Thank you, Interim President Watts, for that kind introduction.
To the administration, faculty, staff, students, families and friends of the graduates: it is an honor to be with you on this special day in the life of Georgia Perimeter College. Commencement ceremonies are important, they more than symbolize the important transition from student to graduate. Today the graduates are rewarded for years of hard work and dedication with a diploma that will forever signify their achievements at GPC. And that diploma will matter, much more so than the grade you received in any particular course. What matters most is what you do with your diploma going forward from here.
Being your speaker today is a particular honor for me because you, the graduates, and I share a bit of heritage. That is, my career started very much like yours has.
Thirty-eight years ago I enrolled at Harford Community College. My parents were not college graduates, and yet both of them drilled into me that the path to a better life was through education. I did not exactly know what I wanted to do for work or a career, so I enrolled at Harford Community as a cost-effective way of completing general education requirements and exploring different subjects as I sought my major and future career track. I have never regretted that decision, and the education that I received at Harford Community prepared me well for the exciting and rewarding career that has unfolded since then.
It seems like only yesterday that I began my studies at Harford Community, but a lot has happened over the past 38 years. In college I discovered that I have a passion for learning, and I was able to convert that passion into both BS and PhD degrees, followed by a fulfilling career in higher education as a professor and leader at some of the finest universities in our nation. I have been extremely fortunate to do work that I truly love, and to do work that has made a difference.
I told you that in college I discovered my passion for learning, and most commencement speakers will tell you, among other things, that the key to life is discovering your passion and pursuing it. Today I want to focus for a few minutes on that journey, pursuing your passion.
In doing so I am going to emphasize Three C’s: courage, commitment and compassion.
Steve Jobs once said: “Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition.”
Yes, it can take considerable courage to follow your heart and intuition in the pursuit of your passion. More often than not the advice you will get from others is to take the safe or secure path. I faced exactly this kind of situation when I was completing my baccalaureate degree. You see, starting between my first and second years at Harford Community I had worked summers as a computer programmer at a government research lab near my home. At the end of the summer before my senior year my supervisor at the lab told me that he had a job waiting for me upon graduation. It was a good job, paying as much or more money than my father had ever made in his life. To my parents the choice was easy – take the job Mark – the pay was good, the benefits were good, and it was a job with security and a future.
I chose to take a different path. I had discovered my passion for learning, and I now had the dream that one day I would be a professor like those who had helped me discover my passion for learning. When I informed my supervisor at the lab of my decision he told me that I was making a mistake. If I came to work for him I would be a success in the eyes of my family and friends, and have a good life, but if I went to graduate school I could fail. I chose to accept the risk of failing, and I have never regretted that choice either.
Have the courage to pursue your dreams. As Mark Twain once said, “Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear, not absence of fear.”
Let us now turn to: commitment.
The legendary football Coach Vince Lombardi once said: “The quality of a person’s life is in direct proportion to their commitment to excellence, regardless of their chosen field of endeavor.”
Once you have identified your passion, or your dream, the hard work is making it become reality. When I was only a year or so further along than you are today I decided to pursue the dream of becoming a professor so that I could turn my passion for learning into a career where I could make a difference in this world through teaching, research and service.
I made that dream come true, and it has turned out to be a much more exciting and rewarding journey than I was dreaming about back in the late 1970’s. The key has been commitment. Successful people work smart, and they work hard, but they do not work 40 hours a week. In fact, I’d say that most, probably all, of the people I know who are living their dreams work much more than 40 hours per week, typically closer to 50, 60, or more. We work like this not because we have to, we do it because we love our work and the results that it produces.
Working 50, 60, or 7o hours a week may sound dreadful to you. Not to worry, when you discover your passion you will not even hesitate to work longer and harder than you ever thought possible. It is the journey, not the destination that is so rewarding.
I referenced working smart earlier in this speech, and now I want to expand on that for just a minute. Working smart means using your time productively, but it also means being adaptable and being alert to opportunity. An art in life is recognizing opportunity when it presents itself, and it is those of you who are most adaptable who will be prepared and able to take advantage of life changing opportunities.
Winston Churchill put it this way, “A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.” Over the course of my career I have taken on a number of assignments or projects that others thought unworthy of their attention or interest. Seeing opportunities that others did not, I took on those projects and used them to learn and grow in ways that subsequently proved to be enormously beneficial.
I also learned that you must be prepared when opportunity knocks, because success comes to those who are prepared, and sometime opportunity does not knock very loudly.
And finally, compassion.
According to his holiness the Dalai Lama: “If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.”
There is a tendency in our world today to get busy and forget about others, to neglect family or friends, and to ignore or disregard those less fortunate. There are deadlines to make, and the to-do list never seems to grow shorter. While it is important to strive to make a difference in this world, it is equally important to be compassionate and care for others.
Make children laugh, offer a hand up to those who are down, and take a moment each day to let someone know you care about them. You will he happier, and you will make this world a better, happier place.
Graduates, today you start writing a new chapter in the story that will be your life. The journey ahead will be uniquely yours, and right now none of us knows where your story will lead you.
Whatever adventures life has for you, I encourage you to:
- Be courageous in pursuit of your dreams;
- Be committed to doing what it takes to make your dreams come true;
- And practice compassion so that you may share happiness.
Congratulations, Class of 2014, and Godspeed.