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- Zurbuchen, Dr. Thomas H., 04-2022
Winter 2022 - Dr. Thomas H. Zurbuchen
Winter 2022 Commencement Address
Dr. Thomas H. Zurbuchen
So, I know what the first thing is you thought. “Thank God Berry paid for the Berry Center. Nobody can pronounce Zurbuchen.”
I am so glad to be here with you today and to celebrate this achievement with you. The achievement that makes all of us proud; you, your families, the professors, and everybody up here. An achievement surely that’ll change the trajectory of your entire life, and I just want to congratulate all of you!
Class of 2022, you made it. You are sitting here, having achieved an important goal that took years to achieve. Many have backed off, you are here, and you’ve achieved this amazing recognition as you walk across the stage in just a few minutes!
I want to offer special acknowledgements to three groups:
First, I want to thank all of you in uniform or who will be in uniform. Service frankly, is one of the most important things we can give. What better and more patriotic service than to be part of our armed forces. Thank you so much!
Secondly, I want to congratulate those of you who are first in your families to graduate. Many of you have walked a steep path to arrive here today. And you make your families and your professors extremely proud. You have opened up new doors for yourself and your family. How do I know all this? – I, too, am the first in my family to graduate. Congratulations to you!
And third, I want to thank the family and friends who are here today and who loved these young people from the beginning, so they could become the amazing adults that are here today.
Fred Rogers, of the TV show Mr. Rogers once said:
“All of us have special ones who have loved us into being.”
You feel that love in the room today. I want to thank all of you, congratulations!
I have three stories to share with you today. No big deal, three stories, and I hope you get something out of these three stories. Some of these stories are really things that took me decades to learn.
I will never forget Christmas 2021. I was in Kourou near the tropical forest of French Guiana, at the equator in South America. I was there with 150 Americans and something like four hundred or so Europeans. We had one goal on Christmas Day: which is to shoot the most complex telescope ever built by humans that took over 20 years into space. Frankly, I was a nervous wreck. I knew that that rocket that I had toured with a helicopter the day before had on top of it 10 billion dollars’ worth of investments of humanity. That was not the worst though, there were tens of thousands of people around the United States and around the world hoping for that telescope to work. They wanted to do PhD studies related to the work that was there. They too, were excited about the science that came from there.
Frankly, it’s easy to understand why we do space exploration if you’re in the UP. You know, you look at the stars over the beautiful Lake Superior and in the woods of the UP, you learn more about them. You want to know what is the beauty in the sky. You go up Sugarloaf Mountain and watch the sunrise, and wander deep in the woods and see animals’ others have only seen in zoos, or you go out to Presque Isle and again see the stars shining over the water…or ice.
Amateurs and professionals alike have bought and built things to better understand nature and to understand these worlds that are out there, both in our solar system and far beyond. Today, as we look at the sky we know that for every single star shining at us, there is at least one planet. About 5-10% of planets that are out there are rocky planets just like ours.
Think about that, science taught us that.
So, we learn about the sky from the Hubble space telescope. You close your eyes, think about the word galaxy. Surely the picture that’s in your mind is either something from Star Treck or it’s a Hubble space telescope image.
So, there I was, on that day and the countdown happened in French. I sat there and the zero happened, and the rocket slowly lifted off the pad into the clouds and beyond. People were in tears left and right of me. Some of them having put two decades of work into it. I was relieved and hoping everything was going to go well. We were celebrating as we saw the full release and the solar panels coming out, something we didn’t expect would happen. We saw it on camera, the telescope was waving back for the last time.
What I did after that, I was walking around and I was thanking everybody, especially our friends and colleagues. The unions, a week before had voted to work on Christmas day. That was the first time that had ever occurred, I thanked them, wished them Merry Christmas, and really told them how much I appreciated that they worked!
I will never forget what they told me; one, two, or many. They said:
“We did it for our American friends. They too, should go celebrate Christmas tonight or tomorrow night in the US. That’s why we worked this morning, because of our American Friends.”
See, the act of empathy and respect that is demonstrated I have found in all great teams I have worked with; whether it’s in academia, in the military, sports, or whether it’s at NASA. You all will be part of teams all your life, and you will be able to enhance that team by bringing your friendship and empathy forward; even if at times this may be against your self-interest.
