Charles D. Schmitz, Dean and Professor of the College of Education
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
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
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
- You'll have more friends.
- Your colleagues (and your friends) will be more satisfied and
- You'll enjoy closer relationships with your family and friends.
- You'll be healthier, happier, and well on your way to a longer
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
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.