President Chabotar’s Charge to the Class of 2008
Now it’s my turn to give a charge to the Class of 2008. I graduated from college forty years ago this month. To paraphrase King Henry II in the play A Lion in Winter, I am the oldest person I know. I must have learned something. How else could I be a college president, 61, and alive all at the same time?
Three lessons: Visualize success, don’t sweat the small stuff, live your passion.
Remember Davidson College and its miracle run at the NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship? Their star player Stephen Curry wrote in black marker at the bottom of his shoes, “I can do all things.” That’s our first lesson: visualize success.
Of course, everyone fails sometime at something. I get that. But I cannot comprehend not trying. Fear is an illusion. You do not have to be a Nelson Mandela or George Patton or Fannie Lou Hamer to quit whining and get on with it. You may not have heard of Fannie Lou Hamer. Because she tried to register to vote in Mississippi, Hamer was evicted from her home, shot at, beaten and jailed. She later reflected after she eventually got to vote that “The only thing they could do to me was to kill me, and it seemed like they’d been trying to do that a little bit at a time ever since I could remember.”
Like Fannie Lou Hamer, the most successful people do not succumb to their fears and dwell on problems. They find opportunities even in the most hopeless situations.
- Don’t give up on the child who apparently cannot learn. Find a more effective way to teach.
- Don’t give up on the job you want. Keep knocking on doors even if your knuckles bleed. Network with people who can help you even if your smile freezes and your feet hurt. Getting a “No” simply sets you up to find someone else who will say “Yes.”
- Don’t give up on being a force for social change. Don’t buy the status quo in environmental protection, health care, housing for the homeless, and paramount issues of war and peace. We can do better. Yes we can.
This year’s presidential race has allowed parents around the world to point to Obama, Clinton, and McCain and say to their sons and daughters, “There, you see? You can be anything you want to be.”
Whoever coined the phrase, “Don’t sweat the small stuff” probably never played for Dean Smith at Carolina or worked for Jack Welch at GE. Nevertheless, our second lesson is that most of what stresses us out does not really matter.
- Traffic on I-95.
- A long line in the caf.
- A screaming kid or cell phone loser on an airplane.
- Forgetting to TiVo “American Idol.”
- Getting a non-fat latte when you ordered a decaf cappuccino.
Who cares? Keep your eye on the important issues in your personal and professional life:
- Don’t get diverted by small things you want to do or like to do. Save time for big things you have to do.
- Don’t obsess when someone ticks you off or does something stupid but minor. Deal with it. Get over it. It’s easy to hate. It’s far harder to forgive.
- Celebrate your colleagues and friends for who they are and what they can do instead of focusing on what they aren’t and can’t.
During the Civil War, or what some of you call the War of Northern Aggression, General Grant won many battles including Fort Donelson and Shiloh after a string of Union losses by incompetent commanders. Nevertheless, Grant’s heavy drinking drew serious criticism and calls for his dismissal. President Lincoln put it all in perspective when he responded, “I cannot spare this man; he fights. If I knew what brand of whiskey he drinks I would send a barrel or so to my other generals.”
Another story I like is about Pope John XXIII who was once asked how many people work at the Vatican? Without missing a beat, he replied, “About half.”
Finally, the third lesson is live your passion. Life is too short not to be doing what you love. Listen to your heart. Half my friends hate their jobs. I love mine. My days are spent helping students learn, faculty teach, administrators manage, and trustees govern In ancient times, many felt that the highest accolade was Civis Romanus Sum, I am a citizen of Rome. I say with even more pride, I am an educator. I am a teacher.
For me, the alarm clock test is fundamental. When you have a job and every day when the alarm clock rings, how do you feel about getting up?
- If you’re psyched about going to work, you’ve passed the test.
- If you’re miserable day after day, perhaps it’s time for a change. And one day, you’ll get up and, like Howard Beale in the film Network, think to yourself or say out loud, “I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore!”
Have the life you want. Allow your creativity to lead you to becoming an architect, artist or an actor. Follow your feelings to start a relationship or even a family. Capitalize on the leadership skills you learned here to build a business, become a president or director, or motivate others to achievements they would never do on their own.
In addition, remember that there are second chances. George Eliot wrote, “It is never too late to be what you might have been.” For, at your end of days, whether you have taken one path or twenty, what you seek is that singular serenity of knowing that your life has been well spent, and that it mattered.
There you have it: three lessons for a Saturday morning. Please pack those thoughts in your suitcase, duffel bag, or car as you prepare to leave.
Saying good-bye is tough. While we are smiling now, the faculty and staff also have feelings of sadness mixed with pride. Our whole purpose has been to prepare you for today so you can soar like eagles into all your tomorrows. If you stay here, we have failed. So take off now; but please come back. A part of you will always be here amidst the Quad, Founders and Frank, lake and woods and meadows, and the women and men whose lives you touched. Thus, I cannot bring myself to say “good-bye.” I’ll just say, “See you later.”
May 10, 2008