Commencement

Gary Dollar, President and CEO, United Way of Greater St. Louis

 

Class of 2011 - Woo Hoo! You've made it! You've done it! Congratulations!

I hate to bring up a negative note today of all days, but to be honest with you, not everyone thought you would be sitting here today. We are not going to name names - but you know who they are. But look at this, look at where you are today.

Now on the positive side a lot, and I mean a LOT, of people did believe in you.

They supported you, they sat with you when it was tough, they cried with you when it was impossible and they are celebrating with you today.

So to Chancellor George, the faculty, the staff and especially family and friends - congratulations to you too because you played a key role in getting everyone here today.

Graduates, in the midst of all of today's excitement, don't forget to thank them.

On a day like today it seems someone should say something profound. And I've worked really hard all week to think of something and to tell you the truth - I've got nothing!

It is a rude and painful awakening to find out at 57 that I am just not that deep. My wife was shocked and surprised also - that it took me 57 years to figure this out.

Now while I may not be deep and profound, I do think I have the ability to perceive things that are profound.

Your commitment to getting the education represented in this ceremony is profound.

Think about it - you are saying you think you can make a difference, an impact, add value and beauty to your life and the lives of others. You are saying you have something to offer.

That is profound - and maybe a little cocky - and it is exactly what we need. We need you believing and acting on that confidence in yourself and making things different than they are today.

Your belief in your ability to make a difference, to add value and beauty is, perhaps, the most single important thing you are carrying with you from this great institution.

In Tim O'Brien's historical novel, The Things They Carried, he writes about the lives of soldiers in Viet-Nam from the perspective of what they carried with them - letters, tokens, memories - those kinds of things.

What you carry with you is important and it can determine and tell the story, the truth, of your life.

Hopefully, as you leave this institution of learning, you are carrying with you some things that will make your story, and thus those of us around you, a good one. Some of the things I hope you carry are:

An ability to not only learn, but to also think and feel.

I hope you carry fresh eyes to see new opportunities and solutions and an ability to gently tell those who can no longer see the obvious, the direction of hope. I tell our new staff at United Way that the best things they bring to us in the first 6 months are their fresh eyes - to help us see how things can be different. We need you to tell us how to do it better. Now I encourage you to tell us that gently for our egos sake and for the sake of keeping your job.

I hope you carry an understanding that the question is often as important as the answer. If you work hard to discover the right question, you are more likely to get the best answer. We have far too many people with all the answers and too few with the right questions. I hope as you leave this place you carry some really good questions that you don't have the answer to - and that will take your lifetime to answer.

If you are not profound, it can be dangerous to give advice - but I will give you the most important advice I have:

Build your life, not your career.

At the United Way we talk about the importance of community and Living United - you do that by volunteering, giving and advocating. A life is built in community, not in pursuit of a career.

Give yourself by giving your time for others - volunteering will make you feel good and the data indicate it will make you healthier.

Give your treasure - everyone needs help at some time.

Support this University. Give others the chance you have had to get a good education.
The recent tornados reminded us that everyone needs the community at some time - give to help make the community better.
Giving will give you a perspective on "value".

Advocate - care about something deeply enough to argue and work for it - it will energize your live.

Many of you, I hope all of you, have aspirations to be leaders. In my job I get to talk to successful business leaders. They tell me that to be a true leader you have to engage the community, make it better. It is not enough just to be successful in business; you need to improve the community if you want to be a true leader.

As a final word, I want to tell you what my father told me on my graduation day. He said "son, you have done well and you have made me proud. Now make me happy and get a job.

I wish you all the best of success in making your families happy.