Mr. President, Members of the Board, Faculty and Staff, and accomplished Graduates, the first thing I want to say is Thank You for allowing me to be a part of this special day! Only last week I served on a Panel at HCC and was introduced to this amazing staff and the impressive students. I walked away with so much admiration and respect for the level of dedication and commitment this faculty has for its students. Congratulations are in order for not only what you have achieved today, but for selecting this school to be a part of your educational journey.
When I was preparing this speech, I thought back to my own graduation day, many years ago. The truth is that unfortunately I barely remember ANY of the commencement speech! It was helpful to remember that, because it took a bit of pressure off me in attempting to create the perfect speech for you all here today!
But I DO remember what I was hoping to hear in that speech. Like so many of you all sitting in this auditorium today, I was excited but uncertain about exactly what my employment future would hold. There are sometimes in our lives when the future looks fuzzy, or unclear, and it can actually be pretty scary to think through what might come next. In my own graduation I was hoping to hear someone with some life experience who would tell me some of the things THEY had learned that might help to illuminate the path stretching out before me.
Being an Executive Recruiter, I can tell you for a fact that you all now have an advantage over many of your peers. Achieving a degree or certification, will in many cases make your skills worth more in the job market. And I could give you tips on how to get that first job, how to nail an interview, how to get the very best offer, how to beat out the competition, the importance of over-preparing and putting your very best foot forward. But instead I want to talk to you about some of the “Brass Tacks” some of the things that MY experience has taught me, some of what I know for sure.
So, I made a list of these Five Lessons that I have learned, not only from my 25 years as a career consultant, but also from what I have experienced as a human being trying to survive on this planet. These lessons are things I’ve witnessed, heard from employers, applicants, Moms and Dads, Husbands and Wives, Friends and Enemies, and even from my own kids. These are some of the things that, if I had known back on my own graduation day, my journey might have been a whole lot smoother.
- Take the Focus off ME and Put It on We – I’m not trying to dim the lights on this great achievement you’ve just accomplished when I tell you what I’m about to tell you. But the sooner we become less focused on our own individual accomplishments and get more involved in helping others, our whole lives begin to change.
Life is not easy and it’s up to all of us to not fall into the entitlement trap. Most things are more rewarding when you break a sweat to get them. I had a recent college graduate from a highly acclaimed school come into my office.
He sat down on my chair and started saying: “I don’t have any experience, but I have an engineering degree from one of the best schools in the country. This is what I want – I want 100K to start, a company car, 4 weeks vacation, 401K on day one, every other Friday off and I want to wear jeans to work.”
And I replied: “How about this, I will get you 125K to start, 5 weeks vacation, how about a RED Corvette, 401K on day one and EVERY FRIDAY OFF?”
His eyes got big as saucers and he looked at me and said “WOW, are you kidding?”
And I said “Yes, but you started it.”
I don’t think I ever placed that candidate. But at that same time I had a different candidate, and that one came in and talked about how he worked full-time and went to school at night, was a volunteer at a community center, was also an Eagle Scout. He went on several interviews and ended up with a great job. Why? because employers respond more to that type of attitude and background. Confidence is great but it doesn’t make up for hard work, humility and a great work ethic. It’s not always about the status or just what’s in it for us. It’s often more impressive when we can demonstrate how we’ve worked hard for something and in the process, helped someone else.
- You Have To Give To Receive – Often we have to surrender to something outside of ourselves to gain strength within ourselves. And sometimes we have to conquer our fears to get what we crave.
The irony is that sometimes our success can lead to the greatest failure which is giving in to arrogance and pride, while failure can sometimes lead to the greatest success which is humility and learning. In order to fulfill yourself, you have to forget yourself. In order to find yourself, you have to lose yourself.
Right after 911 I felt like the biggest failure on the planet. Only 19 days after 911, my whole life blew up. My husband of 18 years was only 47 years old when he sat right in front of me one day, had a funny pain in his chest and died of an aortic aneurysm the next day. He had been miserable in his career and desperately wanted to do something else for a living. He had worked in a family business and it was a very touchy situation. And there I was, an Executive Recruiter, and I couldn’t help my own husband find a better job. This situation haunted me for a long, long time. I knew I couldn’t bring him back, but I also knew that maybe I could save others from ever getting to the point he did.
