WVU Distinguished Alumnus
Commencement Honors Convocation
May 15, 2009 WVU Creative Arts Center
President Magrath, vice president and deans, honored guests, faculty, staff, graduates, alumni, parents and family members:
I am pleased and honored to be with you today on this important occasion. It is a humbling and moving experience for someone whose education began in a one-room schoolhouse to be standing before you today.
It makes me think back to the day that I graduated from WVU . I have to admit it was a fairly long time ago, and I dont remember everything that clearly. I certainly dont remember the Commencement speaker.
But I do remember very clearly how I felt. What I remember most are feelings of enormous relief and tremendous priderelief that all the years of hard work were coming to a close, pride that I had made it through, that I had done something I set out to do.
I felt a mixture of sadness and excitementsadness because my college years, which had been such a wonderful time in so many ways, were coming to an end, and sadness that I would be saying goodbye to some of the best friends I had ever made.
But I also felt anticipation and excitement for the challenges and adventures that were yet to come.
I graduated from WVU with a bachelors degree in chemical engineering, and then I earned my masters of business administration from the University of North Carolina. For much of my career, I have been an entrepreneur, starting a number of businesses over the years. I became an entrepreneur because of a failure; I was released from my corporate job.
Some of the businesses I started have done very well, and some of them have failed quite spectacularly. I learned a great deal from every one of those experiencesperhaps more from the failures than from the successes.
But through it all, the skills I learned at WVU have stood me in good stead throughout my career, and I will always be grateful for the excellent foundation I received at WVU .
All of us are facing a future that will be characterized by dramatic and unparalleled change. There will be technologies, careers and opportunities that do not exist today. Since I graduated from WVU , this has been true for me as well.
Graduates, the education you have received at WVU will prepare you very well to meet these challenges.
Sometimes we in West Virginia struggle with a bit of an inferiority complex. Sitting here today, as some of WVU s best and brightest students, you may wonder if you can compete in the marketplace with graduates from Ivy League colleges and other prestigious institutions.
As an active member of the WVU Alumni Association, I have had the chance to meet many WVU graduates who are making a difference in important positions around the world. These people have competed with the worlds best and brightest and have foundas I havethat WVU gave them the tools they need to win. I have no doubt that you will also find this to be true.
Graduates, you have worked hard to get here today, you have made the most of your education, and you should be very proud of yourselves.
But you havent done it without the help and sacrifice of many other people, and it is important that we acknowledge them today as well.
Your teachers, your parents, your families and your friends have supported you, encouraged you and helped you along the way.
Parents, family members and friends who are here today: Today is a milestone for you as well, and you also should be very proud of everything you have done and the sacrifices you have made to help these students get to where they arepoised to enter a new phase of their lives.
Graduates, you have also benefited from WVU s outstanding faculty members and administratorsaccomplished men and women who could be successful in many settings, but who have chosen to devote their lives to educating and mentoring tomorrows leaders. You will find as you progress in your career that you appreciate more and more the lessons they have taught you.
So, lets have a round of applause for all of the graduates, faculty members, family members and friends who are here today.
Since I graduated from WVU , I have had the pleasure of coming back to campus many times. It is always a great pleasure to see old friends, to renew old ties and to try to do what I can to give something back to this institution that gave me so much.
I want to share a few experiences I have had and a few thoughts that may help you as you pursue your own dreams and goals.
Ive experienced success and Ive experienced failure, and I can tell you a few things about both.
First, if you fail at somethingand be assured that some time or other in your life, you willdont allow yourself to become discouraged about your abilities; dont automatically make negative assumptions about what that failure means for your long-term prospects.
Actually, if you take full advantage of it, a failure can be an extremely valuable learning experience.
Learn to thoroughly evaluate every experience you havewhether it is successful or notas honestly and as objectively as you can and to learn as much as you can from it.
They say that experience is the best teacher, but this is only true if we are willing to meticulously examine our experiences and to pay careful attention to the lessons they are trying to teach us.
One of the important tasks we face in life is coming to understand ourselvesour strength and our weaknesses, our talents and our shortcomings. We all have plenty of both. The key to success does not lie in doing everything right or making no mistakes. It lies in learning to capitalize on your strengths and to compensate for your weaknesses.
There is nothing like failure to teach you about your weaknesses.
Failure is simply a necessary stop on the way to success. Do not allow it to defeat or deflect or discourage you from following your dreams or pursuing your goals.
Perhaps Winston Churchill said it best when he said,Success is the ability to go from one failure to another with no loss of enthusiasm.
I also want to talk a little about success, especially in terms of how it should be defined. You cant reach your goals if you dont know what they are.
When we talk about success, we traditionally think in terms of money, prestige, power and influence.
All of those can be very useful to have, and there is no denying that we all would like to have our fair share of them. One of the great things about a WVU education is the launching pad it provides to our graduates, the preparation it gives them to make a good living and provide for themselves and their families.
But to me, true success is about much more than material possessions and the external trappings. It is about enjoying the journey. It is about integrity and character and hard work. It is for me about enjoying the challenges involved in starting and running businesses and in nurturing the relationships that develop when you work with others on a common goal. And equally important, it is about family and friends and being a contributing member of society.
In the end, I believe that each of you must define what success means to you as an individual. You have to ask yourself: What do you value? What kind of life do you want? What are your own personal goals and dreams? What kind of contribution do you want to make to the world in which we live?
If you are true to yourself, your definition of success will not be the same as mine, and it will not be the same as anyone elses. It will be yours and yours alone.
I know thatlike I doyou will always cherish your time as a student at WVU . I hope, too, that you will stay involved and come back and give back to the institution that helped you pursue your mission in life.
West Virginia University has developed a reputation for excellence not only through the time and talents of its faculty, staff and students, but also through the accomplishments and efforts of its alumni.
So, stay in touch with your professors and let them know what you are doing. Come back and visit and meet the students who come after you.
If you get into a position where you can help one of those students or help your department or your college, I will tell you from personal experience that there are few things that are more satisfying than giving back.
We are all Mountaineers, and Mountaineers stick together. So, get out there and follow your dreams. But always remember where you came from.
Congratulations to each and every one of you.