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Business, Diversity & Inclusion, Leaders

Leaders: Sage Advice of Selected Spring 2015 Commencement Speakers

As we near the end of May, the season of pomp and circumstances that accompanies many spring commencements for most U.S. colleges and universities is also coming to a close. This post captures a few snippets of wisdom and advice from selected 2015 commencement speakers. Each brought a special message to their audience in his or her very unique way.

HU_LogoDoing my part to honor my alma maters, Howard University (BS, MS) and Arizona State University (MBA), I have included at least one photo from each school’s commencement activities.

Judy Woodruff – Co-anchor and Managing Editor of PBS News Hour, @ Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication, Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ

“In a cacophony of news noise, the journalists who keep asking questions, who don’t settle for half-stories or cheap opinion, who hate mistakes, who are committed to keeping the American public informed, will always be needed. You will always be needed if those are your values. Our democracy can’t survive without you.”

Robert F. Smith – Founder, Chairman and CEO, Vista Equity Partners @ American University’s School of International Service, Washington, DC

“It is incumbent upon all of you – Class of 2015 – to run your own race.

When I talk about running your own race, what do I mean? Well, everyone’s formula is going to be different…But the single most important part of succeeding today – the single most important part of running and winning your own race – is recognizing that you are enough and that you are an originalYou are enough does not mean that you should not have humility – what it means is that you have a destiny.”

Mellody Hobson – President, Ariel Investments, and Board Chair of DreamWorks Animation SKG @ University of Southern California, Los Angeles, CA

“… I give you permission not to remember anything I said . . . except three words. Come on, three words isn’t a lot. And they are: Just. Add. Bravery.

Let me be clear about what I mean by bravery. To me, being brave means that even when you know an action could end badly, you still forge ahead. Now there’s supersized bravery—the kind that compels a relatively sane person to jump from 24 miles up. There’s also bite-sized bravery, which requires smaller but equally important leaps.”

Matthew McConaughey – Actor and Producer @ The University of Houston, Houston, TX

“…The sooner we become LESS IMPRESSED — with our life, our accomplishments, our career, the prospect in front of us. As soon as we become LESS IMPRESSED — and MORE INVOLVED with these things, the sooner we get a whole lot better at doing them.

…NUMBER 1, LIFE’S NOT EASY…don’t try and make it that way. It’s not fair, it never was, it isn’t now, it won’t ever be. Do not fall into the entitlement trap of feeling you are a victim, you are not. Get over it and get on with it. And yes, most things are more rewarding when you break a sweat to get ‘em.

Define Success for Yourself…I’d argue that our cultural values have even been financialized — humility is not in vogue anymore, it’s too passive. It’s a get rich quick on the internet, 15 minutes of fame world we live in. See it every day.

But, we all want to succeed right? Question we have to ask ourselves is, what success is to us? what success is to YOU?…Continue to ask yourself that question. Your answer may change over time and that’s fine, but do yourself this favor: WHATEVER your answer is, DON’T CHOOSE ANYTHING THAT WILL JEOPARDIZE YOUR SOUL. Prioritize who you are, who you want to be, and don’t’ spend time with anything that antagonizes your character. DON’T DRINK THE KOOL AID!!

It tastes sweet today but it will give you cavities tomorrow. Life is not a popularity contest. Be brave, take the hill but first, answer the question, What is my hill?”

Tim Scott – U.S. Senator (R), State of South Carolina @ South Carolina State University, Orangeburg, SC

“…If you want to stand out in life, stand up for someone who cannot stand up for themselves…Molly and George Green owned a successful company called General Engineering Labs. For many years they focused on making profit. Then they started to travel. Thru their travels they discovered that many of the sicknesses in Africa come from the fact that clean water is simply hard to find.

So they sold their business and decided to go full time into the mission of providing clean water in Africa. Over the last several years people have enjoyed millions of gallons of water all over the continent in some of the poorest areas of Africa…”

Colin Powell – U.S. General (Ret), former National Security Adviser, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Secretary of State, author and lecturer @ Rice University, Houston, TX

“Go forth from this place inspired by those who have gone before. Go forth with the love of your families and the blessings and pride of your teachers.

Go forth to take your place and perform your duty and serve the nation.

Go forth to make this an even more perfect union.

Go forth and raise strong families, remembering that all you can ever leave behind is your reputation, your good works and your children for the next generation. And let your dreams be your only limitation.”

First Lady Michelle Obama – Attorney and Writer, @ Tuskegee Institute, Tuskegee, AL

“…Graduates, that’s what we need from all of you. We need you to channel the magic of Tuskegee toward the challenges of today. And here’s what I really want you to know. You have got everything you need to do this. You’ve got it in you. Because even if you are nervous or unsure about what path to take in the years ahead, I want you to realize that you have everything you need right now to succeed.

You’ve got the knowledge and the skills honed here on this hallowed campus. You’ve got families up in the stands who will support you every step of the way. And most of all you’ve got yourselves. And all the heart and grit and smarts.

And if you rise above the noise and the pressures that surround you, if you stay true to who you are and where you come from, if you have faith in God’s plan for you, then you will keep fulfilling your duty to the people all across this country. And as the years pass, you will feel the same freedom that Charles DeBow did when he was taking off in that airplane. You will feel the bumps smooth off. You’ll take part in that never failing miracle of progress. And you will be flying thru the air out of this world – free.”