You might have heard this idea before, but I truly believe that THE ONLY CONSTANT in this life IS CHANGE. Our lives don’t offer any guarantees, on anything. But I knew possibility is often waiting just around the next corner. So one day after my husband’s death as I was sitting at my computer pretty distraught, I typed in the phrase “writing as a way of healing”. And I immediately found a writing class on the following weekend and decided to sign up. I took that class and met an amazing writing coach. We spoke a bit after class, and he encouraged me to write a book about my experience that might serve to help others to find a career that fulfills them and not ever experience what my husband did. The book was all about aligning yourself with your passions.
It took me 4 years to write that book, and I put a lot of blood, sweat and tears into the process. And I look back now and I am so glad I did; that book is helping others and to date has won 4 awards. Giving that information out to others is what helped me receive the healing I needed to move forward. Losing my husband was a huge loss for me. My entire world fell apart. But it’s sometimes when we hit rock bottom we find ourselves standing on a foundation on which we can rebuild our lives.
- Make Friends With Fear – Don’t be afraid of Fear. And say your fears out loud. Give your obstacles credit but don’t be limited by them. The challenges we face are what force us to grow and expand. Fear is often that dragon within us we have to slay. And we often need a powerful sword to slay that dragon. I’ve used the Faremouth Method to help applicants slay their own dragons within. But we have to be Brave and have Courage too. If we don’t try something new, we never change. And so what if we fail? My failures have taught me so much more than my successes ever had.
I had a boss one time tell me that I didn’t have enough drop placements, which means placements that don’t have good retention.
I looked at her and I said, “You want me to make placements that don’t stick? Why would you want me to do that?”
“Because,” she said, “the person that never makes mistakes is a person that isn’t taking chances and growing. You need to take more chances, Mary Ann.”
But what if by taking those chances we succeed? If you always play it safe, you might miss out on some wonderful experiences. And I’m not talking about careless chances. I’m talking about calculated risks. Having a good safety net in the wings doesn’t hurt either.
- Life’s a Dance, We Learn as We Go; Sometimes we Lead and Sometimes We Follow. That is a great song by John Michael Montgomery, I really love that song. I love it because it is so true. Dance is a unique essential human activity that connects us to the musical rhythms of life. Dance is for the Mind and Spirit as well as the Body – needed to gain a fuller sense of well-being and connection to others. And there is all kinds of dances that we do – Waltz, Break Dance, Salsa etc., But all these different types of dance make an interesting metaphor for the ways in which we each cope with change. And when our careers are undergoing a change, sometimes it can be helpful to step back and reassess the steps you have been doing your whole life. Will you continue to dance through your life in the same way? Will you line dance or break dance? Will you waltz or swing? Do you dance to your own music? It can be incredibly helpful to examine if the way you dance through change is really helping you grow and develop.
Are your dance moves teaching you solid life lessons, is your style a good fit for who you are now? What types of life changes are you dancing through right now, today, as you prepare to graduate and begin your new career? Are you doing the right steps to get you to where you want and need to go? Are you making sure your Linked In profile is professional? Are you cleaning up your FB and all Social Media to make sure a prospective company HR person won’t be offended by what they see on there? Is your resume error free and reflective of your experiences or if you don’t have many work experiences yet, does it demonstrate some work/study activities or volunteer work that shows something about your skillset or what you can bring to the company? Have you done the right steps to get letters of recommendation from your professors or part-time bosses? All these dance steps will help you waltz through these scary times and not make this experience of landing that great job one where you will be having to twist and shout.
- You Hold the Personal Pen to Write a Great Story – You are the ultimate author of the book of your life. And when you make mistakes along the way, own them. You can turn the page but don’t get into the habit of playing the “blame game.” Move on, learn from every experience you have, and don’t let yourself get into a rut.
The story you are writing is a story of determination and educational achievement, as marked by your presence here today. But its also a story of gratitude. It takes many people and many hands to lift us up to our greatest accomplishments. One of the most highly visible signs of a mature, confident, successful adult in any professional field, is that they show gratitude to others, easily and consistently. Gratitude, like kindness and honesty, have a way of replicating themselves in our human society, so never be afraid to thank the people who believe in you and support you; parents, peers, teachers, mentors, bosses, strangers, anyone who helps you become the best person you can be.
You have been given some state of the art tools here at HCC to navigate your way through the process. Keep persevering in your career, and use these 5 lessons to do the work you know you need to do.
You are off to a great start!
THANK YOU! Mary Ann