First, i'd like to thank Eric McGuirk, and Neil Donovan for inviting me here to speak with you. And of course I congratulate all of you for arriving at this very special day in your life.
Just like you, 44 years ago I was sitting out there in one of those seats, filled with anticipation for what lies ahead. you are about to commence a long, exciting journey filled with promise and reward, but ….and I emphasize but …. only if you prepare for the journey.
There is an old saying: “if you don't care where you are going, any road will get you there.” With your graduation today, you have taken the first step. But before you go out and start enjoying your so called “free” time, remember from this point on, you will be much more responsible for your actions. For most of you, if you want a great lifestyle….a family….nice clothes….a house….a car…you are going to have to earn it. Mom and dad aren't going to be doling out money the way they have in the past and that is the first hard cold fact that is about to hit you.
I know you are anxious to start testing your new freedom, so I'm going to keep this short. At the same time, I would like to try and register a few important principles that will help you as you commence your career.
First, let me say no one has all the answers about developing a happy, successful life…..not me, not your teachers….not your parents or advisors. To a large degree, you need to experience life to the fullest and see what works for you in terms of your own needs and expectations.
But let me go out on a limb and give you some tips on what I think matters in life. I've developed five key traits for becoming a successful person. As you go forth to realize your dreams, I hope you'll give some of these ideas some thought. They have certainly helped me and they've been the key to every successful person I know.
To help you visualize how important they are to your success, I am going to use some examples of events and people in history who exemplified these traits.
Here they are:
- The first is to have a lifelong thirst for knowledge.
- The second is persistence & determination.
- The third is to develop and demonstrate a positive attitude.
- Number four is to take calculated risks.
- And number five is to develop compassion and serve others.
To me, no American exemplifies the importance of knowledge like Thomas Jefferson. He read Greek and Latin in their original texts. In fact, he read so much that he designed a book stand that could hold several books at once.
When he wanted to compare what various authors said about a subject, he'd simply rotate the bookstand. He was an architect who designed his own home, as well as the University of Virginia , both of which still stand to this day. They are regarded among the most beautiful buildings in our country. Most of you know that he was our third president and also the author of the Declaration of Independence. When President John F. Kennedy had the winners of the Nobel peace prize at the White House for dinner, he said: ‘there has never been more genius in this room except when Thomas Jefferson dined here alone.”
One could go on and on about Mr. Jefferson's brilliance, but the point I'd like to make with you is that most of his knowledge was self taught. Because he had a love of knowledge, he never stopped learning during his entire life.
You say you don't have the money to go to college…? Fine, then go to the library and read about subjects that interest you….listen to audio tapes from the library…..watch educational television. Read the newspaper every day. Do whatever you can to keep your mind open and active for the rest of your life.
There are economic reasons why you should continue your education as well.
According to USA Today , if you fail to get a high school diploma, you will earn about $18,734 annually….the average high school grad will earn about $28,000 a year……a bachelor's degree will be worth $51,206 and a masters degree will be worth about $75,000. So by staying in school, you can triple your earning power in a lifetime and that has to be the best investment you will ever make in life.
One more interesting fact, there are one billion three hundred million Chinese in the world today. Most of them are just as smart as we are or smarter.
Guess what…..they want your job… they want the nice house that you have planned, and they are going to work much harder than you to get it. A fascinating book called Leading the Revolution said: (and let me be clear the author was not referring to any particular culture) “the barbarians are no longer at the gate; they're eating off your best china.”
I know you've heard this all your life, but it is so important, I'm going to say it one more time……the diploma you are going to get today is only the beginning. If you want to be successful, get all the education you can – either formally or self-taught.
I believe the second key to success – persistence and determination - are equally as important as having a good education. I can guarantee you one thing in your life ahead…there are going to be some speed bumps on the highway to success.
Some of you are going to fail in your attempts to grab the brass ring. But don't let that dissuade you. Everybody who is successful has failed – some many times. It has been said that Thomas Edison tweaked the light bulb he invented ten thousand times before getting it right. He said: “genius is 90 percent perspiration and 10 percent inspiration. ”
When I think about the importance of persistence, I think about Abraham Lincoln's struggle to keep the Union together during the civil war. The south won battle after battle with tens of thousands of brave Union soldiers facing certain death. But Mr. Lincoln would not give in. He saw the struggle through to the very end even though he fought terrible bouts of depression and it ultimately cost him his life.
I think of those brave infantry men who faced the supposedly impenetrable defenses at Omaha Beach during D-Day in June 1944.
If they were fortunate enough to make it ashore, then they had sheer cliffs to climb with the Nazis pouring fire down on them from above. Impossible….? Not to those men, who suffered a 70 percent casualty rate, because they were fighting for something that was larger than individual sacrifice or life itself.
How about the brave marines who planted the American flag on Mount Surabachi on Iwo Jima ? Every inch of that island was laced with Japanese gun emplacements, but those brave marines prevailed because they refused to give up.
How about Franklin Delano Roosevelt who on the first day of his presidency faced a banking crisis with most of the banks in our country about to go under. He had polio and had to be assisted to the lecturn to give a speech; he used a wheelchair to get around, but you never saw a photo of him incapacitated because the press respected him too much. You also never saw a frown on his face from the man who told us “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”
How about the determination demonstrated by Harry Truman who was not even aware of the Manhattan Project upon the death of FDR? The Manhattan Project was the code name for the hydrogen bomb.
Even though he knew that dropping the bomb would kill thousands of Japanese civilians, he did not waver for a moment. He was determined to use it to end a war we did not start, and he did. A quotation by sir Edmund Burke says it all: “the only thing necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.”
