “Larry King Live,” “Tavis Smiley,” “Charlie Rose” and “Today.” They also were profiled in The New Yorker, The New York Times, USA Today and People.
“Serendipity works in strange and wondrous ways,” Smith told the graduating Class of 2013. “The point of all this is that life is full of surprises. It’s full of unexpected turns and reversals; setbacks, side-steps and recoveries; and magical interventions — good and bad — and serendipitous encounters.
“For your class and for your generation this is especially true.”
About 500 graduates from 33 states and 29 countries received their degrees Sunday inside the Harold Alfond Athletic Center because of rain. The school also awarded honorary degrees to Smith and seven other Colby alumni in honor of the school’s bicentennial.
Among the 2013 Colby graduates who experienced serendipity firsthand was Jean-Jacques Ndayisenga, of Kigali, Rwanda, Colby College’s Steve Collins said Sunday.
Collins said Ndayisenga told his classmates that his mother, who lives on a small farm several hours from Kigali, was not going to make it to graduation because of the expense of travel.
Enter fellow graduate Kara Saunders of Waterville and a couple of other friends, who sent out emails in an attempt to raise enough money to bring Ndayisenga’s mother to Colby.
“The email went viral,” Collins said. “People forwarded it to their parents, to alumni, to grandparents.”
The group raised $4,500, which was enough to bring the student’s mother and his brother from Rwanda to Waterville.
“Thursday night, Kara invited Jean-Jacques down to her house for dinner as part of senior week and said we have a surprise for you,” Collins said. “She opened the garage door — his mother was there — and his knees buckled. Everyone was weeping.”
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