Thank you, Mr. President, for your kind introduction.
I bring you greetings and heart-felt congratulations from President Obama, First Lady Michelle Obama and the entire Obama Administration for the great work that you have done here today.
I am delighted to be here with you today.
And I want to thank members of the faculty, the family members and friends of the graduates, and especially the delighted and in some instances relieved parents, for all the work that you did in helping to get these talented young men and young women to their graduation!
Please join me in giving your parents, faculty, family and friends a warm round of applause.
I also want to offer very special congratulations to your valedictorian Dany Salas, and your salutatorian Jessica Castillo.
When President Hotzler invited me as your commencement speaker, my first thought was how one should prepare to address some of the best and brightest graduates in mathematics, engineering and business, among other fields, that our nation has to offer?
I was not sure what to do. So, to prepare, I went sky diving!
Yes, I want you to know that I jumped out of a perfectly good airplane for all of you! If that is not commitment, I am not sure what is!
It was pretty exciting as the airplane took off packed full of ski divers. As we ascended to the jump altitude you could feel the temperature drop precipitously. When we arrived at the jump altitude of 4,114.80 meters -- or 13,500 feet for you non-engineers -- the instructor yelled out, ”Door Open.”
A sudden burst of cold air filled the plane. Then he yelled, “GO...GO…GO” and the jumpers ahead of me pilled out. As I crouched in the open doorway of the airplane, looking down on the earth 13,500 feet below, ice cold air blasting me in the face, the roar of the engines in the background, I have to admit that my first thought WAS NOT this commencement address!
Actually, my first thought was, “Oh my God what am I doing?” But it was time to become a sky diver. So out I went. I could not help but to absorb the initial feelings of fear. Then that gave way to the excitement of experiencing a new world. Then back to a feeling of uncertainty as I was wondering if and when the parachute would open.
After a few fist bumps, thumbs up, waves to the cameraman, the parachute indeed opened and we drifted slowly back to earth. For a period my jump instructor allowed me to guide the parachute, making turns to the left and to the right that were so sharp, we were nearly parallel to the ground.
It was an exhilarating experience and I would encourage all of you to go sky diving one day. But this experience reminded me of what some of you may have felt over the last few weeks and months -- the fear of knowing that you must now leave the certainty and comfort of the academic environment, the excitement about graduation after years of effort, and then uncertainty of not knowing what your post-graduation life will bring.
These feeling are natural. But you are lucky because you have a very strong parachute! That parachute is a degree from one of the best technical colleges in the world!
You have sound instructors in the form of teachers, parents, other family members and good friends to support you.
And you have the talent to guide your parachute – sharply -- in whatever direction your dreams take you.
You too are entering a new world. And at your fingertips are the tools you need to make your dreams come true.
You have learned the uses of architectural design programs, 3D printing, and robotics. You have the knowledge to ultimately change – if not disrupt current thinking about healthcare, energy and media. And you have within your graduating class the business skills to turn all the above into global profits.
As a former business owner, and now head of the government’s primary agency to support the growth and global competitiveness of our nation’s minority-owned businesses, I am here to tell you that your best opportunity to achieve financial independence for yourself, your family, and your community, is through private business ownership.
And what is so special about all of you is that what you have learned here at City Tech is foundational to the best private sector business opportunities available to your generation!
If you can design a building, than you can own the company that builds the building. If you can construct a robot, than you can ultimately launch a business that develops and manufactures robots. If you can make it through the biomedical informatics program, then you have the capability to launch a healthcare information company. And if you complete the outstanding hospitality management program, there is no reason – no reason – why you can’t build a global chain of quality restaurants.
You can certainly focus on getting a job. But our nation needs you to focus on creating jobs and using the wealth that you obtain in the process to provide a foundation for generations to come.
So, if you desire to take your rightful place among those who achieve their life goals, and truly change the world, from my experience there are some things you must do!
First, you must commit to being a perpetual student!
And for the parents this does not mean that your child will be spending the rest of their life in a classroom. What it does mean is that you have to always be humble in your knowledge – and seek to learn something new each and every day!
Benjamin Franklin once said that
“Being ignorant is not so much a shame….as being unwilling to learn!”