See, it’s unfortunately very fashionable today to plant your feet and scream at others; loudly state opinions without any empathy or respect for others; about people who vote for different political candidates that may be who you prefer; or have opinions that vastly diverge from yours.
Don’t get sucked into this divisive culture. You will make mistakes, they will make mistakes – find excuses to forgive them and never give up on your fellow human beings.
Whether in work, or away from work, there is something magical in finding connections with others who are not like you. Listen to them, really listen. Extend your friendship. Walk in their shoes. Include everyone. When you do so, you become part of the energy that powers teams and communities that become better. That become truly excellent.
Here’s my second story:
I studied physics in college as you already heard, and I was exploring options for the mandatory research project that would top off my studies. I had just returned from military service, where I had spent all summers. I always struggled frankly in these kinds of milestone decisions. I was the first college graduate in my family, as I already told you, and frankly I always struggled more because I was less confident in myself than many of my colleagues were. I had worked in construction I love the helmets back there, by the way guys, and the tassels in it especially, I want to see how you made that happen when you walk up but I worked in construction on farms, where my colleagues had worked and grew up differently, being in offices or even doing research. So, I walked into professor’s offices and asked what could I do. And there was this one professor who said:
“So, I have this NASA project that needs help.”
But he immediately cut himself off and says: “It is almost impossible to do.”
That drew my attention; he told me about this instrument that was bound for space, but had been delayed for many years and it needed to be completed within a year to make the launch of the NASA space craft that was supposed to carry into space graduate degrees, like that would be two years so it couldn’t possibly fit. I said I wanted to try, and he gave me a chance.
So, I teamed up with a technician, an engineer, and we rapidly made progress… until we hit a major hurdle. The hurdle was that we needed a specific black coating on the instrument that protected the instrument from deep space radiation; there was only one company that could do the coating. The company said we can’t do it for a year. Obviously, that wasn’t going to work.
I was not the most experienced person on the team by a long shot, but I asked: “Can I can call this company’s CEO?”
They said: “Well it won’t hurt. We weren’t successful.”
And what I did was I called them exactly like my father would have called them. A simple man, humble, a baker by training, a pastor as he worked. And I went to talk to him and basically said:
“Look, this is what this instrument is supposed to do and I understand you don’t have time but I just wanted to explain this to you.”
He cut me off and said: “You know the reason I didn’t listen to the others, is frankly they had disappointed me multiple times before. I moved things around and they didn’t show up with their hardware. I’ll make you a deal. If you personally are responsible for bringing that hardware, I will open up a gap and I will do it.”
Three weeks later, the plating was done.
That moment I learned something, that I’m sure you will learn as well. I always thought of my upbringing, the way I grew up, as a disadvantage. I noticed that it was my superpower. I could do things that others could not do by learning and understanding the very people I was interacting with that were way more important in my life than many people appreciated elsewhere.
For me, that superpower was that simple upbringing. Being first into college in my family allowed me to think differently and act differently, and I’ve used that superpower ever since!
You, too, have your own backgrounds, your own story, your own strengths. Some of you have had tremendous challenges to overcome in your early life. Some of you have experienced disadvantage because of gender, race, or other characteristics that make you, you. Look at these differences, these challenges, and see them as distinguishing toolsets others may not have. You may be a good decision maker because you have seen your family make hard decisions that others have never seen. Some of you have a worldview, as people not represented by the traditional majority, that will give you the chance to look at the problem from the outside. In a way, frankly, that I am an immigrant has been another superpower to look at problems from the outside in a way that people from within the “system” cannot see as well.
Each of you has super powers; use them.
My final story is very much complimented and may be the most important.
Of course, many of you’ve seen the movie called Hidden Figures. It chronicles the remarkable achievements of a group of African American women who worked at what would become NASA. They were “human computers” – their superpowers were working through complex equations, very much hidden. The people in front were very much white men in white shirts and black ties. And astronauts that we know the names of today. I’ve met many pioneers that were like them. For example, Greg Robinson, the program director of the James Webb space telescope that I talked to you about earlier.
