Thank you, Chancellor George, for those very kind words. To begin, I first want to thank Chancellor George, ______________________, the distinguished faculty, graduates, family and friends for your warm welcome today. As a former graduate of this University, it is both a privilege and an honor to come back here and address you all this afternoon.
I MUST SAY, it is hard to believe that it has been over 25 years since I sat right where you are all sitting today. I remember being excited, a little nervous and very relieved my final exams were over. While I am sure that many of you share those same feelings today, much has changed over the past 25 years. Perhaps the most obvious difference to me is that when I graduated, I had hair, and what I had did not have a speck of gray. Laugh now, but your time will come.
ANOTHER OBVIOUS CHANGE is in the campus itself. Of course, there is the Touhill Performing Arts Center - a true masterpiece not only for the University, but for the entire St. Louis Community. The Millennium Student Center has been another wonderful addition. When I attended school here, our Student Center was maybe the size of a classroom. And just down the road, there is the corporate headquarters of Express Scripts, a Fortune 500 company that is a world leader in their industry. Having seen these changes take place over the last several years has been quite stunning.
LOOKING BEYOND the University, many, many other things have changed since I graduated here 25 years ago. One of the most notable is how we communicate. 25 years ago, I used to ride around in my car with a bunch of dimes and quarters in case I needed to stop and make a call at a payphone. In business, mass communications were still typed up on a typewriter and hundreds if not thousands of copies were made and they were mailed out at the post office. And if you were really cutting edge, you owned a fax machine.
OF COURSE, today we email, we blackberry, we facebook, we twitter, we text and we talk to our friends while we are looking at them on our computer. I don't even know what you call that. Now I have four beautiful children - 2 daughters and 2 sons ranging in age from 12 to 20. Now I am sure your parents will appreciate this. I tell them this same story and I get this blank look….and then they just shake their head and mumble something like - what a loser. Been there, done that -- right.
OF COURSE, given that all our communications are now instantaneous, perhaps the biggest change I have witnessed over the last 25 years is our pace in life. Everyone is now reachable and available 24/7 - 365 days a year. Now I have to tell you, multi-tasking 25 years ago was talking on the phone and watching TV, or in the business world, dictating a memo on a tape recorder while you were driving. Today, and again, I know all you parents have experienced this, you walk into your childrens' room and the earplug is in the IPOD, the laptop is on facebook, the cell phone is in the hand and a text message is being banged out, and oh yes, the book is also open. I must say, they don't make desks big enough anymore. Now we all know that I speak the truth.
SO WHEN CHANCELLOR GEORGE asked that I come speak to you today, I was a bit stressed because I wasn't sure what message I could effectively communicate to you since I really lived in a meaningfully different era. Well, the fact of the matter is that while much has changed over the past 25 years, the important point is that I believe there are a handful of key attributes or fundamentals that have not, and will not change in the future. Recognizing these things today, in my opinion, will make a meaningful difference in your life.
THE FIRST THING that has not changed in the past 25 years is that you can all walk out of here today with the confidence that the education you received here is not only one of the best in this state, but one of the best in this country and indeed, the world. 25 years ago, I was told the same thing by many people. I must say that I was skeptical. Today, I can tell you that I, and my other UMSL graduates, are living proof of that statement. I can honestly say that I would not be in the position I am in today if it weren't for the quality education I received at UMSL.
SECOND, the importance of living what I call the fundamental values at home and in the workplace has not changed. Those values include integrity, respect and stewardship. These are big words and very high standards, but how you live these values will define you as a person.
A THIRD THING that has not changed in 25 years is the importance of being a good listener. I mean actively listening to the person or group you are talking with. You see, being a good listener tells the person or group before you that you respect their views; that you are humble enough to know that you do not know it all and that you are willing to learn. Frankly, I rarely learn anything when I am talking. While this sounds simple, it is far more difficult than you think. Trust me, I know. You are all very well-educated and have a lot to offer; but I can tell you that you will have even more to offer if you can master being a good listener.
SOMETHING ELSE that has not changed in 25 years is the need to be willing to continue to improve yourself. Whether it be personal or professional, that thirst to grow, to learn new things and apply them everyday will make a tremendous difference in your life. I hate to break the news to you, but your education did not end with your final exam here. No, it is just starting. And that is exciting. Again, this sounds easy on paper, but it is often very challenging. It takes hard work, commitment and personal accountability. I have to tell you a story - you see, the importance of this trait was really hammered home to me when I had the good fortune of meeting, and playing golf with, Tiger Woods. Talk about stress. Try hitting a golf ball when the world's all-time greatest player is standing behind you. Of course, the operative phrase here is that Tiger was standing behind me. If you would see me playing golf, you would appreciate the importance of Tiger's being behind me on the golf course while I hit the ball. I digress.
THAT DAY TIGER SPOKE ABOUT THE COUNTLESS hours he spends everyday working out and hitting golf balls. Or doing research on organizations his charitable foundation supports. Or educating himself on a variety of economic and financial matters. You see, even the greatest golfer of all-time knows he needs to get better, to continually improve, personally and professionally, and he holds himself accountable to do so. If it is important enough for Tiger, it should be for us as well.
YET THE MOST IMPORTANT THING that has not changed in 25 years is the importance for all of you to serve and share your many talents with others. I am not sure if you are all aware of this, but 73% of all UMSL graduates live and work in the St. Louis region. More than 54,000 of UMSL's graduates live in the St. Louis area - ours is the largest alumni population in the region. I am one of those individuals. In my role as President and CEO of AmerenUE, I have the great privilege of serving our 9,500 employees, as well as over 1 million of our Missouri customers. In fact I suspect that I serve many of you in the audience today.
I HAVE ALSO had the privilege of serving on many boards, including those here at UMSL, as well as many other charitable organizations where I have been able to offer my talents and financial resources. You see, I believe that people like you and me, that is, those that have been educated and remain in this area, have not only the ability, but in many respects, the duty to give our talents and resources back. The bottom line is that the community needs us. You have to recognize that we are the foundation and the fabric of this community. We can and do make a difference. Of all the things I have said, I hope you take this point to heart because you are all the future of this great region. And frankly, that makes me feel very good.
AND SO, TO SUMMARIZE the key fundamentals that have not changed in 25 years:
- You are leaving here with a world-class education;
- Remember the importance of living the fundamental values at home and in the workplace;
- Be a good listener;
- Always be willing to continually improve yourself, both personally and professionally;
- And remember the importance of serving and sharing your talents and resources with the community.
IN CLOSING, let me tell you that there is one final thing that has not changed in 25 years, and that is the importance of celebrating your successes. And that is what today is all about. Your graduation today is a big deal. Not just for you, the graduates. But for all your friends and family members who made great sacrifices so that you are here today. Today's graduation is a team effort. Believe me, I know. My parents, friends and family made those same sacrifices. Be sure not only to celebrate it with family and friends, but also be proud of yourselves. You deserve it. And so, let me be the first to congratulate you all on this great accomplishment. I wish you and your family the very best in the future.
Thank you for sharing your very special day with me today.