Raleigh psychiatrist and philanthropist Assad Meymandi may be the only commencement speaker in the Triangle this spring who learned English by memorizing all 285,000 words in his dictionary. It took him three months. An Iranian immigrant who came to the United States 51 years ago to attend college, Meymandi spoke to 60 eighth-graders graduating from Exploris Middle School in Raleigh last month about the purpose of life.

“Our sacred expectation is to meet our maximum potential,” he said.

Meymandi urged graduates to learn something about three men who he said reached their maximum potential: a Catholic, St. Augustine of Hippo (354-430); a Jew, Moses Maimonides of Cordoba (1135-1204) and a Muslim, Ibn Khaldoun, born in Tunisia (1335-1404).

Language was important to them, too: Each wrote 5.3 million words, Meymandi explained. Augustine wrote of “salvation and grace,” he said. Maimonides, a physician, philosopher and theologian, compiled 24 volumes of Talmudic laws. Khaldoun, an imam and economist, is credited with bringing the arts back to Islam.

Three areas of awareness are necessary to achieve one’s maximum potential, Meymandi said: Be aware and know what is good inside you; be aware and know what is good outside of you; and be thankful for the goodnesses.

What’s good inside of us is that “we are all children of God,” Meymandi said. “We have compassion. We have love. We have altruism. We have intellect.” Outside of us is “the spark of life,” which includes dance, poetry, music, flowers and friends, he said.

“Be constantly aware of these gifts, be thankful,” Meymandi said. “To be thankful is to give something away, not to be narcissistic.”

A person also has a “duty to grow,” said Meymandi, who last year was awarded the state’s highest civilian honor, the Order of the Long Leaf Pine, in recognition of his contributions to medicine, public service and the arts, humanities and especially music. Raleigh’s 1,800-seat Meymandi Concert Hall honors his mother.

Meymandi told the students that growth has three parts: to know more today than yesterday; to love a little more today than you did yesterday; and to do fewer bad things today than you did yesterday.

Lastly, Meymandi said people should be joyful. The root of the word joy is jooye, which means “running brook.” He described joy as discovering a running brook of fresh water when one is hot and thirsty. The cool water, splashed on the face and consumed to quench the thirst, brings relief, pleasure and joy.

“People who are meeting their maximum potential are joyful,” Meymandi said.