By the way, yesterday, we announced that it is fully focused in deep space and that we are on track for the first light in June and July. Greg Robinson made that happen.
He went to a college, a small college, on an athletic scholarship. He as a football player, frankly, learned how plan his days and take other with him. That is exactly what he needed to do with this telescope. A different viewpoint was needed. I begged him to be on this project because I knew the team was failing from when we started, and we need him to really come in and help.
For today or tomorrow – for our future –we need to recognize and empower the potential in truly diverse teams. We need to tap and recognize everybody’s super powers. And we can’t wait 40, 50, or 60 years to do that. It needs to happen today.
Within twenty years, I believe we will have found life outside of the Earth. I don’t know whether it is within the solar system or another planet. We humans have found what people have tried to find in thousands of years. And in the billions of planets out there, I believe life is looming for us to discover.
Within twenty years, we will have landed humans on Mars and have started to explore these worlds with humans in a way we could’ve never done. We will work to explore other worlds beyond that.
Here on Earth, within 20 years our ocean levels will go up 3 to 5 inches. Absolutely clear, that’s happening.
Today, and forever forward, we must pay attention how people affect this planet. Whether it is Russian tanks that roll into other impositions and against another sovereign nation while the Russian government seeks to deny their existence, or other human-made impacts for society and environment. It is important we watch it, talk about it. Hang in there, and actually address it.
And now, and forever forward, we have to recommit to our experiment of freedom, which is the United States. We must recommit to civil discourse, to challenging our own assumptions, to treating our fellow human beings with respect, even if we disagree with them. To working together toward common goals and aspirations.
So, I reflect on everything I have shared with you today, I offer this advice in summary:
Focus on the power of what humanity’s ingenuity, service to the greater good, and empathy toward others can do.
Recognize that we all share the same planet, and we belong together. There is infinitely more that connects us than that which divides us.
Celebrate your own superpowers, and the superpowers of others. Richly diverse teams will bring the widest array of skills to solve the deepest and most important challenges of our time.
I stand here today with more hope than I have ever had before because of you! Because I know what’s possible, that each of you can bring to the table and for all of us.
With that, congratulations, graduates, and nothing but the best.
And never forget to look up at the sky.
Winter 2017 - Dr. David Wood
NMU Commencement Address, Dec. 2017
Dr. David Wood
I can’t begin to tell you what a revelation it was to learn that Tristan Ruiz and the ASNMU were inviting me to share my thoughts with you all this Saturday morning. As one who, for 8 years now, has donned a cap that says NMU Honors Program Director, I stand here pondering all the honors you graduates have achieved— all of you: whether in the ostensibly external sense, for those graduating with GPAs that propel you into the ethereal space of the cum laude, the magna cum laude, or the summa cum laude designations that will proclaim your achievements here with us on your resumes for a lifetime to come; or in the ostensibly internal sense, for those graduating in spite of the real-life challenges you faced, perhaps, in juggling multiple jobs, young children at home, aging parents, military service, or the full range of medical and social stressors that makes your achievement in joining us today a more private revelation of your own. It is a thrill to speak today as the voice of an institution that celebrates your accomplishments and sings your praises. Congratulations to you all!
But it is the other hat I have donned for 11 years now, as Professor of English, where an outsize portion of my work comes, too, day in/ day out. My teaching here has always involved encouraging my students— from the freshmen level through to the graduate level— to hone their perceptive capabilities through careful examination of what was thinkable in the languages and the literatures of the past: relating the fractiousness, frustrations, and possibilities of the ‘there and then’ to the fractiousness, frustrations, and possibilities of the ‘here and now.’ I do so by training people in the most valuable of portable skills: how to read as meticulously as possible, wringing texts for meaning; how to develop a position and support it effectively; and how to write with grace, with wit, and even with style. Much maligned we are these days, those of us in the arts and the humanities, and especially those of us in literary studies. But come on: if engaging the relationship of powerful concepts and ideas to the rigors of rhetoric and linguistic form isn’t training for a host of higher order jobs, then what is? Alongside plumbing the very depths of the human condition across time and space: that is what we do in literary studies!
