M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust
Top left: Pacific University; Bottom left: University of Oregon; Right: Oregon State University

This month marks the start of an exciting time for many individuals, families, and institutions: graduation season. Whether we are students ourselves, work in education, or simply know those who do, there is a spirit of celebration and accomplishment that this month can carry. I have deeply enjoyed the richness of this time of year, celebrating this important moment and rite of passage with countless family members and friends. This year feels especially poignant, as I’m watching my daughters graduate high school and nursing school. Simultaneously, at the Murdock Trust we have begun work to review and refine our investment in education at the sectoral level, and the importance of this endeavor could not be more apparent to me.    

Over the last year, I have had opportunities to speak at a diverse group of university commencements, inaugurations, and academic events. Each institution has been working toward a unique vision, facing different challenges, and pushing forward different opportunities. Each chance to speak held a distinct honor and filled me with a sense of responsibility. Commencement speeches in particular are supposed to be a lot of things all at once: inspirational, deep, humorous, meaningful, rallying. But my goal has always been simple: remind those in front of me that no matter where they go next, they will be better together. One core theme cut across these speeches: the importance of working together to find common ground. In lectures and addresses on topics ranging from the future of work and learning to human flourishing to the importance of tri-sector solutions, I encouraged and implored the audience to consider the complexities of the challenges we face and the undeniable fact that we need each other to discover and implement scalable, innovative, and sustainable solutions.   

Universities and academic institutions of all types are significant places of pluralistic potential because, by their very nature, they are positioned to help us refine our own thinking while learning alongside others, even when we disagree. They can teach us the art of double vision, seeing the perspective of others even as we hold our own point of view and convictions. Even more so, they encourage seeking the perspective of others even as our point of view and convictions are forming. And, when done well, we have the added benefit of seeing ourselves and others more clearly, with greater empathy, and with increased recognition of our shared humanity. In my own family, we purposed to cultivate this kind of double vision in raising our children. I am grateful for their educational experiences that have helped to support, encourage, and nurture this kind of orientation to the world around them. 

This double vision helps us to find a better way forward. I care deeply about the future of work and learning, and how our paths forward as a society need to be intentionally shaped and collectively defined. No one can do it alone. While the tangible aspects like technical skilling, career-connected learning, and workforce readiness are immensely important, our focus on education has to be broader to include those durable 21st-century skills like creativity and problem solving. These skills shape the mindset we carry into our workplaces and communities. Are we preparing the next generations – our graduating classes and those who have not pursued traditional education – to enter difficult conversations with open-mindedness? Are we encouraging them toward mindsets of curiosity and compassion? Are we cultivating in them a spirit of inquiry and collaboration? Are we giving them lenses that enable them to see the pain in front of them and look for solutions too?  

And our shared question must be: are we prepared to do this our entire life? Are we cultivating our own continuous curiosity and growth mindset? My hope for this renewed focus on our strategy for investing in education at the sectoral level is that we center projects that help to nurture the development of character and competence to lead us into a better and more hopeful future.  

As I said in one commencement speech last year, the graduating class in front of me was both the future and the now. In a sense, we are all the future and the now. I am grateful for the ways each of you – whether a graduating student or a nonprofit leader – reminds me of the good that can be done through caring so deeply for our communities. Our future as a region is bright, if we can put on our double-vision glasses and enter it together!  

-Romanita Hairston, CEO

back to top

The Trust guides nonprofit organizations through every level of their development through grants and other resources.

The Trust has a wealth of knowledge and experience that can make all the difference to you and your organization.