And the great philosopher Socrates said,
”The only true wisdom is knowing that you know nothing.”
Let me repeat that. ”The only true wisdom is knowing that you know nothing.”
To realize your goals you have to view learning as a life-long exercise that begins on graduation day!
Second, you must commit to being a joyous person. Not a happy person, but a joyous person!
In life happiness comes and goes but joy is foundational. Joy is the oxygen of our spirit, the fiber of our soul, and critical to substantial achievement over the long term.
I don’t need to tell any of you that life can be difficult. Many of you have already experienced some of life’s great difficulties. So having a deep, deep joy about your life, the people you are around, and your future prospects, is critical to maximizing your creativity, sustaining you during the difficult times, and expanding your base of opportunities.
You know, I love the way the Poet Suza puts it:
Dance – as though no one is watching you!
Love – as though you have never been hurt before.
Sing – as though no one can hear you.
Live – as though heaven is on earth!
Commit to filling the foundation of your life with joy!
Third commit to staying in touch with your classmates throughout the rest of your lives.
Your classmates of today are your business partners, co-developers, and co-creators of tomorrow!
Look at the person to your left, and to your right. Smile at them; wave; now give them a hug. Give them a big hug! That person you just hugged is not just a pretty face, or simply a fellow graduate. That person you just hugged may be your future business partner. That person you just hugged may be the next investor in your new business idea. Or the person you just hugged may make an important introduction for you at a critical time!
It is important to your future that you strengthen the relationships with classmates you already call “friend” and develop relationships with the others!
Fourth, to be successful….You must commit to being a citizen of the world!
The United States is indeed a great nation.
But 95% of the world’s consumers live outside the United States. And over 80% of the wealth of the world exists outside of the United States. Your generation cannot maximize its full potential being solely America-focused.
You must be a citizen of the world, which means traveling the world, living in other countries, achieving fluency is an additional language, and mastering cultures other than your own.
Living here in New York City actually gives you a head start in this effort! There are more than 800 languages spoken here! Half the population is non-white. And a third is foreign born. Many of you, your neighbors and your friends, are captured in these statistics.
So, to prepare to become a citizen of the world, consider one or several countries you would like to visit. And explore the elements of these countries that exist here in New York City.
Fifth, to achieve your goals you can’t be afraid to fail.
Winston Churchill once said that:
“Success is the ability to go from one failure to another without loss of enthusiasm”.
All of you have the ability to advance your professions. And some of you will develop disruptive technologies that will change the human condition. But to do so, you have to be willing to explore new ways of thinking, which means opening yourself up to the “success of failure”.
Finally, to achieve greatness you have to commit to doing what it takes to win, and allow no room for excuses!
I use to live in West Africa in a nation called the Ivory Coast, in a city called Abidjan, where I was a student at the University of Abidjan.
Every morning at about 6 AM I would get up and go outside to stretch and get some fresh air. Classes started at about 9 AM. And every day I would see a young man coming up the road going to class.
He had his books strapped to his back and blocks of wood in his hands and attached to his knees. You see, he had polio, and he could not walk. So every day he crawled up the road at 6am to make it to class by 9am. He had every excuse not to get an education or pursue his goals. Many people in the Ivory Coast have polio and could not walk. So he had a “societal” excuse.
But he did not use it!
The Ivory Coast is a developing country so he had the excuse that perhaps his degree may not lead to the same economic opportunity as a degree would have from the United States, for example.
But he did not let that deter him!
He had no car service. No metro service. And no special bus services to take him back and forth to school.
So, of course it is understandable if he could not make it to class – right?
No, not for a person that has a burning desire in their spirit to achieve their goal.
That young man, at the University of Abidjan, was willing to do what it took to realize his goal of obtaining a college degree, even if it meant crawling up a hot, dusty road, day in and day out, to get to class! Where ever he is today, his life is a source of great inspiration to all of us!
I challenge all of you to live lives that are inspirational and to be the very best in everything you do!
Graduates, as you go forth into the next phase of your lives, I leave you with this:
Love the work that you do!
Love the life that you lead!
Love the family that you have!
And love the change that you will create!
God bless you all! Congratulations! Go forth and make us proud!
Please join me in applauding the 2013 graduates of the New York City College of Technology!