My absolute privilege here is that my content area spans from Greco-Roman antiquity, through the medieval period, and into the European Renaissance. More specifically, I trace with my students the 16th century development of English as a literary language— where the hard work of names like Skelton, Wyatt, and Surrey; of Sidney, Spenser, and Marlowe, pursued the formation of an English that could be both flexible yet precise; expansive yet clear; detailed yet majestic. All that at a time when essentially noone outside of England yet, actually spoke English, or had any need to do so. As you’ve heard, it is the works of their inheritor, William Shakespeare, that have become my bread and butter on this campus. While the Shakespeare Industry thrives as a multi-billion-dollar world-wide venture, I admit I’ve seen that very name— Shakespeare— cause students to wince in sheer terror. And yet: his work, too, I’ve found, with guidance, can equally lead students into a sense of linguistic awe, and an intense and often startling empathy, of which they might not have realized that they were actually capable.
Living with Shakespeare, as I do, is a treat: from his classically-derived plots, to the individuated voice he grants each and every of his hundreds of characters. A principal highlight of my time here has hinged on bringing students— in groups ranging from 3 to 50 at a time— to world-class dramatic performances at venues such as Minneapolis’s Guthrie Theater, the Milwaukee Symphony, the University of Chicago’s Court Theater, the Chicago Shakespeare Theater, Shakespeare’s Globe Theater in London, England, and the Royal Shakespeare Theater, in Shakespeare’s hometown of Stratford-upon-Avon. But the most important educational gift to fall in my lap here at NMU involves an endowed fund established by retired Professor Emeritus Bob Dornquast, which enables me each August to team up with History Professor Chet DeFonso and a dozen or so students to head to the Stratford Festival in Stratford, Ontario. There, funded in full by Professor Dornquast’s impossibly generous gift, we harness the power of classical drama to blow our students’ minds. When you receive those glossy NMU Alumni Magazines, do note that there is an actual student benefit to your giving, in whatever your area of interest. To my mind, there is simply no better way both to showcase and to interrogate the qualities that distinguish us as a species— in these dark times, or in any other— than to witness the shrewdest possible staging of Euripides’ play, The Bacchae, of Moliere’s Tartuffe, or of Shakespeare’s Richard III: the last featuring that charismatic sociopath of a politician, who comports his face, he claims, so as to “smile and smile and murder whiles I smile.”
And so, we return to Shakespeare. I have thought long and hard about his dramatic depictions of personhood— his situating of character in time— and, in doing so, I have engaged his works over the last few decades through a range of fancy theoretical interpretive glasses. But the older I get, the more I see that Shakespeare’s perception of time and character is often a quite simpler matter, really, than all that: it cleaves most closely, perhaps, to a broadly-conceived humanism that involves something I suppose we all ought to recognize, especially on a day like today: that regardless of who we think we are, time is less chronology than it is psychology.
This psychological type of time I mean involves something voiced best, perhaps, by arguably Shakespeare’s greatest character: the Rosalind of As You Like It, who insists that “time [actually] moves in divers paces with divers persons,” that each individual carries within herself or himself an emotionally-inflected, inner or subjective form of being. This type of time might come as the anticipation we can enjoyably observe in the lovelorn Juliet’s insistence, as she awaits her Romeo, that “in a minute there are many days”; or as politically charged, when Hamlet, at a crux, insists that not only for himself, but for his entire state of Denmark, the “time is out of joint”; or as nostalgia, when the ineffective reign of Richard II collapses in his muted observation that “I wasted time and now doth time waste me ... O call back yesterday, bid time return again”; or as time’s mercuriality, with Iago’s canny assertion in Othello that “pleasure and action make the hours seem short ... though wit depends on dilatory time”; or in Feste’s triumphal reflection at the close of Twelfth Night, that “the whirligig of time [finally] brings in his revenges.” As masterful as Shakespeare was at constructing coherent characters through such attention to their ostensible perceptions of time, however, he also saw something more in such representations than is frequently given credit, another form of time, as it were. And that is what I will call, confirming my theme here today: Occasion.
