Here, for the sake of posterity and easy reference is the actual text of my Convocation Speech to the Cronkite School’s class of 2016. The video of the speech can be found here.
Thank you for that delightful introduction Dean Callahan.
Students, parents, spouses, relatives, friends and faculty.
I am incredibly grateful for being invited to the podium tonight.
The class of 2016 is among my all-time favorites at the Cronkite School. There is a boatload of talent in this class.
“One day Alice came to a fork in the road and saw a Cheshire cat in a tree. “Which road do I take,” she asked.
His response was a question, “Where do you want to go?”
I don’t know,” Alice said.
The cat responded, “Then it doesn’t matter.”
I had written a convocation speech about a bunch of life lessons, but then a number of personal encounters began speaking to me, until one day I came across Lewis Carroll’s profound insight about the fork in the road.
A few weeks ago an undergrad sat in my office and asked me if I thought an MBA was a good idea for him. Without hesitation I asked, “Do you want to be a businessman?”
The young man got the old “deer in the headlights” look and said he was unsure. He hadn’t really thought of that. People had told him an MBA could lead to a very secure and stable life.
I feared the young man was ready to ignore his own personal hopes and dreams, and pursue a path he thought would make others happy.
Suddenly I felt like the Cheshire cat and it didn’t matter to Alice what she did. I desperately wanted the young man to focus on what he WANTS to do, not on what somebody THINKS he should do.
Understand that our life on this blue marble is short, too damned short to spend it doing stuff we are not passionate about.
You are on the precipice of a new life. If you wish, you may focus on the prudent and the stable. You may make the secure and safe route your refuge.
But please, please don’t.
What do you want to do more than anything in the world? What do you dream of doing that would make you incredibly happy?
Tonight, I want to exhort you to pursue your dream. Dream big! Aim for the impossible. Start that company. Do something incredibly noble for mankind. Change the world. Develop that zany wild idea. Move to that fascinating place. Go big. Go really BIG.
The only way to go really big is by taking risks. No, don’t take risks by texting while walking across First Street, and not by drinking every beer for sale on Mill Avenue. I am talking about life risks that bounce you out of the comfortable. I am talking about taking risks where there are no guarantees of success and even huge possibilities that you won’t meet your goal.
A few weeks ago in my office, I delivered this same message to one of tonight’s graduates. He looked at me with lots of skepticism and said, “What if I fail?”
Then you fail. And you pick yourself up and you take some more swings. That’s the way life works.
Life is trial and error. What we call failure is the father of scores of inventions and countless success stories. Either Cinderella or Babe Ruth, really, both are credited, said “Never let the fear of striking out keep you from playing the game”
If you do strike out simply pick yourself up, be smarter, and go again!
In February I had a conversation with a wonderful student in this class. He has a REALLY big dream. Only a very few Americans will achieve his dream. He will need genuine skill, some damn good luck and a ton of determination.
With all the passion I could muster, I said, “go for it, Ace.” I told him to take a 10 year shot at achieving his goal. I told him to believe in himself and don’t accept those people who try to beat him down and diminish him. If he doesn’t achieve his goal in 10 years he will be richer for trying and his next steps will be much clearer.
A few weeks later I talked to another wonderful student in this class who has decided she wants to get a job overseas. She is determined to live out her adventure and is networking like crazy to find a job worthy of her considerable Cronkite skills.
I burst with pride over her courage, her inventiveness and her commitment. She will do great things because she thinks big and smart. She is not being foolish about any of this. Cleverness underlies her risk-taking.
But then I asked the killer question: “What do your folks think about this?” She smiled a smile as big as all outdoors, and said ‘my dad is incredibly excited and my mom wishes I’d stay home.”
But then she quickly added, “but Mom knows it’s my decision and she is coaching herself to be okay with it.”
God bless both Mom and Dad. They are both standing very tall in my estimation.
A few weeks ago I talked with a well-educated, successful man who told me about his son who plays football at a small college. The son’s dream is to be a football coach. My friend knows about the concussion studies and the dangers of football and he dearly wishes his son was not playing football. He would have loved to have just said no!
Then the man looked at me and shrugged and said “but it’s the boy’s dream.” That is parental courage!
Parents, embrace your student’s dream. Push them to dare to be bold. Encourage those ideas you might think are really crazy. Be proud that you raised students who are independent, bold and adventurous. Don’t look down your nose at their dream, lock onto their dream enthusiastically.
Students, tonight you become adults, your life is yours to lead. Your success, your failure is on you and only you. It’s not mommy or daddy’s fault if you don’t soar. It is yours. The richness and joy you find in life is about you and your commitment to transcend all the challenges.
Let me share with you a few lines from a wonderful poem by Pablo Neruda
You start dying slowly
If you do not change your life when you are not satisfied with your job, or with your love,
If you do not risk what is safe for the uncertain,
If you do not go after a dream,
If you do not allow yourself,
At least once in your lifetime,
To run away from sensible advice…
Don’t worry about being sensible. Don’t worry about what others think you ought to do. Don’t be modest in your goals. Don’t hide your passion. Change the world. Take risks and go really big.
I am convinced that if you dream big and push to meet those dreams and if you understand that you and only you are responsible and accountable for making a good life, then one day you will be able to stand back and declare, TOUCHDOWN!