Transpo Big Slings Life Lessons At New Grads

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National Transportation Safety Board Chairman Deborah Hersman.

(New York, NY - WNYC) Readers of TN know that transportation is not just a way of life, it is the key to the meaning of life. And now the George Mason University Class of 2012 knows it, too, after listening to a commencement address by National Transportation Safety Board Chairwoman Deborah Hersman.

"Congratulations, Patriots," Hersman began, referring to the school's sports teams, before orienting her audience to the intensity of her job as head of the federal agency charged with showing up after a deadly crash and figuring out what happened.

"I have been at 19 major accident scenes and there is nothing - nothing - that makes the point about the importance of family and friends more than seeing how things change in the blink of an eye," she said. "You can send a loved one off on a routine trip and then nothing is ever routine again."

Her conclusion? "Treasure each day ... each moment ... each other."

In case that wasn't sobering enough, Hersman added this statistic: "Since I graduated from high school in 1988, more than 300,000 people have been killed in impaired driving accidents."

She blamed part of the problem on the dangers of distraction. "We've seen what can happen when pilots don't monitor their airspeed, locomotive engineers run a red signal, or drivers are distracted," she said.

Her conclusion? "Life is fleeting and precious. Be present ... be there ... be in the moment."

Avoiding distraction is especially important for transportation professionals, Hersman declared. "Sadly, in our investigations, too many times we see the consequences of tired transportation workers. Pilots who overfly their destinations and don't respond to air traffic controllers, drowsy bus drivers on overnight trips...and more."

She then used a--what else?--transportation metaphor to describe the relentlessness of change. "In transportation, cables and pulleys were replaced by hydraulic systems, and these in turn, are being replaced by electronic sensors," she said. Conclusion: "You can resist change ... or you can embrace it. I recommend the latter."

Hersman wrapped up by describing her main satisfaction as head of the NTSB: "Our work saves lives. It doesn't get any better than that."

She acknowledged that humans have been known to celebrate large achievements, lke graduating from college, with alcohol. Conclusion: "Please make the life-saving choice to designate a driver or take a cab home."