To seize time by the top was a well-worn cliché in Shakespeare’s England. Many of his contemporary playwrights employ the phrase, which leads us to the pregnancy of this moment, as it were, for today’s graduates. It might seem a bit odd, perhaps, for me to stand here and to acknowledge that as I look back upon my own life— from the middle, as it were— what first leaps to mind are a painful series of opportunities blown; of possibilities forsaken; of might- have-beens utterly lost to time. I assume all of us of a certain age can do so. These quiet lamentations for me involve family I took for granted during my younger years; of various bridges needlessly burnt; of too many close friends now dead and buried; and of various regrets that continue to needle me these many years later. But great moments emerge, too, full of pith and marrow, that have led me to my marriage, to my children, to my job, and to this very platform: of students who take my teaching seriously enough to become more careful thinkers, more artful writers, and savvier theatregoers; of articles I’ve managed to place in just the right academic journals at just the right time; of book editors I’ve attracted, far wiser than I; and of a series of strong relationships with key advisors, including NMU’s Dr. Raymond Ventre. Ray made clear to me as a job candidate the merits of Northern, in general, and specifically of the NMU chapter of the AAUP. I would not have taken this job in the first place if it weren’t for him and for our union.
Indeed: as Lord Tennyson puts it in his poem, Ulysses: “I am a part of all that I have met.” That assertion— that your actions in the world become a part of you, and, reciprocally, that you become your actions in the world— offers us all a crucial truth, it seems to me, and especially to you graduates, as you peek ahead toward your own unimaginable futures. I had a wild time in my early twenties, as my students know: from teaching my way westward across China and into central Asia, over one year, to working myself northward, upon my return, over many years, to Fairbanks and the Arctic coast of Alaska; from working odd jobs in Canada’s Maritime provinces, to crisscrossing the northeast for dazzling concerts by the Allman Brothers Band. These adventures, however, came to a sudden end, for me, in a terrible car accident and a long and painful year in a hospital bed. But all of these experiences, all of them, in their various ways, propel me in my current life, including my commitment to introducing students to travel and the arts, my pioneering Shakespeare scholarship in the field of disability studies, my obsession with improvisational artistic performance, and my confirmed belief in the life- transforming value of higher education. To be plain: the paths before you will not consist wholly of peaches and cream. But the resilience you display in making use of both the thrilling and the traumatic episodes you encounter, will ultimately come to define you. So here I stand, exhorting you: YOUR time, your time, is truly what you make of it. But what might Shakespeare have to say about such a conclusion?
In Renaissance English iconography, the formal emblem for Occasion features the embodiment of the concept as an individual with winged feet and a shaved head, excepting a long forelock of hair: a sort of long braid of a pony-tail in the front of an otherwise bald pate. The image is unsettling, but so is Occasion itself, isn’t it? The idea was that either you grasped Occasion by this forelock as She swiftly swept past you— you literally seized time by the top— or you missed it: you missed Occasion altogether. For those of you sure of your next steps, in graduate programs or in fancy jobs: Rock on. Go for it. But for those of you less sure, for those of you terrified about what to do now, I confess that it took me nearly four years of hard work and brazen adventure— to the age of 26— to decide to head to graduate school. By then, I was prepared; I was all-in. Sure, I drove my parents utterly crazy in the process. But as Shakespeare’s noblest Roman, Brutus, reminds us “There is a tide in the affairs of [us all], Which taken at the flood, leads on to [good] fortune. Omitted, all the voyage of life is bound in shallows and in miseries.... We must take the current when it serves,” he says, “or lose our ventures.”
My concluding advice is simple, really: the planet you inherit today and the country you inherit today, are in equal measure wildly exciting, achingly beautiful ... and in almost limitless state of crisis. These crises, by the look and feel of them, will likely be the very ones you wrestle with in the coming decades. Of course, we want you to be well and to do well during that span, and over the course of your rich and fulfilling lives. But I also want to make a personal plea: Be good. Do good. You are indeed— and will continue to be— a part of all that you have met, and I urge you to rely on those experiences to serve others; to seek clarity; and always, always, to remain open to your own ability to construct a better version of yourself. May you, too, come to understand Occasion for what it is: the thing which, seen clearly and grasped in a timely fashion, can lead to all sorts of golden opportunities, even permitting you to stare down a world of self- regret in the process. I am thankful to the Occasions that presented themselves to me when, where, and how they did. But I am especially proud of the times I accepted those challenges, however much hard and lonely work they demanded, or how wrongheaded they might have seemed at the time. I recount daily now the heady realization that I get to teach what I do, to write what I do, and to live where I do: along with the students and colleagues that I do.
