Interim Chancellor Peyton R. Helm
Remarks prepared for
Charlton College of Business Commencement
May 13, 2016
First, there are two things I need to say before anything else: Congratulations graduates! And thank you families! We all know that achieving this educational milestone requires more than individual effort. It takes a support system. Parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, even siblings, have helped you get to where you are today – so how about giving them and yourselves a standing ovation?
Next, let me tell you what an honor it is for me to have been asked to deliver your Commencement address today. After all, I have only been at UMass Dartmouth for two months. I can barely find my way from Foster Hall to the Marketplace, so being invited to speak on this important occasion represents a big – and perhaps unwarranted - bump in this community’s confidence in me. Knowing that these opportunities do not come along every day - and that in my case such an invitation may never come along again -- it took me all of 10 seconds to tell Dean Guna “I accept.”
Because this may well be my first and last Commencement address at UMass Dartmouth, I decided that I would hold nothing back. No need for me to save my best ideas, my profoundest insights, my wisest advice, or my best jokes for some hypothetical future speech. So the title of my address today is “Go for It!!!” – and that’s my advice both to you and to myself. Here is my top ten list of suggestions to graduating seniors.
1. Don’t “Follow Your Dreams”. I googled “commencement speech, follow your dreams,” and got 2,180,000 hits in 0.48 seconds). And no, I didn’t read them all. If you want to, be my guest, but I think I can be more helpful (and original) than to urge you to follow your dreams. Okay, it’s actually fine to have dreams, but it’s even more important to have a plan, to conduct regularly scheduled reality checks, and to revise your plan as necessary. So make a plan. It should be bold, ambitious, aspirational – but flexible. The future can be a surprising place and you will have to adapt to it. Fortunately, the education you received here has equipped you with the tools to do so. And by the way, if a job isn’t fun, you’re in the wrong job. That doesn’t mean every day will be fun; but if every day is miserable, and the work means nothing to you, find another job. There is nobility in work – all kinds of work – but you have to believe in it.
2. Build Alliances. We are all tempted at times to give the people who obstruct our plans a good piece of our minds. Resist the temptation. You will become more effective by acquiring mentors and allies than by making enemies. Arnold Schwarzeneggar once said: “What is best in life? Crush your enemies, see them driven before you, and hear the lamentations of their women.” Admittedly, he was playing the role of Conan the Barbarian when he said this, but still. It is NOT good advice, no matter if it seems to have been the mantra of certain presidential candidates. Play the long game. Keep the friends you have made here, make new friends wherever you go. Treat them well and they will reciprocate. And that can make all the difference during the course of a career and a life.
3. Never, ever compromise your integrity. You will have plenty of opportunities to shade the truth, to withhold important information, to cut corners, to undercut rivals, to exaggerate your accomplishments, to cheat. Don’t do any of these things. Your reputation for integrity , once lost, may never be regained. And without integrity, you are nothing. If people don’t believe you, it won’t matter what you say or do. You will achieve nothing. No momentary advantage is worth it.
4. Understand the Mirror Effect. Simply put this means that most people will respond to you based on how you present yourself. If you act enthusiastic, you will be met with enthusiasm. If you act confident, people will have confidence in you. If you act like a jerk, well, you get the idea. The mirror effect is powerful medicine – use it, but don’t abuse it!
5. Get some Sleep. When things look really bad… get a good night’s sleep. It can’t hurt, and whatever the problem is, it may solve itself over night. If it doesn’t, you’ll be better prepared to deal with it in the morning. I learned this from my wife Pat. And here’s the corollary: if you can’t sleep in the middle of the night because you’re worrying about some gigantic problem, write it down and go back to sleep. It will shrink to manageable size when the sun comes up.
6. Be Reliable. Show up when and where you said you’d show up, prepared to do whatever it is you’re supposed to do. Have your work done when it’s supposed to be done. Don’t make promises you can’t or aren’t willing to keep. Be the person other people can count on. There are all too few of them in the world.
7. Don’t do stupid stuff. This covers a range of all-too-common behaviors – like carrying credit card debt, forgetting to floss, taking the people you love for granted, shooting off your mouth when you’ve had one too many beers (this includes drunk dialing, texting, and facebook posting), or ordering spaghetti when you’re at a business dinner.
8. Say “thank you.” Say it often, and say it sincerely. Everybody likes to be thanked. It costs you nothing and makes you feel good too.
9. Pursue Happiness – but wisely. Now that you are graduating and moving on to rewarding fulltime employment, you are probably looking forward – to use President Obama’s phrase – “to scoring some serious Tubmans.” I hope you do – and so do your families!!! With your increased earnings will come increased interest in upgrading your car, your apartment, your wardrobe, your choice of restaurants, and a number of other things that the daily onslaught of advertising messages tells us will make us happy. They won’t make you happy – at least not for long. I base this assertion, first, on considerable research by psychology scholars who have proven that we human beings consistently overestimate the pleasure we will derive from acquiring things, and second, on the wisdom of Bruce Springsteen, who wrote “Poor man wanta be rich, rich man wanta be king, and a king ain’t satisfied til he rules everything.” Pay off your student loans, invest in experiences, support causes you believe in. This will actually be a better strategy for your pursuit of happiness.
10. Listen. If you want to be known as a great conversationalist, be a great listener. You will learn more, make more friends, and embarrass yourself less often.
I feel like I’m on a roll, here, so I’m going to throw in one last bonus piece of advice – and I’ve saved the best for last:
Put Your Family First. You are all hard workers. You have shown determination and grit and brains. You will probably spend most of your life on the job. With luck, it will be a job you love doing. But remember it will not love you back. For most of you, I hope, your greatest satisfaction in life will come from your relationships with members your family. Nurture those relationships, value them, honor them. In the long run, they will be more important than any job.
That’s it. That’s my best advice. Take it and you are pretty much guaranteed a happy life.
I join your professors, your families, and all on this campus who have nurtured and cared for you during your time with us in wishing you a bright and fulfilling future.