Members of the Board of Trustees, President McNulty, faculty, staff, guests, and most importantly the GRADUATING Class of Two Thousand Twenty Three!
YOU are the reason we are all here, and we thank you for providing us with this opportunity to celebrate your achievements!
I am honored and humbled to be with you in this role tonight. It’s been an eye-opening reflective experience for me thinking about What To and What NOT To talk about.
Life has changed so dramatically since I first walked into the Rutger Erickson Academic Building back in the 80’s – Nearly 40 years ago.
My first memory was watching an actual live person sitting in front of an old-style switchboard answering each call with great knowledge, tact and humor while also skillfully plugging and unplugging cords every-which-way to keep callers connected all around campus. I wish you could have seen it! I was in awe!
Since those earlier times, the rate of change has escalated to a pace that makes most of us dizzy. Throughout these years though, several things have thankfully held constant to energize this college and to keep it moving forward: these include the EVER-present support of the community, the unwavering commitment of the faculty and staff and the motivation & excellence of our incredible students.
The looks on your faces as you move through graduation this evening and come across this stage to proudly “seal the deal” of your achievement are testament to that legacy.
I’d like to pause for just a moment to introduce you to my wife, Betsy. Bets could you please stand. Betsy is my loving partner, and we recently celebrated our 43rd wedding anniversary (as Dr. McNulty just mentioned). She is my rock, my unwavering supporter and a most gracious advisor and confidant. Would you please give Betsy a warm Gogebic greeting for the many contributions she has made in support of GCC.
Betsy and I actively try to seek out new and unusual experiences in retirement – part of our attempts to stay relevant.
This year we had an opportunity to explore New Year’s Day together in San Diego. It happened to fall on a Sunday, and while we have our own church traditions locally, we decided to attend a church that was VERY different than anything we knew for a special New Year service. It focused on letting go of past burdens in what they called a “Burning Bowl Ceremony”, followed by a goal setting exercise called a “White Stone Ceremony”.
I’m mentioning this not to promote this church or its doctrine, but rather as an example of us exploring new and different concepts by stepping outside of our own comfort zones. For Me, this activity sounded WAY outside of mine – but I decided to give it a chance.
They began the event by providing quiet encouragement to reflect on our past year and to identify struggles we may have experienced. If we still harbored unsettled feelings, we were to write these down on individual post-it notes. We next took our written stacks of burdens outside to a fire pit and dropped them in, one by one. Poof – Gone up in smoke!
By burning up our old personal garbage we could now make space to flip our attention to the new year!
Returning back inside we were handed a small white tile (like this one) and were guided in more self-reflection, focusing now on individual GOALS for the coming year.
We were given an assignment - to think of a single word that might help us move forward with our goals. Once we arrived at our word, we were to write it down on our personal white stone. (Hold up stone again)
It got very quiet in the room – Too quiet for me - but my mind was not quiet - It was whirling around like a spinning Roulette Wheel waiting for that little ball to drop. – I kept waiting for it to land on something - Nothing – & nothing but silence around me – nothing but silence in my thoughts – A little panic started creeping in – maybe this will end soon! (breath) Calm yourself down, Big Guy – THINK - WHAT do you want to DO? – WHO do you want to BE? –
And Finally, there it was: BE, capital B…capital E… BE – a word which encompassed all of my thoughts.
I had so many things I wanted to do better: BE AUTHENTIC, BE KIND, BE RELEVANT, BE HEALTHY, BE COURAGEOUS, BE HOPEFUL, BE THANKFUL, BE EFFICIENT, BE OPEN, BE UNDERSTANDING, BE ENCOURAGING, BE LOVING, BE LOVED, BE CHALLENGING, BE FORGIVING, BE FORGIVEN, BE EXCITED TO BE ALIVE----- I was overwhelmed with all of the many thoughts that came over me, just as they can flood over any of us during these special points of “change” in our lives - these moments when we actually take time to pause, to reflect, and maybe even to commit to upping our game - these days like New Year’s, or a day like today – a new beginning - your own chance for resetting your direction!