To those of you in the winter graduating class of 2017: you will depart from the Superior Dome today as graduates of Northern Michigan University! You will depart today, recalling the magic of your lives lived to their fullest here in Marquette, full of experiences that will serve as the springboards for the limitless possibilities of your future. You will depart today, knowing that the educational achievements we celebrated with you here, confirmed your lifetimes of learning to come. You will depart today, eager to engage with the arts, and to support them, in order to continue to weigh and to examine your own views on human identity, human values, and human difference. You will depart today, knowing that you, too, in time, will give back to Northern in order to promote student learning experiences that align with your own areas of interest. And you will depart today, finally, armed with the knowledge, the skills, and the tenacity that will permit you to glimpse narrowly those keen moments of Occasion that only you will be able to perceive. I join with the faculty, the President, the Provost, and the Trustees in wishing you wisdom and luck in seizing upon all the very best of them.
Winter 2014 - Teri L. List-Stoll
"Oh…The Places You’ll Go"
May 3, 2014
Teri L. List-Stoll
Thank you President Haynes.
Members of the Board of Trustees, esteemed members of the faculty, proud parents, impatient siblings, devoted friends and family…congratulations to you all. But especially…congratulations to the remarkable Northern Michigan University Class of 2014!
Frankly….looking out at all of you makes me a little uncomfortable.
It’s been nearly 30 years since I sat where you are. And as I am reminded on a regular basis…by my children…my aching body parts…and my much younger co-workers…I am old. And as if that is not bad enough…when President Haynes invited me to participate in today’s celebration, he forced upon me the need to reflect on what the heck I have done over these 30 years. How I felt when I was first venturing out from NMU. What has made a difference in my life. And – most challenging – what I would say to all of you that would be inspiring…memorable…impactful.
But then it occurred to me. I don’t have any idea what the commencement speaker talked about when I sat where you are 30 years ago. That took all of the pressure off!
So…Class of2014…you’re heading out into the world. As with any new journey…it can be scary. I know some of you are probably worried about graduating into a tough economy. Some of you are concerned about starting your new job…or maybe even finding a job. And some of you are working hard to convince yourself that moving back in with Mom and Dad is almost as good as having your own apartment!
I know it’s hard out there, but I have high hopes for you – every single one of you. You’ve already accomplished something really tough: you’ve stuck it out…you’ve pushed yourself…and you are graduating.
In the memorable words of the very profound Dr. Seuss:
“Congratulations! Today is your day. You’re off to great places! You’re off and away! You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself in any direction you choose. You are on your own and you know what you know. And YOU are the one who will decide where to go.”
[As an aside…I’ve stolen Dr. Seuss from my daughter Jennifer…who has relied on him for both entertainment and wisdom since she was a toddler. She’s now 19 – and in the midst of her own college career!).
Fortunately…you’ve got the right start. A college degree puts a lot in your corner. Studies show that people who graduate are more resilient financially…and they weather economic downturns better than people who don’t graduate. And – throughout their lives – people who graduate are more likely to be economically secure, more likely to be healthy, and more likely to live longer. So…whatever direction you go, you’ve got the right start.
Maybe you’re not exactly sure yet where to go. Not to worry…Dr. Seuss answers that for you:
“You will look up and down streets, look them over with great care and with your head full of brains and shoes full of feet, you’re too smart to go down not-so-good streets. And you may not find any you want to go down. When things start happening, don’t worry, don’t stew. Just go right along. You’ll start happening too!”
The funny thing about this particular quote is that it so accurately describes my journey from sitting right where you are.
Don’t tell anyone…but I never really had a career plan – let alone a life plan. I have always firmly believed in keeping my options open…and then following my instincts on what choices to make.
