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Andrew Hall, Former President and CEO of Stage Stores Inc.

Hello, before we get started, I wanted to speak directly to the most important people in attendance today.  No it is not you graduates, it is all the Mothers in the audience.  Happy Mother’s Day!  Thank you for sharing a part of your special day. I know that you are very proud of your special graduate but it is still nice of you to share your day.

Now to the graduates.  Congratulations!  I am very proud of you all.  Now that may sound odd to you as I do not know any of you personally.  Let me just check, raise your hand if we know each other.  As I suspected, I do not know any of you.  So why am I so proud of you?  Well, although it has been 29 years since I graduated from UMSL, I still remember the commitment and hard work it takes in order to graduate.  So yes, I am very proud of all of you.   This is a tremendous accomplishment that will pay off handsomely.  I will give you a couple of statistics that support this statement: In the last BLS population survey, the unemployment rate was 9.4% for those with a high school diploma vs. 4.9% for those with a bachelor’s degree! It gets better, the median weekly earnings were 65% higher for the bachelor’s degree holder!  It really is a great day today!

I was talking to a friend of mine a couple of weeks ago about the honor I had to speak with you today.   He asked what the theme of my address was going to be and whether I was going to share my 29 years of post college experience.  Actually, that is not true, he first asked why they picked me.  I responded that I thought they finally asked someone who did not check the calendar to see that it was Mother’s Day.  My wife was not real happy when she found out.  But back to the theme, my research indicated that most graduates do not remember one thing from their commencement address.  I corroborated this when I pulled out my 1983 UMSL commencement program and read who the commencement speaker was.  Not only did I not remember the speaker or one word that he said, I did not even remember being there!  So with that in mind, I decided to speak to a theme that you may find immediately useful.  And because you are business and engineering grads, it was easy to land on something near and dear to your hearts: money and jobs.

Before I talk about jobs, and specifically how you should exploit your UMSL pedigree in finding employment, I did decide to share some post graduation learning.  Now, I fully understand that by tomorrow morning almost every one of you will not remember any of this, and therefore I am calling this part of our chat:

My Top 5 Pearls of Wisdom That Will Be Forgotten By Tomorrow Morning.

NUMBER 5:  Learn from your mistakes!  This is the best form of learning -- usually because it is the most painful.  But it is valuable.  Do not be afraid to make a mistake.   If you are not making any mistakes, then I can assure you that you are playing it too safe and not thinking outside of the box.  The key here is to learn from your mistakes and do not make the same mistake twice!   Making a mistake once is a learning experience, but making the same mistake twice is death.

NUMBER 4:  It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it.  This is true in most aspects of life, especially work and marriage.  It is also an art form.  For some it will take years to learn, others will never learn it (especially in the marriage part).  But if you are going to effectively be heard in the corporate world you will need to learn how to express disagreement or alternate views with your superiors without alienating them.  As a CEO, I recognize this as the most important skill of my team because you can not be successful surrounded by “yes” people.  I need people to express alternative views.

NUMBER 3: Move.  I am not going to win any brownie points from the mother’s and probably father’s in the audience today but one of the best learning and maturation processes that you can experience will be to move from your hometown.  You will encounter and learn that there are many varying perspectives in the world that differ from what you have been taught growing up in your hometown.  And I mean more than realizing that St. Louis is the only city where someone means your high school when they ask you where you went to school.

NUMBER 2:  Scorecarding.  Be careful with this one.  By scorecarding I mean measuring your progress in your career.  You have to remember that the ultimate career score is measured when you retire.  Every measurement before that is just an temporary assessment.  The biggest danger in scorecarding your career is what you are measuring against.  Measure against your goals and requirements not against someone else’s.   Everyone’s goals and requirements are different and will change multiple times in your careers.  Moving out of your parent’s house, getting married, having kids, buying a house all will result in your goals and requirements changing.  So scorecard, but be healthy about it and measure it against your goals and not your arch enemy’s in the next cubicle.

