“Find the good and praise it.”
On June 11, 1985, those words were included in the commencement address offered in Stokely Athletic Center at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. The famed author and Tennessean, Alex Haley, stirred the jammed packed arena with his challenge to my graduating class.
My commencement was probably like most of yours: a day of excitement, relief, celebration, family and friends, and an anticipation of opportunities ahead with soaring words of encouragement, hope and challenge.
Here are a few quotes from commencement speeches with a few thoughts to ponder:
• “You’re off to great places. Today is your day! Your mountain is waiting so … get on your way!” — Dr. Seuss
Many view the journey ahead as a mountain to climb, a summit to scale, but, sadly, some see it as too difficult and look for a shortcut or decide to set up life’s camp after encountering challenges. A gentleman named Steve Jobs, creator of Apple Inc., admonished another crowd of graduates, “Don’t settle!”
• “Everything you are comes from your choices,” — Jeff Bezos, founder and CEO of Amazon.com Inc.
At a young, invincible age and energy, decisions and choices don’t seem as consequential as those made later in life. If that were true, the foundation of most homes and structures would be devastatingly brittle and shoddy. The Great Pyramids in Egypt are a testimony to the enduring value of strong foundations and strategic planning.
• “Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance, you must keep moving.” — Albert Einstein
The instant our forward momentum ceases, the balance of our lives is impacted. In circumstances, good and bad, the decision faces us, “Do I keep peddling and pressing on?”
We’ve all seen the angry and disenchanted who can’t celebrate the success of others knowing that at some time, they made that deliberate decision to stop. Keep peddling!
• “The only place success comes before work is in the dictionary.” — Vince Lombardi, former coach of the Green Bay Packers.
As technology has become more of an extension of our being, the term “work” has changed. Yet, any act of productivity requires goal setting, preparation, the act of exerting energy toward completing the task at hand, and following through on details.
Most will agree that these time-tested steps are often ignored or stripped down for “efficiency.” Correspondingly, the end result is often less than successful or a job half-done after boredom sets in.
• “What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson
This statement holds such meaning and offers vast resolution in our world. The call from many a university dais this season will be to “Change your world!” Yet, being a solid individual driven by goodness and decency of purpose is eclipsed by the challenge to be great.
Our society reflects the core of the individual. If we want a good society, we should strive to be good people. And that’s completely left to the individual and their choices.
• “You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself in any direction you choose. You’re on your own. And you know what you know. You are the guy (and gal) who’ll decide where to go.” — Dr. Seuss
Simple, yet profound, God created us for service and opportunity. Take that which you have and choose. And choose wisely.
Robin Smith served as chairwoman of the Tennessee Republican Party from 2007 to 2009. She is a partner in the SmithWaterhouse Strategies business development and strategic planning firm.