Since that event when we stepped outside of OUR comfort zones, I NOW begin each day a little differently. I keep this stone next to my bedside, and as part of preparing for each day I pick it up and reflect on something I want to BE that day. I pause to reflect on what I’d identified the day before. How did that go? - and then I make a new choice. Sometimes, I end up repeating the same word for days until I get it ingrained into this thick stubborn old brain. TODAY though, I chose one of my favorites, TO BE PRESENT, present with you.
(Perhaps a better choice for today may have been: BE CONCISE -sorry- THAT CERTAINLY DIDN’T WORK OUT!).
I’d now like to shift our focus to one of my other favorite GOALS: BE AUTHENTIC.
I believe Authenticity is central to your long-term success in life. It is quite simply about being true to who you really are, even when it's difficult – and it’s increasingly difficult to be authentic in today’s world. We are pulled in so many competing directions by marketing campaigns, politics, religions, social media influencers, and now -Artificial Intelligence - machines directly competing with our brains. It is all too easy to become confused about who we really are and where we fit in.
I’m going to give you what I hope will be a meaningful challenge.
There are lots of concerns about how “siloed” we humans are becoming in our thoughts and actions. On one hand I’m urging you to find your way out of ANY stagnant silos you are in, especially if they are only feeding you things you WANT to hear. Silos can suffocate your mind. On the other hand, I encourage you to jump with both feet into another silo: Understanding Yourself – and while in there, carefully listen and really evaluate the information you NEED to hear about WHO YOU ARE.
I believe we each have an inner voice at our core. When I was young, we were often told the inner voice represented universal truth. Perhaps, but over time I’ve tried to go a little deeper.
Our inner voices are, at least in part, a mix of all those who have come before us. We come from individuals of earlier generations, each person with a singular history and culture following their own discrete path of development. These all come together and help shape the unique blended voice that today is YOU – uniquely valid to you, and uniquely valid for you! Not shared identically by any other human - past or present.
So, AS we examine the inner voice, each of us might need to consider whether or not our one-of-a-kind inner voice, while clearly valid for us, TRULY represents THE universal truth, or if there might be some need or room in our thoughts and our judgements to ALSO consider the core values, visions, beliefs and dreams of all the others currently on the planet with us. It’s a tricky business, but one that your authentic self is up to.
Remember that discovering your authentic self is a process, and it's okay to take your time, experiment, and make errors along the way.
It takes a great deal of courage to think openly while simultaneously focusing inward.
Author Ryan Holiday wrote: “Courage calls each of us differently, at different times, in different forms. But in every case it is, as they say, coming from inside the house.”
Summon your courage and keep your house in order. Take time each day to reflect on who you are.
We often talk about being open-minded and non-judgmental with others. If you want to discover who you truly are, please also be open-minded and non-judgmental with yourself.
I’d like to leave you now with a poem for reflection. It’s called Start Close In written by David Whyte, an Irish, British, & American poet.
Start Close In by David Whyte
Start close in,
don’t take the second step or the third,
start with the first thing
the step you don’t want to take.
Start with the ground you know,
the pale ground beneath your feet,
your own way to begin the conversation.
Start with your own question,
give up on other people’s questions,
don’t let them smother something simple.
To hear another’s voice,
Follow your own voice,
wait until that voice becomes an intimate private ear that can really listen to another. (I’ll say that again)
Start right now
take a small step you can call your own
don’t follow someone else’s heroics,
be humble and focused,
start close in,
don’t mistake that other for your own.
Start close in,
don’t take the second step
or the third,
start with the first thing
the step you don’t want to take.
As one step to start you off - close in - I have brought along a white stone for each of you to receive as you come across the stage tonight.
And here’s my final challenge to you:
Sometime over this weekend, I encourage you to find some quiet time. Do some reflection. Perhaps you can write your own grounding word on your stone (change it as often as you wish), and use it to help you stay “close in” to your truest self while you discover what’s ahead.
So go out there strong, knowing yourself, constantly learning,
and make your mark on the world.
I hope these thoughts will help you to BE the best version of who YOU really are.
We are ALL with you.
We need you.
Future generations need you to help shape their authentic inner voices!
Again, Congratulations and good luck to
each and every one of you on your unique journey!