Thank you for the honor of choosing me to speak. I’ll be honest, I’ve been a wreck about this for weeks. Oh, the pressure of speaking in front of 2,000 people: Poignancy, impact, hair up/hair down, losing weight. Yup, while some of you went on the Bahamas diet this spring, in the last three weeks, I've been on the Baccalaureate crash diet! I've lost 6 lbs. My doctor and my pants are grateful.
So I feel as though I’m up here because I have a reputation for being candid, perhaps at times…salty. With that, I’ve been asked by legal to say the following: The views and opinions expressed in this message are mine alone and not necessarily those of the administration or an officially sanctioned position of the university.
What a great class the Class of 2013 is! Cohesive and unified as a group, varied in your pursuits, and inspirational in your achievements.
Just think about …Ryan Vermette. A year ago April, Ryan was studying abroad in South Africa and as he was crossing the street, he was hit by a car. In critical condition with a broken neck and spinal cord injury, he was left quadriplegic. After months of hospitalization and rehab, not only is he graduating on time, Magna Cum Laude, but he will literally be walking across this stage under his own power tomorrow.
Then, there’s Panashe Flint. Panashe is a part-time evening student, working the 3 to 11 shift as university police lieutenant here on campus, while raising two daughters with his lovely wife, Chrissi. Panashe started in 2004 chipping away at his degree one or two classes at a time and has done that for 9 years and he is finishing tomorrow.
One member of your class is here today but won’t be graduating tomorrow. Molly Godfrey, incoming class of 2009 decided as a Sophomore to suspend her own undergrad experience to teach 5th graders in Los Angeles for a year. While Molly absolutely identifies as a member of the class of 2013, by giving a year to City Year to teach, she made a conscious decision to delay her own commencement.
All three are stories of personal sacrifice, perseverance, learning about their own extraordinary capabilities when life happens and things don’t go according to plan.
This is the caliber of the people making up your class. And every ONE of you has a story, a list of accomplishments, things you have worked through, overcome. It’s just who you are.
When I asked members of the class what they wanted from me at Baccalaureate, Brian Peterson, said “Leslie-isms.” So if these don’t cut the mustard, please blame Brian.
Last year, through the fine work of Dr. Stephanie Kendall in the Counseling Center, I learned at age 46 that I am idealist.
…There, I’ve said it, I make no apologies for it, I own it. (Whoops, I think I may have just lost the Finance majors.) Now wait a minute. Bear with me. This is actually a message that I believe will resonate with you because your generation is a new breed of business student, business leader; one that operates with the core value of giving back, contributing to community, putting family first. So it is with this lens that I provide you with the following Leslie-isms:
1. The first one I learned from my graduate school adviser, Will Callendar… Surround yourself with encouragers and be an encourager. In other words, don’t be a hater. Who needs all that negativity?
2. Give people in your life permission, space, and the power to surprise you. This is as true in your work life as your personal life. As future managers, the best managers are,
according to Professor Aaron Nurick’s book, The Good Enough Manager, those who facilitate autonomy and creativity, seeing the potential in people.
3. Be happy for others, even your enemies, in their moments of joy, achievement, and prosperity. The world is simply a better place when people are fulfilled and healthy. And the opposite is also true. Sadly…nothing good comes from insecurity, unhappiness, or hatred. Think about some of the most awful events in history…they are rooted in bigotry, unresolved anger, mental illness. But in daily life, these issues translate to the paranoid boss, the unfaithful spouse, the abusive parent, the self-medicator, the rage driver; all having a ripple effect bringing negative energy into the atmosphere.
4. Having spoken with some of you, I know you are worried about the old adage, “College is the best four years of your life”. Because if that’s the case, now what, right? Well, I’m here to tell you, it IS true. This is the greatest four years of your life…but only to date. In other words, to this point. I had a great college experience. (And I do mean phenomenal.) It was an amazing 4-and-one-half years. But, honestly, if given the opportunity, I wouldn’t go back. Life has only gotten better with each decade. So know that life only gets better from here and you can take this concern right off your Worry List.
5. Always hand write your thank-yous. This is the simplest and quickest way to differentiate yourself. It lets people know they are valued, they matter, and they have made a difference in your life. For you, the act of writing and expressing gratitude, even if only for 10 minutes, is an act of taking stock of the blessings in your life. I am convinced that it is because of a thank you note that my spouse and I are together. This was the thank you note I sent him after our first date. It was a blind date and he insisted on paying for dinner. Being the feminist that I am, I neither expected him nor wanted him to pick up the tab. He insisted, so I thought the least I could do was write the man a thank you. Well, that was all the encouragement he needed. Started calling me and the rest is history. 18 years later, two kids, a guinea pig named Cindy, and a mortgage, he’s still the center of my universe. Yup, there he is and that rascal behind him is our nine-year-old, Owen. In the interest of equal time, here is our other contribution to the gene pool, Gus, age 11. But I digress…
So, I challenge you…with a final assignment of your undergraduate career. If you reach under your chairs, I’ve left a Ziploc bag with two items in it for each of you. (Mom’s love Ziplocs.) First item is a blank thank you card. In the next week, you are to write one thank you to someone who has made a difference in your life in the last four years. A roommate, an RD, your therapist, your work study supervisor, your FYS instructor…whoever it was that helped you, whether it’s someone who was there over time or just in a critical moment.
The second item in the baggie is my business card. I always want to be one of your encouragers. If you ever need or want an encouraging word, please reach out and I will be there. And when the slacker in the cubicle next to you gets the promotion you were hoping to get, and you need a gentle reminder about karma, resolving anger, and being happy for your nemesis in their times of joy, I want to be there for you.
I wish for all of you meaningful work, love, laughter, and lifelong learning. I’ll close now with the words of that great philosopher… Rihanna, Don’t let idiots ruin your day or “let the bahstads get you down.”
Thank you and congratulations.