Living a Positive Life
Thanks Chancellor George for that very kind introduction.
I Would like to dedicate my Commencement Address today to Helen Shopmaker. Her and her late husband, Dr. Allen Shopmaker, represent the best ideals of my address today. I am most proud of them and their dedication to the St. Louis community and to the world beyond! Congratulations, Helen, for earning your honorary degree today. You deserve it!
This graduation ceremony marks the end of my 40th Spring Semester on a college campus. In fact, I have experienced forty falls, 40 winters, and 40 summers, to be exact.
I am at the point in my life where it is hard to imagine missing the beginning of a new academic year or the excitement of graduation. Seeing all of you so thrilled about graduating, about advancing yourselves through your careers, or simply watching you express the sheer joy of having learned so much during your stay at the University of Missouri in St. Louis, always gives me goose bumps. And being part of this extraordinary University family -- our faculty, our staff, and our students at all levels - baccalaureate, masters, and doctoral -- is among the greatest joys and pleasures of my life.
As many of you already know, I am passionate about our work, our profession, our people, and our community. The important work we engage in and the many contributions we make help the world become a better place, especially for our children. What we do, as educators, is, I believe, the most noble of all work, save for parenting. I know each of you feels the same way.
Your graduation today marks a significant accomplishment for you and those you love, and who love you. You leave here today, degree in hand, to continue down the road of life. All that you have learned will serve you well.
However, I would like to remind you, your degree might not be the most important thing you take with you when you leave this building today. Your degree is your key to open doors. But as you stand in the open doorway, you have a choice about how you will fill the room you face.
Each of you has the power to do something meaningful in affecting the lives of others - more so than most other professions. You have the power to bring goodness, justice and joy to children and families. To do these things will unquestionably bring the same to you. What a golden key you hold in your hands!
Your degree does not guarantee that you will be a success. I suggest that your success will depend on the degree of integrity with which you do your job and live your life.
In the words of Robert Kennedy, "Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope." Your most important contribution to the world might be you, and who you are as a caring, kind, civil, decent, and hopeful human being.
Just before his death about a year ago, my long-time friend and mentor, Dr. Don Clifton, the former CEO of the Gallup Organization, completed a book with his grandson, Tom Rath, entitled How Full is Your Bucket? The book uses the metaphor of a bucket being constantly filled or emptied, depending on what we do or say to others, or what others say or do to us. It provides insights on how we affect others, both positively and negatively, in our interactions with them.
Don was the grandfather of the Positive Psychology Movement. He spent a lifetime researching and writing about how people are energized by positive interactions with their fellow human beings. His little book is, for all intents and purposes, a summary of his findings, stated in the simplest and most heartfelt terms, and has, I think, a powerful message for all of us.
Starting today, I would very much love for each of us in our interactions with others, to openly commit ourselves to vitalizing those around us with our positive energy. Or, as Don and Tom would say, "Fill the buckets of those around you with positive drops." The worst thing we can do to another human being is to drain their buckets. We should spend our days filling people's lives, not emptying them!
In the Epilog of their book, they offered some advice based on Don, Tom, and Gallup's 50 years of research on the subject and I will share it with you now.
"Imagine what your world will be like after a year if each day you have consciously made positive contributions to others' lives. We suspect the following changes will have occurred:
- Your workplace (and your world) will be a lot more productive and fun.
- You'll have more friends.
- Your colleagues (and your friends) will be more satisfied and engaged.
- You'll enjoy closer relationships with your family and friends.
- You'll be healthier, happier, and well on your way to a longer life.
There is plenty of scientific and anecdotal evidence to demonstrate the importance of creating positive energy in those around us. Take every opportunity to increase the positive emotions of others. It will make a big difference. It may even change the world."
The Greek philosopher, Heraclitus, told us, "A man's character is his fate." Don Clifton was the essence of what Hereclitus meant - a person of profound character. Don was a great man who brought confidence, joy and goodness into the lives of everyone around him. You can do this as well.
Martin Luther King reminded us to "recognize our common humanity as our first identity; that we are first and foremost men and women in the world today, born to love and be loved - we are interconnected and we need each other." To live up to his words we must make time for each other. Let's treat each other with respect. We must, as Dr. King reminds us, "live together as brothers or perish together as fools."
Sometimes, the best things in life come when we do the simplest things. Ralph Waldo Emerson perhaps best summarizes this notion when he says: "To laugh often and much; to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; to earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; to appreciate beauty, to find the best in others; to leave the world a little better; whether by a healthy child, a garden patch or a redeemed social condition; to know that one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is the meaning of success."
Recently, I saw a wonderful movie starring St. Louisan, Kevin Kline, entitled The Emperor's Club. Towards the beginning of the movie, the Kline character, a teacher, offers the following to his classroom of students. He was reminding them of the importance of making positive contributions to the world:
"Shutruk-Nahunte (1158 B.C.) King! Sovereign of the land of Elam. Destroyer of Sippar. Behold, his accomplishments cannot be found in any history book. Why, because great ambition and conquest without contribution is without significance. What will your contribution be? How will history remember you?"
Shutruk-Nahunte has been utterly forgotten, unlike those who made lasting contributions of great significance - like Aristotle, Confucious, Susan B. Anthony, Martin Luther King, Madame Curie, Florence Nightingale, Mother Theresa, Helen Keller, Socrates, Winston Churchill -- and the list goes on. These were as the Kevin Kline character reminds us, "Giants of history -- people of profound character -- individuals whose accomplishments surpassed their own lifetime and survive even into our own. Their story is our story."
I say to you -- their story is also your story. You must make positive contributions to the world or your life will be without significance, you will be shortly remembered and long forgotten, just like Shutruk-Nahunte.
But, your positive contributions must also be an honest reflection of your integrity and your goodness and decency as a human being!
Stephen Carter, in his wonderful book entitled, Integrity, says that first among the virtues that make for good character is integrity. The "rest of what we think matters very little if we lack essential integrity, the courage of our convictions, the willingness to act and speak in behalf of what we know to be right."
If you won't stand up for what is right, and good, and just, and decent, and honorable in the world, who will?
If you won't stand up against injustice, and hate, and bigotry, and prejudice, and racism, who will?
If you won't engage in acts of kindness, or be charitable, or make powerful and positive contributions to the world, or stand up for social justice, or grasp the hands of your friends and strangers in time of need, if you won't fill the buckets of people with good will, acts of kindness, and generosity, WHO WILL?
To do these things is your destiny.
Heraclitus, said, "You cannot step into the same river twice. In the flow of time an opportunity lost is lost forever." Don't let your opportunity slip away. Always remember, "the end depends upon the beginning." Start your beginning of a good and decent and honorable life today. Do it now! Be a positive person. Fill the buckets of those around you. Do it with civility and integrity. To do less is to diminish who you are as a human being.
So, my friends, go forward from this place today, dedicated to the desire to do good deeds throughout your life - to filling the lives of all around you with things positive, committed to being a person of immense civility and integrity, and one who leads your life acting and speaking in behalf of what you know to be right. If you remember these rules of living the good and decent life, I assure you, your life will be judged to be a success.
Your contributions in this regard will most certainly be remembered. Your place in history will be assured.
"The worth of a life is not determined by a single failure or a solitary success." Life has taught us that. However much we stumble, it is always our hope, that with new learning, our character might be changed, and so to, our destiny.
Congratulations on your accomplishments. Congratulations for Living a Positive Life.
Now, my friends, go forth and fulfill your destiny.