Central Commencement Speech Dec. 11, 2009

on December 14, 2009 in Speech

Good Evening President Matkin, Trustee Wheeler, distinguished faculty and staff, proud parents, beaming spouses and loved ones, excited children, and most of all, our accomplished graduates. 

This is a special time and I am delighted to share it with you!!

 The presence of this graduating class is evidence of your achievements and successes here at San Jacinto College. 

 Now, as you go forth to pursue careers, further your education or some combination of both, I am confident that you will find the successes that you achieved here will lead to additional successes in your personal life and in your career. You will also find that San Jacinto College has provided you with an outstanding foundation on which to build.

 College commencements are traditionally events that have a profound importance for families. Parents and relatives in the audience are beaming with pride as sons and daughters or husbands and wives step forward to receive diplomas that symbolize the hard work and often the sacrifice on the part of the entire family…as I survey the audience tonight, I see that this tradition holds true here.

 But I also see a growing group of parents—and even grandparents– who have returned to college and are among the graduates this evening– they are accepting this cherished diploma at the delight and applause of their children and grandchildren.

 Each graduate has an important success story about how they got here this evening – be proud of that story!!  One of the things I love about commencement is how it brings families together and emphasizes their strength, and the indispensible support and encouragement that led to a loved-one achieving this important goal. So tonight is about everyone one of you  — graduates, family & loved ones!!  To each of you, I offer my hearty congratulations!!   

When I was asked to speak tonight, I was quite excited and then I got a tad nervous when it hit me…you probably won’t remember that I was here or even the comments that I made because you have just succeeded in a major accomplishment….a college diploma or certificate….and that trumps any words I could add to the celebration. 

So,  I’ll make you a deal…I will limit my comments from 30 minutes down to under 15 minutes  — if you agree to accept three challenges that I will give you tonight. Do we have a deal?

As I address these three challenges, you will find that I am going to refer to many of the lessons that you learned during your work here at San Jacinto College.

Challenge #1 – Commit to lifelong learning. 

I hate to disappoint you but the diploma or certificate that you receive tonight will not end your educational career and your need to continue learning.  We live in an era in which a lifetime of learning is required.  The changes in the global economy are happening so quickly that lifelong learning merges work and education.  You must not only be competent in the basic job skills required today, but you must be ready to learn as technology continues to advance.  And equally important to those basic job skills, if not more so, are your abilities to know how to think and communicate, adjust to change, and be able to absorb new ideas and transmit them to others.  Does that sound familiar?  It should because it’s a summary of your time and experiences at San Jacinto College.  

It was intentional that you spent time in the classroom, in labs, in clinicals, and in group studies, gaining knowledge about specific topics, but more importantly, learning how to find information and apply it to the task at hand. Although you are being awarded a degree or certificate for successfully learning a specific topic, please remember that keeping yourself well-rounded is important.

As you continue through life, you will look around and see plenty of success stories – individuals who have succeeded – their successes are the direct result of continuing to learn throughout their careers, so that they could take advantage of opportunities as they opened up.

Let me also caution you, like everyone you too will make mistakes.  Use those mistakes as a learning experience.  Let a mistake be the first step in gathering more and new information, to learn a new skill, and to add to your knowledge base.  Often you will learn more from a failure or mistake than from a success.  Use those mistakes to your advantage!!

In the area of life-long learning, I have one more comment….in this age of gadgets…when you sit in a room with your friends and text message instead of talk….don’t forget that how you work with others will make a significant difference in your future endeavors.   Technology opens the door to extensive knowledge…but it cannot tell you how to work with the other nurses on your floor, how to handle a difficult cube-neighbor, how to comfort a friend, or how to work with your supervisor in the plant. You can’t download passion…you can’t download a positive work-ethic or creativity….that will have to be all you!

So your first challenge is to continuing to learn – commit to a lifetime of learning so you are the most marketable and the most sought-after employee that you can be.     

Challenge #2 — Graduates – your next challenge is to live a life that is balanced and full of heart.

You have just spent two (or maybe three, four, or five) years learning about your field of choice, and no matter how determined your resolve to perform in your new career field, don’t become so focused on making a living that you lose sight of building a life  that is balanced and full of heart.   I encourage you to think of the old adage:

“If you live each day as if it were your last, someday you’ll most certainly be right.”

I tell you this so that you take the time to look in the mirror and ask yourself –“If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?” 

If you find that there are too many days in a row when the answer is “no,” then maybe you chose a career to make a living and not a life.  The beautiful thing about life is that you can change your mind and live the life that you really want to live.

It is also important to resist the pressure of living with the results of other people’s opinions. As you continue to make the big choices in life, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition along with your head. We all desire to pursue the American Dream – whatever that dream may be for you personally. The future looks different for all of us but you ARE the face of the future.

You have taken the first step towards achieving your dreams by pursuing an education, and San Jacinto College is extremely proud to have been a part of that journey.  As you continue your journey, remember the saying, “Happiness is a journey, not a destination.” Bring passion, joy, and optimism to your work so you will create a “life” and not a “living.”  

Challenge #3 – Make a difference for someone else…encourage someone to take the big step to come to college and begin living their dreams

Remember what it took to get to this place tonight and I am sure that you can think of one if not several people that encouraged you and supported you to take this big step – remember the difference that person made in your decision to take those first big steps in walking through the front doors of San Jacinto College – filling out your application – applying for financial aid – and then when you were in the heat of your coursework, they encouraged you to keep going even when the road was tough and you thought that one more assignment would just break you.

I challenge each of you to be that encouragement and that inspiration for someone else – don’t be shy about this.  Step out there and take them by the hand – guide them. You are a role model and being a role model requires that you step out and be bold.

I love this institution for its courage, dedication, and exciting sense of mission – an institution where values are symbolized, choices are clarified, and the hope for a brighter future is alive and well.   You – are that future!!!

For some of you who may wear the label of “non-traditional” student because you are pursuing your dreams after a gap in your education….I look at you and say ….  You are courageous and strong -– you listened to your inner voice telling you things could be different.  And you didn’t let the juggling of life and school stop you rather here you are – fulfilling your educational goals.

And to you “traditional” students, those who didn’t have the gap but rather started college right out of high school – you too are courageous and strong.  While you started earlier to work on your educational goals – you too had distractions that could have pulled you off track.

To all of you graduates, I ask that you be that encourager, that mentor, and that role model — to your children, your siblings, your spouse, your parents, and your friends – or the neighborhood kid who needs to know that college is for him!


In closing, I gave you three challenges:

1.  Commit to life-long learning

2.  Live a balanced, passionate life

3.  Encourage others to go to college because education is the key to the future.

 Let me conclude with a few brief stories that many of us have heard in the past. These are about people who have made an impact on our world:

  • When Thomas Edison invented the light bulb, he tried over 2000 experiments before he got it to work.  A young reporter asked him how it felt to fail so many times.  He said, “I never failed once. I invented the light bulb. It just happened to be a 2000-step process.”
  • When Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone in 1876, it did not ring off the hook with calls from potential backers. After making a demonstration call, President Hayes said, “That’s an amazing invention, but who would ever want to use one of them?”  Interesting, since I bet each of you graduates has a phone stuffed in a pocket under your gown.

What is the purpose of these stories, you ask? The purpose is to re-emphasize something that you already know…. Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experiences of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, vision cleared, ambition inspired, and success achieved.

You gain strength and confidence by every experience where you really have to stop and to look fear in the face…. You must do the things you are afraid that you can’t do.

A winner is not one who never fails, but one who NEVER QUITS!

Tonight, Graduates, you are winners!!


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