It started with my decision to come to Northern…
In the small town where I grew up, going to college wasn’t an automatic choice. In fact – my parents and brothers have all been successful without going to college. Nonetheless…I had generally planned on going to college. But that’s pretty much where my formal planning stopped.
I started at a community college after high school, because it was more affordable…I could live at home…and I could work. But it didn’t take me long to realize that I wasn’t going to be motivated to finish college in that environment…so I decided to come to Northern.
Well -- truthfully – I came to Northern because that was where my high school boyfriend had decided to go. Isn’t that a mature way to choose your destiny? What would Dr. Seuss say to that? And – as an aside – the high school boyfriend and I barely made it thru the first semester!
Once I got here, I decided to major in accounting. Why would I ever choose accounting? Did I do studies to understand the nature of the profession? Job prospects? Fit with my skills and interests? Compensation potential? Nope. I chose it because that same high school boyfriend…and the roommate I had met about 5 minutes before class sign up…were both majoring in accounting.
Fortunately…I had some aptitude for the accounting and finance area, so it turned ok! It did teach me a life lesson that I didn’t yet appreciate – the importance of CAPABILITY…but I’ll come back to that.
When I graduated from Northern, I joined what at the time was Deloitte, Haskins & Sells and moved to Saginaw. For me, that was a pretty dramatic move. Saginaw was a big city for someone from Alpena…it even had a shopping mall and rush hour traffic!
I settled into my professional life with a grandiose goal: to make $100,000. That was it. No thought about specifically how I would do that…what positions or experiences I would need…or what kind of mentoring or coaching I should seek.
[As a quick aside, my daughter Katie recently graduated from college and is working at Ernst & Young in Chicago. As you can imagine…her choice of college, major and career was much more thoughtful than mine. In fact…I would have been horrified if she had approached it as I had. I guess that confirms the old saying: “do as I say…not as I do”!]
About four years into my career…someone had the audacity to “rock my world”. The partner I was working for at the time pulled me aside to offer me what he characterized as a “wonderful opportunity”. (Those are two words…by the way…that you should be cautiously skeptical of…sometimes a wonderful opportunity can be just that…but other times it can be code for something really messy that the person doesn’t want to handle themselves!)
In this case, it was a wonderful opportunity…one that changed the trajectory of my career…and my life. The “opportunity” was to move to New York and join Deloitte’s National Office in a developmental program for identified high potential talents.
His words were: Teri…this is a fabulous opportunity to live in a great city and compete with the top talent in the firm.
My thoughts were: Ohmigosh! I never wanted to leave Alpena…let alone Michigan…how would I survive in New York? And…Yikes! Compete with top talent?? I’ll fail. Everyone will realize I’m really not as capable as they think I am. Why can’t I just stay in my comfort zone…where I have a good chance of making my goal to earn $100,000?
And this is where life lesson number 2 came in: the importance of CONFIDENCE. But I’ll come back to that too.
Against my initial instincts, I accepted the “opportunity” …and it turned out to be just that. I will be forever grateful to that partner – my first mentor – for having the confidence in me that I hadn’t yet found in myself.
I stayed out East for about four years…completing my developmental assignment, having my first child, and accepting a fellowship doing something totally outside my comfort zone: writing and interpreting accounting rules for the Financial Accounting Standards Board. It was another big risk…a new organization, new bosses, new work, and new skills required. If I had been wed to a pre-established career plan, this experience never would have been on it…and yet…it turned out to be an exceptional opportunity to develop new skills and a broad network of resources that I still rely upon today.
(This was before LinkedIn…where you can “meet” people all over the world without ever leaving your desk!)
Shortly after relocating to St. Louis, MO…I was faced with another “wonderful opportunity”. If I had had access to him, I would have sought out Dr. Seuss…and he might have said:
“The streets are not marked. Some windows are lighted. But mostly they’re darkened. Do you dare stay out? Do you dare go in? How much can you lose? How much can you win? And if you should go in, should you turn left… right. Or right and three quarters? Or maybe not quite. Simple it is not, I’m afraid you will find, for a mind maker upper to make up their mind. You’ll get so confused … So be sure when you step. Step with care and great tact and remember that Life's a Great Balancing Act. Just never forget to be dexterous and deft. And never mix up your right foot with your left.”