Ursula Burns – Chairman and CEO of  Xerox Corporation, @Howard University, Washington, DC

“…When you enrolled at Howard, you already cast your vote.  This noble institution does not graduate people content to sit on the sidelines. Whether you fully appreciate it yet or not, A Howard education commands you to take the front line. You all have both the capacity and the obligation to lead. To those who much is given, much is expected – that’s you – much is expected.

…America is both the greatest nation on earth, and still a very messy place – a work in progress….No generation can complete the task, but every generation must try…Write your story well.”

Maya Rudolph  – Actress and Comedienne, @Tulane University, New Orleans, LA

“So if I must give any of you advice it would be Say Yes. Say Yes, And… and create your own destiny.

So hold on to your old friends. Kiss your Mama. Admit what your dreams are. Don’t beat yourself up if you don’t know what you’re going to do tomorrow. But work hard and don’t be lazy. And put away your damn phone once in a while. And be nice to jerks because we still don’t know the criteria for getting into heaven yet.

Now go make your parents proud and figure out how to end global warming.”

Stephen Colbert – Talk Show Host and Comedian @ Wake Forest University, Salem, NC

“…Any standards worth having will be a challenge to meet. And most of the time, you will fall short. But what is nice about having your own set of standards is that from now on, you fill out your own report card. So do yourself a favor: Be an easy grader. Score yourself on a curve. Give yourself extra credit. You have the power. You are your own professor now. Which I know is a little creepy because that means you’re showering with your professor. But you have tenure. They can’t fire you.

So I hope you find the courage to decide for yourself what is right and what is wrong. And then, please expect as much of the world around you. Try to make the world good according to your standards. It won’t be easy. Get ready for my generation to tell you everything that can’t be done — like ending racial tension, or getting money out of politics, or lowering the world’s carbon emissions. And we should know they can’t be done. After all, we’re the ones who didn’t do them.

Your job, Pro Humanitate, is to prove us wrong. Because if you don’t prove us wrong, then forget everything I’ve been saying.

Tim Cook, CEO – Apple Computers @ George Washington University, Washington, DC

“At Apple we believe that a company that has values can act on them and can change the world. And individuals can too. That can be you. You don’t have to choose between doing good and doing well. The sidelines are not where you want to live your life. The world needs you in the arena.

There are problems that need to be solved, injustices that need to be ended. People that are still being persecuted. Diseases still in need of cure. No matter what you do next, the world needs your energy, your passion, your impatience with progress. Don’t shrink from risk and tune out those critics and cynics.

History rarely yields to one person, but think and never forget what happens when it does. That can be you. That should be you. That must be you.”

Mary Barra – CEO of General Motors and LinkedIn Influencer (as published on LinkedIn, May 6, 2015)

“…Remember, too, it’s important not to limit your potential.  You want to drive your career forward, of course, but progress doesn’t always travel in a straight line.  Each new opportunity broadens your skills and perspective, and the wider your experience, the more you bring to the table as you advance to leadership.  Embrace these opportunities.  Conquer them.  Learn from them.  They will be important investments in your career and the milestones that mark your progress.”

Luke Visconti – Founder and CEO of Diversity Inc. @Bennett College, Greensboro, NC

“I’m optimistic for you mainly because there has been a trend, starting with Ferguson, for social media to direct a new cycle of news that has pried open the discussion on race and racism in our society. When I grew up, and until very recently, we received news from almost all white male run newsrooms. It was a unilateral perspective, one without nuance, and it was racist.  Today, the power of the press is in the hands of the people – social media and cell phone video being spread especially by young people who are already less than 50% white.

…You women are the dreams realized of generations of people who suffered, sacrificed and bartered their lives. You live in a nation that has the extremes of the loftiest goals and ideals for human beings and some of the worst implementation of those ideals, but you have overcome what would destroy the average person, have overcome what the weight of over 300 years of history would do to you, and earned your way financially and academically to be here, in this shelter from the storm, and you earned your degree. Square your shoulders, tilt your chins up, and walk proudly. You’re the strongest Americans we have, and we’re relying on you to deliver our nation from its evil.”

ASU_Commencement2015-bannerOf the above commencement addresses, I am most impressed with actor Matthew McConaughey’s musings that include 13 points to build on. I am sure to come back and visit a few of these points in future blog posts. Many thanks to C-Span and Time Magazine for access to their vlogs and transcripts of the 2015 graduation addresses.

P.S. If you like what you read here, consider leaving a comment and following my blog at A Bridge for Business & STEM. Also like me on LinkedIn, and follow me on Twitter  @vibrowntweets.


About Vi Brown

Vi is principal and CEO of Prophecy Consulting Group, LLC, an Arizona firm that provides business and engineering services to private and public clients. Prior to establishing her consulting practice in 2001, Vi worked with Motorola, Maricopa County Government, Pacific Gas & Electric, CH2M Hill, and Procter & Gamble. As an adjunct faculty member, Vi teaches undergraduate calculus classes and graduate level environmental courses. She is also a professional speaker.


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