Building Blocks for Success: A Commencement Speech

by Denny Strigl

Managers, Can You Hear Me Now, Denny Strigl, 0071759131

Canisius College Undergraduate Commencement Address
May 21, 20011: President Hurley, Trustees, Regents, Jesuits of Canisius College, faculty, staff, parents, family, friends and members of the graduating class of 2011. Congratulations on your graduation, and thank you for allowing me the honor of being part of it.

As I prepared to speak to you today I asked several friends for their suggestions about what I should say to inspire you. One of my engineering friends said to talk to you about the propagation aspects of cellular radio spectrum in the 850 megahertz band. I rejected his idea!

To get serious for a few minutes, I did think a lot about what I could possibly say today that might inspire you, that might give you something to think about as you begin the next phase of your lives. I clearly understand I’m competing with the excitement of the day and your thoughts about the parties you will be attending this afternoon and tonight.

So, with all that in mind, I would like to share my understanding of some important things I’ve come to understand over the 65 years of my life’s journey so far. These are things I thought I knew, but now I know I didn’t fully understand them years ago. There are just six simple things I would like to say and ask you to consider.

First, know that life is not always fair. You do know this. It’s a fact of life. But do you know it is how you respond to the adversity you encounter that will define the person you become? It’s true. We can choose to let the bad things that happen to us pull us down, and keep us down. Or we can view every challenge in life as an opportunity to learn from, rise above and move on; hopefully, a better person because of it. What I now know that I didn’t clearly understand years ago is that with the right mindset you can turn even the most difficult of circumstances into successes if you truly commit yourself to doing so.

Graduates, my wish for you is that you will have the ability to turn every challenge into an opportunity

The second thing I’ve learned over the years is something we all know, but I have come to know much more about just how important it really is. Here I speak of integrity. Integrity is the basis of trust. Trust, I have found is a building block for sustained success. When you are trusted, opportunities abound. It all begins with your integrity. So what is integrity? There are many who would define it simply as honesty. When I use the word integrity, I mean more than just honesty. Honesty is a critical, but not an exclusive, component of integrity. Frankly, I have known people without integrity who were, nonetheless, truthful–as in, “Yes, I took the money from the vault.” By integrity I mean an adherence to moral and ethical principles. My way of thinking about this is simple: an individual with integrity is someone who will do the right thing even when no one is watching. In our world of instant gratification and instant communication please believe me when I tell you that you will be tempted, or perhaps even told by someone, to do something you know isn’t the right thing to do.

Graduates, my wish for you is that you will always do the right thing even when no one is watching.

Third, I always thought I knew what I’m about to tell you, but here, too, I never knew just how important it really is. Please don’t ever stop learning. Commit to making yourself a little better every day. Conditions around you will perpetually change. I have found that unless you continually improve your mind and build your skills, your ability to succeed at whatever you pursue will diminish. Personally, I have always had a goal of learning at least one new thing every day. This attitude toward learning can make a big difference in personal growth.

I wish for you the ability to learn something new every day of your lives.

Next is something I learned the hard way. Until the last few years of my working career my life revolved around my work. What I have come to know is the importance of balancing your work life with your personal life. All too often, even now, I hear people brag about the number of hours they work or that they are the last one out of the parking lot at night. They are making a mistake. It is very important to take time to enjoy their family and friends, and to nurture their personal relationships. If we don’t focus on bringing balance into our lives, we will suffer either personally, or professionally, and often both. As an aside; you may find this surprising coming from the former CEO of Verizon Wireless, but I have found one of the biggest distractions in life is emailing and text messaging. Okay, I know you are thinking, “What the heck is this old guy saying.” So, I will add, this may make no sense to you now, but I’m almost certain it will several years from now. I have known too many people who have destroyed relationships because they were addicted to their electronic devises.

Graduates, I wish for you the ability to always balance your personal and work lives.

Fifth, you will “wear many hats” throughout the years ahead. You will do many good things. Hopefully, many great things. Please consider something I know to be very important. As you rise in your chosen professions try not to get caught up in your own self importance. If you can be humble, people will no less recognize your accomplishments…. and they will appreciate you even more.

I wish for you the ability to always be humble.

Finally, be in charge of your own life and your own career. Never wait to be given something–it may never come. In the work a day world, success comes to those who live by high standards, set lofty goals, stay focused and work hard to achieve their goals. I have found the same to be true in personal life.

Of course, I wish for you the ability to stay focused and achieve your goals.

Over the years I have often heard people talk about the colleges they attended and the quality of the education they received. I’m here to tell you something I’ve also come to know very clearly; there is no better education than one steeped in Jesuit ideals and values. You have received an education focused on care of the whole person– mind, body and spirit. It is the wonderful education you received here at Canisius that will be the foundation for great success and proud accomplishments.

So, the building blocks for success, in whatever you choose to do are:

  • Turn challenges into opportunities
  • Live with integrity
  • Never stop learning
  • Balance your life
  • Be humble
  • Take charge.

Lastly, my wish for you is that you will use your skills and talents to create a better world, and that you find and keep what you love.

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