Text of Tim McGuire’s Convocation speech to Cronkite School class of 2016

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!

I think I figured out a new definition of love

I was driving down the highway when I think I realized my own personal definition of love. I will be 67 years old in a week or so, but I don’t think my discovery has come too late.

As I drove, I thought of my bride of six months, Candace. And, I smiled. It was the kind of smile that started at my mouth, occupied my entire mind and then made my insides all gooey. It was a smile of gratitude, a smile of comfort. I was consumed by that smile of love. I suddenly wanted to write a love letter to her. I guess this is it.

Passion is great, affection with a great big hug rewards the heart, and concern and care are certainly essential elements of love. But in that flash, I realized that real love brings with it that satisfied, contented and all-absorbing smile. And, I happily realized that smile of love has been a constant in my life.

As I reflected, I realized that smile was always the greatest sign that my late wife Jean and I had something special too. I was able to recall great feelings of satisfaction that were always marked by that smile that grabbed my soul. Even when she is gone I get consumed by that great big smile of love. It happened last weekend when I saw something in our old neighborhood that would have amazed and tickled her. That great big smile of love captivated me.

My kids induce that big, all-encompassing smile. Incredible emotional connections with my daughter, Tracy, warm me with that sort of smile and so do the incredible bouts of repartee I have with my son, Jeff. And the simple thought of my son Jason, who has Down syndrome, grips me with a smile that envelops my entire being. Then there are my two delightful grandchildren, Collin and Kayley. I smile so much when I think of them that I fairly burst. That’s the gooey kind of love.

I sometimes think people look in all the wrong places and for all the wrong emotions for love. I always feel sorry for the young couples who seem to think they are going to hear bells or giant gongs when they fall in love. There are no bells.

Happiness comes when we bask in the comfort, content and satisfaction of loving and being loved. When we find that sweet spot, a great big smile seizes our soul and carries us off to a special place worth celebrating.

Tim McGuire is the author of “Some People Even Take Them Home” A Disabled Dad, A Down Syndrome Son and Our Journey To Acceptance

 

I still don’t like cats but the journey with Clawd and Clementine teaches me a lot

My Dad hated cats. My early love of boxing and my life-long dislike of cats was clearly learned behavior at my Dad’s knee.

When my daughter married a man with a cat I was horrified. Things failed to improve when I met said cat and his successor cat. My dislike for the species catus is legendary. On my late wife’s deathbed she overheard a hospice worker ask me if we had any pets. When I replied “Hell no, I hate pets,” my sarcastic-to-the-end wife told my daughter, “There is no way he can divorce me now, let’s talk cat.” Actually, Jean had never been that anxious for a cat, but the line was funny and demonstrates how much my dislike of cats is rooted in my family’s culture.

The astute among you have more than an inkling of where this is going. Late last year a woman I had been friends with at the Minneapolis Star Tribune contacted me to offer sympathy upon my wife’s death. We had been good work friends in Minneapolis, but not such good friends that I knew she was a cat person.

As we rekindled our friendship and that friendship showed the potential of something much more, Candace  made it clear she had two cats. She credited the cats with getting her through her own grief when her husband, David, died late in 2011. It was abundantly clear that if the relationship had any future at all, the cats were going to be a part of that future. To this moment, the thing that impresses my daughter Tracy the most about my marriage to Candace Hadley McGuire is that the cats were not a deal breaker.

Now, this is a real-life story and not a fairy tale, so I am not going to come before you to testify I fell madly in love with Clawd and Clementine. I still don’t really like them and I get terribly antsy when they jump up on my bed. In my heart of hearts, I believe they are plotting against me. And yet, I have developed a genuine appreciation for the two felines and for Candace’s love for them.

I swear the cats often seem to talk to Candace and she talks back! A year ago I would have scoffed mightily at the notion that the three of them communicate in any way. Now I am not so sure.

The other day I grabbed for a tie on a tie hanger in our closet and I dropped it. As I reached for the tie on the floor I grabbed some cat. After my record leap in the air I realized I had discovered Clementine’ top-secret hiding place that neither I, nor Candace, knew about. Cut to a day later when Clementine was whining incessantly to Candace. Candace was almost at her wit’s end when she followed the cat into our bedroom and realized that the closet door to Clementine’s secret hiding place was closed. Candace opened it and all was well. That impresses the heck out of someone who has always believed cats were incapable of communication.

Clementine does not seem well and that has made Candace very sad because she believes she is about to lose her long-time companion and savior. And anything that makes my lovely new wife sad, makes me sad. A year ago I would have been sympathetic but not very empathetic. That has changed.

Don’t hold your breath for me to become a cat lover, but by opening my mind and watching the incredible bond between two cats and an extremely intelligent woman I think I finally get it. After a lifetime of closing my mind, I understand that it just might be possible that the creatures really do relate to humans on a deep and important level that demands respect and even a little awe.

