Commencement: A time for new beginnings

Last weekend Lynnda and I attended our oldest granddaughter’s commencement (graduation) from St. Vincent College in Latrobe, Pennsylvania, near Pittsburgh.

We have three other graduates in our family this year. Two from high school and one from eighth grade. One grandson is headed to the U.S. Air Force.

Waiting for the ceremony to start I thought back to our granddaughter taking those first scary steps as a freshman leaving home for the first time. Her parents, siblings and golden retriever were hundreds of miles away in Maryland. She didn’t know anyone on campus and had to make new friends. She learned to live and compromise with a roommate. We visited periodically. She did well academically, graduating summa cum laude. She learned to ride a horse, became Vice-President of the Equestrian Club and traveled to Europe. Our granddaughter matured from timid teenager to a strong young woman.

Her graduation reminded me of my first day at WVU when I moved into Towers. I didn’t know anyone on campus. My roommate was from Parkersburg. Many of his friends and classmates went to WVU. We became friends and quickly I had friends from Parkersburg. I remember the large sign hanging in the dorm lobby, “Today is the first day of the rest of your life.” It was inspiring and scary. My entire life was ahead of me. What would it be like?

So is our granddaughter’s. The announcements we received from our middle school and high school graduates were for “graduation”. Graduation is recognition of the end of something. “Commencement” is well named, the celebration of the beginning of the next phase of life.

Here is the message I shared with the graduates of our family. You may find it helpful;

The past, whether good or bad is history. Your education has given you tools you can use. The future is up to you, the graduate. In college, the military or real world no one cares where you went to high school. In industry unless we are talking about college football no one cares which college you attended.

After you are hired or enlisted, no one cares about your grade point average or whether you graduated with Honors. It is about how you perform. People skills become more important. Can you learn new and unfamiliar material? As an engineer I realized my four years of engineering school only taught me how to learn. There were no equations with givens to solve in industry. Only problems to solve.

Here are some things people will look for from you; Are you creative? Can you think and reason? How do you handle failure? Do you get back up and learn from mistakes or do you let mistakes defeat you? Can you communicate effectively? Are you a good team player? Can you work with others? Are you dependable? Do you practice good personal hygiene? Can you be trusted? Will you work?

Education is important. Be a lifelong learner. Education gives you the tools to be successful. The late Hall of Fame Speaker, Charles Tremendous Jones said, “You will be the same 5 years from now as you are today except for two things, the people you spend time with and the books you read.” Find friends who uplift you and who will make you better.

Your attitude determines your altitude. Keep your attitude positive. Smile. We all make people happy. It can be when we enter a room or when we leave a room. Be someone people like to be around. Treat everyone with dignity and respect. Be a person of integrity. Treat others as you would like to be treated. Have a relationship with God. Faith is a powerful gift. Find your purpose. Find a career you enjoy not just a job. You health is important to your happiness. Work to stay fit and healthy.

Believe in yourself. You are already successful. Build on this success. Your family has given you a work ethic and good values. You always have our love and support. We believe in you. Walt Disney said, “If you can dream it, you can do it.” All things are possible with God.

For all of us. Never rest on your success. Strive to always get better. My high school soccer players who went on to play at the college level told me, “Coach, in college everyone on our team was one of the best players on their high school soccer team. I have to work hard to be a starter.” What got you to your current level won’t get you to the next level. We learned as coaches what got us to the state tournament wasn’t enough to win the championship. We had to take training to a higher level. The same is true in life.

Last week at NPE, Lynnda and I had dinner with a good friend and business associate of ours from Pakistan. He is looking for a good college for his son to learn life lessons and people skills. The degree isn’t important. “I want him to have some failures here where I can’t help him and he can learn to overcome adversity.” Our friend went on, “I want him to eventually take over our company with his brothers. I can teach him everything he needs to know about business.” My friend understands adversity and failure are part of life. When we overcome adversity and get up after failure we become stronger.

We have a lot of retired friends. Retirement is another kind of graduation. It is a celebration of ending years of work. My grandfather worked in a steel mill for over 50 years. He retired to a rocking chair on his front porch. Maybe we need to look at retirement as commencement. The beginning of a time to share our expertise and help others, making the world better.

Today is commencement. The first day of the rest of your life. Make it great!

Greg Kozera, gkozera@shalecrescentusa.com, is the director of marketing and sales for Shale Crescent USA, www.shalecrescentusa.com. He is a professional engineer with a master’s in environmental engineering and over 40 years’ experience in the energy industry. He is a professional speaker and author of four books and numerous published articles.


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