When I was a student at West Point in the 1990s, the military component of my education focused on high-intensity conflict and Cold War-era strategies and tactics. Those were the wars of recent memory, so that’s what we trained for.
After my graduation and the events of Sept. 11, however, my generation of military officers faced a new set of challenges. Rather than engaging in armored conflict focused on seizing and holding terrain, we found ourselves in a multi-dimensional, complex environment where the goal was not to destroy an enemy, but rather to foster stability and build a lasting peace. Our military training at West Point had not prepared us for this, but thankfully, our multi-disciplinary, liberal arts education did prepare us to think critically, to innovate and to adapt to this unforeseen challenge.
We just celebrated commencement here at the University of Montana, and high schools around our great state will soon do the same. As these graduates walk across the stage into a new phase of life, we know they will undoubtedly encounter unforeseen challenges – and opportunities – just as my classmates and I did. These graduates will face a world that requires them to adapt, innovate and re-invent their futures again and again.
Studies estimate that more than half of the jobs today’s students will be doing in the coming decades do not yet exist. Many current jobs will become automated – impacting activities from performing surgery, to designing buildings, to policing communities – but at the same time many new and unimaginable jobs will emerge. The days when a single skillset could take a student from college to retirement are over. Summarizing one’s talents in a single word or channeling them in a single way no longer suffices.
Depending on one’s mindset, this is either scary or exciting. At UM, we believe it is exciting. We see change as an opportunity for those prepared to adapt. And that’s why at UM we are educating our students to develop the uniquely human abilities that prepare them for a future filled with unpredictable possibilities. We might train a student to be an accountant, but we will also ensure that student learns at the cutting-edge of knowledge, not bound within a single discipline, but rather at the intersection of many. Our students engage in whole-person learning.
We believe the most valuable tool we can give our students is the ability to continually shape their futures – so that they are prepared not just for their first jobs, but also for their fourth, fifth and sixth. We want our students to major in fearlessness, to emerge from UM as next-generation leaders who will move with confidence in a world that will look different next week, next month, next year.
The UM community nurtures our students and holds them close, while also challenging them to step outside their comfort zones, expand their perspectives and, yes, sometimes fail. The future will demand grit and perseverance from our students, and this place cultivates it.
We don’t know what our graduates will encounter as they traverse the path ahead, but we’re working tirelessly to make sure they’re ready for it. We call this tomorrow-proofing. And it’s what we do at UM.
Seth Bodnar is Univeristy of Montana President