In May, I had the privilege of delivering the commencement address at the University of New Hampshire Manchester. I’ll confess the experience challenged me.
The Importance of Education
First, I talked about my childhood, and how those experiences, especially the importance of education, helped shape who I am today.
“I am a first generation graduate of college, raised on the West Side of Manchester, born to teenagers who went onto work in the shoe factories in the mills before that work moved overseas. I had no savings and no one to help navigate me to and through a college experience.
Fortunately, despite our challenges, my parents saw education as a priority. I was fortunate enough to have two sets of encyclopedias in our home that I poured through to satisfy my inextinguishable inquisitiveness.”
The Importance of Mentors
Then, I shared how valuable supporters and mentors have been to me, and suggested all of us benefit from cultivating cheerleaders.
“Like many of you here today, I had an extended family in my corner to cheer me along, and sometimes having supporters means everything in the world. I also had teachers who could see beyond my outer appearance and circumstances and not only see something in me, but they took the time to tell me. Their words, their support, their faith in me gave me something to hang onto, to believe in, when I was having trouble believing in myself.”
The Importance of Jumping In and Doing the Next Right Thing
“Because I wanted out, I was constantly looking and willing to jump into experiences and professional roles that pushed me beyond my ability in that particular moment – and that caused me to learn and grow, acquire new skills, move into entirely new disciplines. Whether that was working in physician practices in high school, running practices after college, building data warehouses or becoming an entrepreneur and starting, growing, and selling start-ups – or running them for long-term growth, as I do today. This willingness to take on new challenges opened doors that I never could have imagined possible, and created a network of trusted colleagues that meant I have only had to apply for a few positions in my entire 32-year career.
Above all, my journey is one of tireless pursuit of doing the right next thing, committing to continuous growth, and saying yes to professional opportunities even when I feared I lacked all of the necessary skills and experience.”
Advice and Lessons Learned
As most commencement speakers do, I too offered advice and lessons learned. In this short excerpt from my remarks I encouraged the new graduates to:
- Jump in.
- Be reliable.
- Know that for most of us growth and career progression do not follow a vertical path, and there is no final destination. Embrace the zig zag of life and growth – don’t be ashamed of it. Like many, I followed an unconventional path to where I am today.