Following is the prepared text of President Price’s address at the High Point University Graduate Commencement on Thursday, May 2.

It’s an honor to be with you here today. Let me begin by offering my congratulations to the members of the Class of 2024! 

And in turn, class of 2024, will you please join me in a round of applause to thank your faculty members, families, and friends who have supported you throughout your studies? 

Thank you so very much for having me here today. Like you, I’m quite grateful for the degree this university is granting me. 

And like you, I’m looking forward to the end of this address and to celebrating your achievements. But sharing some thoughts with you today is the cost of my admission to this ceremony, so bear with me.

As you leave High Point today with your advanced graduate or professional training, you are no doubt ready to make a positive difference in the world.  You will shortly walk out of this celebration, and into a world of incredible change, a world in flux. 

You face some daunting challenges. Let’s be clear about that. 

The already rapid pace of technological change is about to accelerate dramatically, thanks to machine learning and artificial intelligence. 

The promise of breakthrough advances in biomedical sciences renders cures for the worst of human diseases within our grasp—even as our medical system groans under the weight of persistent failures in preventative healthcare, primary care and access to nutritious foods for much of our population. 

Our digital media have nearly perfected the art and science of getting, sustaining, buying and selling our attention—at the cost of driving us to extreme and polarizing worldviews, and at the expense of both sleep and common human decency.  

Our globe has never been smaller, thanks to communication and transportation—but growing international tensions, and the capacity for inflicting suffering upon those viewed as enemies, have perhaps never been greater. 

And as you have no doubt been reminded countless times, we face existential challenges due to climate change.  

We tend to use the word “unprecedented” a lot these days to capture this moment. Sometimes, it all feels pretty catastrophic. 

OK, so at this point you are wondering why Dr. Qubein thought to invite such a wet blanket to join this ceremony. Nido, you may be wondering the same.

My message to you today is this. Yes, you are entering a world of rapid and chaotic change. Yes, it may be turbulent and disorienting, but I’m not sure it really is unprecedented. 

And no, it need not be feared.  

Change can be powerfully positive rather than negative, should you choose to understand and influence it. You, with your advanced education and professional acumen, will lead the way to a better place.  

You commence today from this High Point, and you will probably find yourself in some low points in the days and years ahead. But I’m confident you will chart a course out of those low points and eventually to even higher points down the road. 

Let me first explain why I’m confident in your future. It’s not just me being optimistic. It’s the lesson of history. 

This year, both High Point University and Duke University are celebrating our centennials. 

And over the course of our histories, both universities and their surrounding cities have been buffeted by extraordinary challenges, fallen on some hard times, and emerged only stronger and the better for it.

When High Point College opened in 1924 with the support of the Methodist Church, it became the new home for many of the administrators, teachers and alumni of Yadkin College, a small college that had been struggling to survive in a rural area about 30 miles southwest of here, on the banks of the Yadkin River. 

Similarly, Duke traces its roots to a schoolhouse that was located only six miles south from here, in Randolph County. Also with the support of the Methodist Church, it became Trinity College, navigating the challenges of operating during the Civil War and Reconstruction before moving to Durham in 1892, and then becoming Duke University in 1924. 

So, by 1924, both High Point College and Duke University had already seen tremendous change and survived profound challenges. They had sought renewed life in thriving manufacturing towns, whose flourishing industries were grounded in North Carolina’s abundant natural and agricultural resources, including cotton, timber, and tobacco. 

High Point, as you know, was the nexus of the furniture industry in North Carolina, which in the 1920s produced more wooden furniture than any other state. This city was known the “furniture capital of the world,” and the Southern Furniture Market was already drawing crowds of visitors to town.

Some sixty miles away on the railroad line, Durham in the 1920s had made a name for itself as the “tobacco capital of the world.” It was home to a thriving banking industry and the North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance Company, which anchored a Black-owned business community known nationwide as “Black Wall Street.” 

Over the next century, these two cities—like so many others—experienced seismic social and economic ups and downs as they navigated the Great Depression, a world war and a subsequent baby boom, the Civil Rights movement, and the powerful forces of technological change and globalization.

The latter part of the 20th century would usher in a period of particular hardship for both High Point and Durham, as the furniture, textile, and tobacco industries on which the cities were built all met existential challenges, leaving factories shuttered, livelihoods upended, and communities shattered. 

Although the costs of this transition were traumatic—and can still be seen and felt today throughout our state—both Durham and High Point have worked to understand and come to terms with these forces of change. And both have found new paths forward, reimagining their roles in the economy and in our region. 