If you can develop half the persistence and determination demonstrated by these brave and famous Americans, you will overcome any hurdle that is put before you.
I can assure you there are going to be times in your life that you will be put to the test. To borrow a famous phrase from the self help books, “a quitter never wins and a winner never quits.”
The third key to success is to develop and maintain a positive mental attitude. I have read all the classics about the importance of a positive attitude – or PMA as it is called - listened to audio tapes and attended seminars. The master of the genre in my view is Dale Carnegie, the author of ‘How to Win Friends and Influence People.' Written in 1936, it is just as applicable today as it was then, perhaps even more so.
Other great writers on the subject include Zig Ziglar, Tony Robbins, Steven Covey – there are too many to mention. It's not important which books you read; it is only important that you develop and demonstrate a winning attitude. It will help you in every endeavor you undertake for the rest of your life – at home, at your job, in sports and in your human relationships.
At the risk of practicing nepotism, I'm going to provide an example of someone who illustrates the power of a positive mental attitude. I'd like to introduce my nephew, Jerrod Kerr, who is with us today. Jerrod, please stand up. He played championship hockey here at Meadville high school. He's an Eagle Scout. He just graduated as a mechanical engineer from Penn State . In college he helped raise tens of thousands of dollars for charity. For you golfers – Jerrod had an Eagle….that's three under par on one of the longest, toughest golf holes I've played in 40 years. So I tell you ladies and gentlemen, this stuff works if you study and practice it.
The fourth key to your success is to take calculated risks. All of you know a famous American who dropped out of Harvard to start a new company in a new industry with almost no start-up capital. Knowing that a Harvard education is the key to lifetime success, who would do such a foolish thing? His name, of course, is Bill Gates, the world's richest man and chairman of Microsoft Corporation.
So think about it….an unknown takes a huge risk and becomes a billionaire, while one of the largest companies in America – IBM - avoids risk and loses out on one of the most important business developments of the 20 th century.
To me, Mr. gates is a true genius and visionary. But he's often vilified by his competitors because they can't compete against him. They'd like the federal government to level the playing field by splitting Microsoft up. They say he is ruthless….they say he is monopolistic. I have news for you, we need more successful risk-takers like Bill Gates, not fewer .
He has employed tens of thousands of people in high-paying jobs; he's created a software standard that works in PCs all over the world; and he has given billions to charity, much of it to help cure aids in Africa . He is the best example of our free enterprise system where genius, hard work and risk-taking are rewarded by profits.
If you want to be successful in life, there are times when you're going to have to roll the dice, but think it through very carefully.
I've saved the subject that I'm most passionate about for last – compassion and caring for others.
When I told a friend of mine I was going to be speaking to you, he said I should mention Donald Trump as being a good role model. In my mind, Donald Trump is the worst example of American values. He's vain, self-centered, loves power for the sake of it and he's done very little to help others. And don't even think about mentioning ‘The Apprentice' TV show, which is all about cloning himself and getting someone else to pay for it.
However, it doesn't mean we don't have plenty of unselfish people in our country – famous and just regular folks who help others. Mother Theresa comes to mind, a gentle little lady who spent her life ministering to the wretched poor of India and asked for nothing in return.
How about those brave people who prevented the jet from crashing into the white house or capitol during the 9/11 crisis by taking on the hijackers? Or those brave fire fighters who went into the twin towers to face certain death because it was their duty?
How about Paul Newman who has donated $200 million dollars in profits from his food sales to public charities and operates camps for disabled children all over the world? Or the Mellon family and J. Paul Getty who have donated millions to the arts…..and the list goes on and on.
If you are fortunate enough to accumulate some extra money in your life, think about giving it to the less fortunate. Find a cause in which you believe and donate to it. I guarantee it will make you feel great.
And guess what…..there's an old saying: ‘you never see an armored car in a funeral procession.' Money is one of the only possessions you will spend your whole life accumulating, only to give it away to someone or something at the end of your stay here.
Also, it doesn't have to be money….give your time or your talents to the less fortunate. Go visit the elderly at a nursing home….take people without transportation to the doctor….rescue a pet, help clean up the environment.
Before closing, I want to say something that won't be popular to many of you, but it needs to be said. There is nothing wrong with serving your country. The brave men and women who have served and who are serving now are what allow us to enjoy the freedoms we have.
I'm sure you've already been approached by recruiters, but don't brush them off. listen to what they have to say.
I can think of lots of good things about serving your country: learning a skill or trade…..world travel…meeting new people…teamwork….earning money for college…. and finally bragging rights…. you can say to everyone the rest of your life: “I served….. did you?”
In my family there are three boys and we are all veterans. My Great Great grandfather fought in the civil war, including the battle of Gettysburg . No one came looking for us; we joined because we felt strongly about serving our country and I highly recommend you consider it.
There are plenty of things you can do to make the world a better place, but we can't do it by waiting for the other guy; we all have to pitch in. On our corporate website, there is a saying by Sir Winston Churchill, one of the greatest statesmen in history. it goes like this: “we make a living by what we get ; we make a life by what we give .”
I'm going to wrap up by quoting an I rish friendship wish that seems to incorporate everything I've tried to say here today in many fewer words and much more eloquently. Here's how it goes:
work like you don't need the money.
love like you've never been hurt.
dance like nobody's watching.
sing like nobody's listening.
live like it's heaven on earth.
may there always be work for your hands to do;
may your purse always hold a coin or two;
may the sun always shine on your window pane;
may a rainbow be certain to follow each rain;
may the hand of a friend always be near you;
may God fill your heart with gladness to cheer you.
As you begin the long journey to seek new friends and new ventures, I wish you good luck and good fortune. Thank you for inviting me to be with you on this special day.