My tolerance and respect for cats is growing, but I still wish they’d stay off my bed!

Tim J McGuire is the author of “Some People Even Take Them Home” A Disabled Dad, A Down Syndrome Son and Our Journey To Acceptance

I am finding tears in my eyes much more often these days

There is some evidence that men cry more as they age. I remember a man I met with often several years ago. As he approached 75 he shocked me with how emotional he was in so many cases. He eventually died from Alzheimer’s disease and I always wondered if that was the cause. There does seem to be some foundation for the fact that Alzheimer’s patients have more difficulty regulating their emotions.

All of this was largely theoretical for me until the last two years. I have always been a fairly sensitive guy and I have never really been ashamed of crying. Yet, it was quite rare for me to turn on the waterworks. That has changed in the last two years.

Last week a memory of my late wife Jean filled my eyes with tears as I drove down the expressway. A few hours later word reached me about a friend whose battle with cancer keeps taking stubborn, negative turns. Again, moisture magically appeared. And, sadness is not the only trigger. A  tender moment with my fiance the other day  made me quite emotional. This past summer a really tender moment with my grand-kids forced me to look away so I wouldn’t scare them with my tears.

At the age of 66, I am clearly aging. I definitely cry more than I ever did before. I am not going to deny that my advancing age is a factor, but I think it is deeper than that.

I think the last two years of my life, which have included the fatal illness of my wife, her death and the discovery of a new love which will soon culminate in marriage, has sharpened my emotions and my tear ducts to a razor-sharp edge. And, I think that’s great.

A Facebook friend posted an entry last week quoting author Hope Edelman as saying “When a mother dies, a daughter’s mourning never completely ends.” The quote naturally made me very sad for my own daughter because I clearly see her struggles with her mother’s death. I wrote on the Facebook page of my friend that her post made me cry. She wrote back, “I am so sorry Tim, but it’s true.”

That’s when my thought about my recent tendency to tears crystallized. I wrote back, “Crying is not bad. Crying proves we are alive.” her quick rejoinder was that she “Must be very alive,” and I believe that.

Our journey is enriched not only by joy, but by sadness and dramatic emotions too. Laughter is essential, but I am becoming more and more convinced that opening our hearts to intense feelings of sadness is just as important to becoming whole.

Tim J McGuire is the author of “Some People Even Take Them Home” A Disabled Dad, A Down Syndrome Son and Our Journey To Acceptance

Meeting random new people is one of the joys of my life

I might have previously mentioned a particular friend who gives me a difficult time about the way I randomly begin conversations with unfamiliar people in coffee shops, airports and all kinds of public places. He often says with only a modicum of jocularity “that stuff is going to get you killed some day.”

He is clearly a man who deeply values his own privacy and does not want to take on anybody else’s burdens. I, on the other hand, revel in the fascinating people I meet and the amazing stuff I learn. But I hit an absolute home run this summer when I met an incredibly engaging man with a background that made me smile.

During my two moths in Minnesota this summer I lived at The Residence Inn in Plymouth, Minn. My stay was delightful and the interesting stories abound about the reasons people spend time in that sort of living situation. About 30 percent of the residents stay for a month or more and that community tends to bond with each other.

One morning I reached out my hand in introduction to a man with a permanent smile on his face. And a whole new world opened to me.

I met Tony Andreason, a man who enjoyed considerable success in the Financial Service industry for more than 40 years. But he might ring a bell for you if I tell you that Tony was the lead singer and guitarist for The Trashmen, a fairly famous 60’s band in Minneapolis. And I have a great chance to jog your memory if I tell you the group did the song “Surfin Bird” which is  now a pop culture sensation on the Fox network animated show Family Guy.

Tony is a bit sheepish about his fame but he has toured Europe and the U.S. in recent years with a revitalized Trashmen. He is an accomplished musician to the core and for the last 17 years has played with a Bluegrass band called Platte Valley Boys.

Tony intrigued me almost every morning at breakfast with tales of the big stars with whom he rubbed shoulders and with great tales of growing up blue-collar in North Minneapolis. His profound love for music fuels him in a way that I found inspirational. And, he loved to hear tales of the newspaper business and his favorite columnist, Sid Hartman. Tony’s delightful wife, Barbie, owned an incredible story herself and the two delighted me most mornings.

I now consider Tony Andreason a friend–a friend cultivated when both of us were willing to extend our hand to a stranger. There is a fantastic world out there if you are willing to engage it. Ain’t life grand?

Tim J McGuire is the author of “Some People Even Take Them Home” A Disabled Dad, A Down Syndrome Son and Our Journey To Acceptance