Spring 2014 Commencement Address
Dr. Larry Minks, President
Southeastern Oklahoma State University
May 10, 2014
Distinguished guests, faculty, alumni, parents, families, and members of the Class of 2014:
Congratulations! Your day has arrived! Give yourself a big round of applause!
It is a privilege to be your commencement speaker today. It is a special occasion for all of us to celebrate, for as Winston Churchill said:
“This is not the end, this is not even the beginning of the end, this is just perhaps the end of the beginning.”
In other words, your education has helped prepare you to be successful as you enter the next phase of your life.
In preparing my remarks, I discovered that the longest commencement speech in history was delivered at Harvard in the early 19th century. Lasting more than six hours, it was spoken in Latin and Greek. And, believe it or not, when it was finally over, the graduates were administered a test.
With that in mind, I have good news: I will not be speaking for six hours, using the Latin or Greek languages, and will certainly not be giving you a test.
I also discovered that two of the shortest commencement speeches were delivered by a former governor of Wyoming and filmmaker Woody Allen.
When it came time for the governor to speak, he rose slowly from his chair, approached the podium, gazed upon the graduates, and simply said: “You done good.’’ He then promptly returned to his seat.
Woody Allen, meanwhile, was a little more philosophical. He stepped to the podium, recognized the administrators, faculty and alumni, then faced the students and uttered two sentences: “We have given you a perfect world. Please do not screw it up.’’
I think we would all agree that you are not entering a perfect world. But you are entering a world with unparalleled challenges and opportunities. It is up to you to use your knowledge to find your way.
Before we look into the future, I think it is meaningful for all of us to pause and reflect this morning on the rich history of Southeastern Oklahoma State University…and to appreciate the hard work and sacrifice of those who came before us. We would not be where we are today without the foundation that was established by the professors, administrators, staff members, students, and the Durant community when this institution opened in 1909.
Southeastern’s journey, which began with such humble beginnings, has now evolved to where we serve 4,000 students at eight locations.
Remember, Southeastern Oklahoma State University is an extraordinary place. Let’s never forget that, or take it for granted.
And while we should appreciate and celebrate our past, we must also forge ahead.
You have a bright future — one sure to be fraught with challenges — but also a future with hope for promising and innovative solutions.
Graduates, I would like to leave you with a couple thoughts before you cross the stage.
First, “Believe In Yourself’’
Each of you has unique talents and abilities, but to reach your full potential, you must always believe in yourself. That’s where it all begins.
Our mission embodies this — stating that “Southeastern Oklahoma State University provides an environment of academic excellence that enables students to reach their highest potential.”
But what does this really mean?—reaching potential? Let’s reflect on that for just a moment in light of the fact that higher education continues to come under increasing scrutiny and, believe me, the stakes couldn’t be higher.
The pressures and debate have been building in a couple ways:
1) Notion that institutions becoming trade schools or vocational schools measured by ROI
2) People forget that higher education is not just a private investment, it is a public good
Our great institutions were primarily founded in 19th Century—with the discussion of higher education as a public good—nobody talked about it as a private investment.
The discussion was around giving people the ability to be leaders, be public citizens, be people who enriched and developed our democracy.
Now, because of a number of stresses and political pressures, higher education is viewed in many circles as a private investment and it can be measured by return on that investment.
There is a large and growing debate between: a) a liberal arts education provides the most comprehensive education and enables critical thinking or b) No—it is better to emphasize technical fields and specialties.
Behind all this debate is the sense about getting a better first job, getting better wages.
**DO NOT AND WE MUST NOT FALL INTO THAT TRAP**
If we are not educating the leaders of tomorrow, if we are not educating citizens to be participants in our democracy, if we are not educating our students to have fuller and more productive lives—shame on us—we have missed the boat—we have missed it entirely.
If we think of higher education solely as ROI and forget that it is a public good, then we are not doing our jobs.
This is a huge challenge and the political pressures are only building further and will not go away—we have to make sure that the public good, the public values are here as well.
It means that the University offers higher education opportunities for students to grow into productive citizens, and to help make their communities better, to give back, and ultimately, make the world a better place. Graduates, reflect on that premise—if that is not consistent with your philosophy, it bears further reflection on your part.
That mission, that goal, that purpose, that vision, that foundation, was created by a group of visionaries in 1909 and remains in 2014 and beyond.
When you hit a bump in the road of life – and believe me, you will — don’t stop believing in yourself and your potential. The world is full of doubters – don’t allow self-doubt to creep into your life.
Oklahoma Governor Brad Henry said it best 10 years ago when he stood on this very stage and told our graduates:
“Believe in yourself, and the rest will fall into place. Have faith in your own abilities, work hard, and there is nothing you cannot accomplish.’’
Second, it is also important for you to “Be a Good Role Model.’’
Like it or not, we are all role models. Choose to be a positive role model. Live your life as if the whole world were watching. Be Kind. Help others. Show humility.
You are about to enter a world where you will no longer be judged by your grades, but by your character. By your actions, rather than your words.
“Being a role model is the most powerful form of educating…too often parents neglect it because they get so caught up in making a living they forget to make a life.”
Clayton Christensen has written a classic book titled “How Will You Measure Your Life” and begins by asking several questions: How can I be sure I’ll be happy in my career? In my life? How can I be sure that my relationships with my spouse and family become an enduring source of happiness? How can I lead a life with integrity?
Your decisions about allocating your personal time, energy, and talent ultimately shape your life’s strategy.
The marginality of doing something wrong “just this once” always seems ok. You don’t see the end result to which that path leads. The key is to define what you stand for and draw the line and stand firm in that place. Otherwise, it will always be moving.
It’s also important to be authentic. As author Bill George states—an authentic leader is genuine and true to what they believe in. They understand the purpose of leadership, they lead with consistent values, and with their heart, as well as their head. They have courage, compassion, empathy and build long-term connected relationships. And they have the personal self-discipline to deliver extraordinary results.
This, compared to someone trying to emulate someone else or trying to be what you want them to be, or someone not being consistent day in and day out, or they turn out to be jerks, but they are not the person that you would hope they truly are.
Remember, your education and authenticity no one can take away from you!
In closing, this is your day—enjoy it!! You have not only “done well”, but you have prepared yourself for the opportunity to make the world a “better place.”
Your true test—the test of life and your integrity—awaits.
Congratulations and good luck.