NUMBER 1:  I do have a request.  If there is anything that you are going to remember long-term from our discussion today, make it this.  Your integrity is your most important asset.  You have many assets: your good looks, your intellect, your charisma etc. but the most important asset is your integrity.  Your adherence to your code of values is controlled by you alone.  No one, except you, can make you compromise your integrity.  If you compromise your integrity, you can not run from it.  The reason you can not run from it is that every morning the person you look at in the mirror will know that you compromised your integrity.   So protect your integrity at all costs, even if it requires you to lose your job over it.[Repeat]

Okay, now let’s talk about getting a job.  I think every one of you should be very confident in your job search.  I know some of you have already lined up a job.  You should listen too because what we discuss will also help you down the road.

I have to tell you that I need to get something off of my chest.  My experience with UMSL graduates, back to my days when I graduated and in subsequent recruiting trips to campus, is that too many UMSL grads seem to be almost apologetic as to from where they are graduating.  I just do not get this.  I don’t get this at all!
 I do not know if it is because UMSL is a commuter school, whether it is the little brother syndrome, whether its the urban setting, or the fact that many students must work during their school years.  Maybe it’s a combination of these.  It should not be this way.   So my goal is to dispel any doubts you may have about the significant value your UMSL degree will bring you in your job search.

I am going to start with “What a prospective employer is not interested in as they recruit talent”.  
They are not interested in what bowl game your football team went to.
They are not interested in whether you slept in a bed on campus or off campus.
They are not interested in whether your school was Division I, II or III.
They are not interested in what your school’s mascot is.  [work in a tiger joke]
And they do not care that you could not afford to go to an Ivy League school.
So, what do they care about?

Prospective employers are interested in 
Somebody who takes initiative – like going to college
Somebody that gets results – like graduating college (with honors even better)
Someone that exhibits a strong work ethic – none better than working your way through school
Someone with little risk in transitioning into the work force – this has an UMSL grad written all over it. 

That is what prospective employer’s are interested in.  Trust me you have what employer’s want but you have to sell it.  And if you do not believe it [in here] [in your heart], then you won’t be able to sell it.   In every interview you will be given a chance to sell why your decision to go to UMSL was the right decision and why your experiences at UMSL gives you a competitive edge over your competition.  Let me give you an example of how that conversation could go:  Andy what about your college experience gives you the confidence that you will succeed here at XYZ company?
I enjoyed my experience at UMSL for many reasons including being surrounded by students that were as committed and serious about their education as I was.  Many of whom worked their way through school – 20, 30, or 40 hours a week. 

And I am so thankful that there was a quality academic University that embraced and sought this type of student body.

A school that understands that working is a necessary part of many of today’s student’s college life.

A university that provides schedule flexibility with significant course offerings at night, and access to faculty and professors night and day.  A faculty that is as engaged with their student’s as they are with research and publication.

Be passionate and sell your experience.  You should maintain this perspective, confidence and passion after you start your job as well.

Take it from me, the UMSL degree that you will receive today gives you a competitive edge against every other college grad out there and will increase your value creation exponentially-- if you let it.

Okay, I am going to give you a break for a minute and I am going to address your parents, grandparents, friends and other relatives.  So the 50% of you that have been on your ipods and smartphones since we started, well you keep doing what you have been doing and the rest of you can look over their shoulders.

Well parents this is a very meaningful day for you too and I just wanted to let you know that I am proud of you as well.  I am a father of four, one of whom is in college and I know what a challenging job you had getting your graduate across the finish line.  It started many years ago in pre-school and took a lot of effort, patience, nurturing and an occasional kick in the behind but you did it!  Job well done!  I am truly proud of you, too!

Okay Grads, let’s close it down.  I am really excited for you.  I do not think I am overstating it when I say:  today is a great start to the rest of your lives.  29 years ago I had no idea where I would be today.  And I know you do not know where you will be in 29 years, in fact nobody knows.  But, that is the exciting part: your journey is just getting started and it will be filled with many accomplishments – some of them as big or bigger than what you accomplished today.  Embrace the unknown, be confident, grab the steering wheel and start an exciting journey.

Thank you so much for having me.  It was a lot of fun!