President Droge, Dr. Molly Droge, Board Chair Ann Mesle and Trustees, faculty, parents, distinguished guests, and graduating students, good morning. For those of you currently serving or who have served in the military thank you and your families for your service.
It is an honor for me to present here at Park University especially due to your long standing commitment to advance the education and career development of veterans. This includes Park’s astute recognition of women veterans’ unique needs.
But of course the key group today is you, the graduates. We are here today to honor you and recognize your accomplishment and to celebrate this major life event with you, your family, friends and the Park University community.
We all are very proud of you. This is your achievement. Relish it!
But of course know it is not the end. As Newton D. Baker said, “The [person] who graduates today and stops learning tomorrow is uneducated the day after.” Therefore embrace lifelong learning!
As you reflect on how you got to this point, I know that each of you did it in your own unique and special way. And however you did it, as you reflect on your future, it is sometimes too easy to focus on how unpredictable the world may seem right now. In order to identify and take advantage of the opportunities before you, you need to always:
• recognize and celebrate the progress you have made,
• seek ways to improve yourself,
• challenge your ability to see and keep your vision,
• continually learn from your experiences, and, most importantly,
• take personal responsibility for and ownership of your life.
You have started down that road by getting your degree today. Now you need to decide what you are going to do with it. How are you going to use what you have learned and will you make a difference?
I was very fortunate to have parents who modeled the values I wish to emphasize today: reaching as high as you can and giving back. They were excellent role models and ahead of their time. My mother was a working woman and showed me by example I could do anything I wanted regardless of what others said or thought. My father encouraged me to play sports, to not be afraid and to appreciate those who served in the military – as he was a WWII Navy veteran. They shared family duties during an era where that was almost unheard of. We didn’t have a lot of money but had a rich upbringing learning about:
• having one’s back,
• respecting each other,
• embracing our individuality,
• and doing what each of us could to make a difference in the world.
Now, as a graduation speaker, I am in an enviable and humbling position to impart a bit of advice as you move on to your next lifetime milestones whatever they may be. Each will be different, because you are all individuals with your own talents, dreams and visions. And be sure to think about how you will measure your success. As we all know, one way is monetary, but I don’t believe that money-only is what in the long run you will find fulfilling. Even Henry Ford said that “a business that makes nothing but money, is a poor business.”
It is vital that you find your passion and find ways to make a difference in your communities and in the lives of others. Whether it is your paid career or your volunteer avocation, your passion should light up your life. Find what makes you happy and live it. It doesn’t need to be a grand gesture, just one that is true to your inner self.
There are basic but important things you can do in your daily lives that can make a difference. Things you may already do as a matter of course. For instance:
• To the men in the audience: Respect the women in your life and serve as that role model for boys and other men;
• To the women in the audience: Respect the men in your life and encourage and empower girls and women and serve as that role model for them;
• And all of us can give back to those who are or have served us and our country. As an example, you can befriend a military family, volunteer to help a caregiver, or as my organization, Business and Professional Women’s Foundation encourages: be a mentor. It is certainly a rewarding way to give back.
As I mentioned earlier, while the world today might seem problem plagued, overwhelming and confusing, we cannot and must not rely on others to change it and make it better. Each of us needs to take action and make it happen. Nor can we become complacent or accepting of the status quo. As Will Rogers observed, “Even if we are on the right track, if we stand still, we will get run over by the next train.”
We each need to keep moving ahead, make our voices heard and take concrete actions to make a difference. And with your degree in hand it is your turn to step up and set an example for others.
Knowing about the mission of Park University your education here has prepared you to seek ways to serve the greater good. Park is working to help “build the creative, caring workforce and citizenry that our world desperately needs.” And it is you, the Park graduate, who must take that promise and commitment out into the world and make it a reality. Park has served you by getting you to this point, now it is up to you. Go out into the world – find your passion – and make a difference. Each of you can make your own impact!
So, how can you actualize your passion, serve others and make a difference?
First, Set high goals for yourself
Don’t limit your aspirations. You may not reach all of your goals but reaching is what is important. Through reaching you will grow and inspire others. As Eleanor Roosevelt pointed out, “The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.”
Second Promote your causes in your personal and professional life
I have been fortunate to have had several jobs during my career that helped me live my passion. As Executive Director of SeniorNavigator, I was on the ground floor in establishing a one-stop resource to help seniors and their caregivers. This had been a particular passion of mine as I had cared for my mother who was afflicted with Alzheimer’s for over 15 years. As a caregiver and working woman I understood the desperate need for this kind of service. I am pleased to say that it is still an important central resource for Virginia seniors and caregivers.
Now working for a woman’s organization, I am involved in issues of pay equity, breaking that glass ceiling, stopping violence against women and most recently helping women veterans transition from military to civilian careers through mentoring. All things I am passionate about.
While I may have managed to marry my passion with my job in recent times, that hasn’t always been the case. But throughout my career I have found time to mentor others, involve my company in community outreach programs and to do volunteer work outside of the job. And I can tell you that my life is better for the time I spent on these activities.
Third, Embrace your fears and always make new mistakes
As you leave the safe environs of university life, you will face many decisions and come to many forks in the road. I am not going to tell you not to be afraid but I am going to tell you to do the things you fear and when you make mistakes, which you will, make new ones. That way you will always be learning. Take the new knowledge gained and use it to forge a new path forward.
Next, Celebrate Diversity
I urge you to embrace and seek out diversity for that is how we learn about other cultures and discover new ideas. With diversity comes a myriad of opinions and interpretations, both key to innovation and solving common problems. Learning from and appreciating differences will help us all survive and grow.
And finally, Remember always work-life-family balance
In my current job as CEO of Business and Professional Women’s Foundation, not only do we believe that diverse workplaces are important, we believe that one of the key tenets of a successful workplace is one where you have the flexibility to pursue your outside interests and spend time with family and friends.
Therefore, I hope you will try and achieve work-life balance and enjoy and take time for your family and pursue interests outside of your job. It may be hard to achieve but when you look back on your life, you will be glad you took the time. A quote I like about life is by Dianne Ackerman. She said. “I don’t want to get to the end of my life and find I have lived just the length of it. I want to live the width [and breadth] of it as well.” I think that is very good counsel. After all, life is not just a linear line!
So as you leave this special place of learning and growth, celebrate your achievements, reflect on the many lessons you have learned and use them to develop your vision so you are ready for every opportunity. In honor and memory of Nelson Mandela, let’s embrace his words, “What counts in life is not the mere fact that we have lived. It is what difference we have made to the lives of others that will determine the significance of the life we lead.”
As you head out into the world, degree in hand, remember the enthusiasm and hope you have right now, and use it to make a difference, today and every day!
Congratulations to you all!