Today in Durham, former tobacco warehouses and cigarette factories are now home to science and technology research facilities, vibrant arts and entertainment offerings, and housing for residents who are powering the city’s future.  

In High Point, the furniture market is a powerful economic engine, connecting exhibitors and buyers from around the world. Drawing on the city’s rich history of craftsmanship and manufacturing, the “reborn and transformed” Congdon Yards is supporting entrepreneurs and innovators. High Point, and the greater Carolina Core region, are ideally situated to attract new investments that will enhance our state’s standing and prosperity in a global tech-based economy. 

And here on campus, who—except perhaps Nido Qubein—would have foreseen the tremendous transformation we’ve all witnessed over the past twenty years? Thanks to his vision, this university has been renewed, transformed and positioned well for the future, both in terms of the physical campus and through the scope of its educational programs and mission. 

Indeed, today’s commencement—the first standalone ceremony for High Point’s graduate and professional programs—is a testament to Dr. Qubein’s leadership and investment in post-graduate education.  

So, the very history of this institution—like Duke’s—is an eloquent testament to the way that change, while deeply challenging, disorienting and even at times traumatic, can fuel greater works and propel success.

Take the lesson of history to heart. 

Just as our universities and hometowns have adapted and evolved in response to a changing world, each of you, over the course of your professional lives, will face profound challenges and opportunities that will require you to make adjustments—and sometimes even question your fundamental assumptions about your work and your role in society.   

As educated individuals with advanced degrees in your fields, all of you are well equipped to serve as leaders, working to fulfill the highest aims of your chosen professions over the course of your careers. 

History testifies, then, to the possibilities before you; but how exactly will you seize your opportunity and meet your responsibilities?

Let me leave you with a little advice, based on what I refer to as “the four H’s” that might serve as guideposts throughout your careers, to help inform your leadership and your sense of direction. 

The first “H” is humanity. Amidst so many dehumanizing, divisive and distancing forces in our environment—from social media to the increasingly narrow ideological, political and economic interests they promote—we all need to maintain a deep sense of humanity, recognizing that we are all people with diverse life stories, perspectives, talents and aspirations. 

You will encounter this diversity every day in your careers: in the colleagues and clients with whom you interact; in the students you teach and families you serve; and in the people for whom you provide healthcare or other professional services. If you see them first as people, every bit as human as you, you will be less inclined to categorically reject their ideas or practices, and more inclined, when you disagree, to extend the grace required for understanding. 

The second “H” is humility. To me, humility means recognizing that we know a lot less than we’d like to admit. Only one out of every seven adults holds an advanced degree like the one you’re receiving today. But if you are truly learned, you will know what you don’t know. 

We must be open to truly listening to other perspectives; giving fair-minded consideration to ideas that might initially seem outrageous; and learning from one another as we address the hard truths of life. 

Our age suffers from an excess of righteous indignation, often rooted in false, if sometimes comforting certainties. But the veil of certainty blinds us to much of what is actually before us. A humble posture doesn’t deny us the feeling of pride in what we know or what we have achieved, it merely opens us up to the notion that, good as we are, we might still be better.

Third is honesty. In a world that is turning away from facts whenever they prove inconvenient, we must commit to an honest appraisal of the best available evidence, working to discover and debate our way to a clearer understanding, both of ourselves and of the world around us.  

Too often we are tempted to turn away from an honest and open encounter with evidence, clinging to cherished ideas that do not withstand close scrutiny, surrounding ourselves with self-serving biases, or acquiescing to the loudest voices out of convenience or fear.  

In a world that follows the crowd and confuses leadership with tribalism, we should remember that true leadership follows the real world as best we can honestly understand it.

And fourth, perhaps most important, is hope.

Moving our world to a better place requires a belief and an expectation that we do indeed have the power, individually and collectively, to address complex challenges, and to change our circumstances for the better. 

We, all of us here today, are beneficiaries of the work done by our forebears—including the founders of this very university—people motivated by their hope that our circumstances would be better than theirs.  

Hope animates our efforts, gives rise to our confidence, and provides the light by which we see our way forward, even in the darkest of times.

As you leave here today, and as you advance through your lives and careers, may you always be guided by these four “H’s”— humanity, humility, honesty and hope.  

And, in recognition of what brings us all together here today, let me add a fifth “H” to this list: High Point. 

Just as I am counting on you to harness the change around us for the better, to lead this community, and our state, nation and world to ever greater heights, I am counting on you to carry this place and its people forward with you from this day on, in all you do. 

I’ve no doubt that HPU has instilled in you the humanity, humility, honesty and hope to lead lives of purpose and accomplishment.

And I am proud to be your 2024 High Point classmate.