Lucky for me…I knew my right foot from my left…and I had the courage and conviction to follow my instincts. The path I took led me to Procter & Gamble, where I spent the next 20 years – an unimaginable period to some of you…but it flew by so quickly! I had the “wonderful opportunity” to learn so much…about business…about leadership…about the world. When I left Northern Michigan University, I had never been on a plane. When I joined Procter & Gamble, I had never been outside the United States. Over my career there, I traveled to 48 countries…from France to China to Chile to India to Egypt…including some wonderful trips that included my husband and daughter…like Greece and Italy...Austria and Prague…Turkey and Russia.
By retaining that same bias for serendipity that had led me to Procter & Gamble, I was able to take on roles and experiences that wouldn’t have fit in a pre-ordained career plan. I also learned an additional life lesson: CHOICEFULNESS...but more about that later.
And then it happened…my first real career setback. While I still hadn’t established a “real” career plan and specific goal…I unconsciously was striving to become the Chief Financial Officer of P&G. When the time came to appoint the next CFO, my colleague and good friend was selected, and I was given the runner-up prize of Senior Vice President and Treasurer.
[As an aside, I have to bless my husband Steve’s heart. During this time when I was so frustrated…he shook me up and reminded me to celebrate the success of being the most senior finance women in an $80 billion company. I was too focused on the disappointment to find the joy. We were just dating at the time, so that may be why he became my husband...]
Not surprisingly…Dr. Seuss knew these things happen….
“I’m sorry to say so but sadly it’s true that bang-ups and hang-ups can happen to you, too. You can get all hung up in a prickly perch, and you’ll come down from that lurch with an unpleasant bump. And the chances are, then that you’ll be in a slump. And when you’re in a slump you’re not in for much fun. Unslumping yourself is not easily done.”
As the Treasurer, I learned a tremendous amount that increased my professional skills…and I was able to focus on the many organizational priorities that I have passion for – diversity, leadership training, career development. In my growing role as mentor for junior people in the organization, I began to more fully appreciate the value of COMPASSION as an important leadership trait…another life lesson…more to come.
For a while, I thought I was carving out a place in my career that could provide satisfaction…and good life balance. For a while…I thought that was enough. But just when I began to settle in to what I didn’t fully appreciate was the “slump” that Dr. Seuss referred to…another unexpected opportunity came up. The opportunity to join Kraft Foods as their CFO.
For years, headhunters had been calling me about potential CFO opportunities – being the female Treasure of an $80 billion global company does open some doors! When I wasn’t interested, they finally asked what it is that would make me interested.
That was one of the first times I had real clarity on what I wanted to do professionally. I told them I loved consumer products…I wanted to be in an industry where I have passion for the products…and for the people that use them. I told them I wanted a company that was large enough to have wonderful talent and capabilities…but small enough where I could make a difference. And I told them the “icing on the cake” would be to stay in the Midwest…preferably Chicago…where we could be close to family.
One day…I got the call that Kraft was conducting a CFO search. It took only a few interactions with the leadership of Kraft to know that it was the right opportunity for me.
And here I now am…
My instincts…combined with lots of hard work and leveraging the “life lessons” I referenced earlier…brought me exactly to where I never knew I wanted to go.
For the few of you who have been listening closely…you may be wondering about those “C’s” I mentioned….the life lessons learned along the way. Those C’s: Capability, Confidence, Compassion, and Choicefulness have one additional C that is the most important…Consistency. These Five C’s are part of another talk on leadership that is one of my favorites to give.
Briefly, my personal belief is that winning leaders should leverage five traits:
First – Capability. Be competent. Invest in continued development. Continually learn – through training and experiences…both good ones and bad. Failure is an amazing teacher! BTW - your diploma is a terrific start on Capability.
Second – Confidence. Believe in your talent and intentions. Have the courage to speak your convictions. Follow your instincts. (Most Male)
Third – Compassion. Don’t ever underestimate the power of genuine kindness and empathy…in the workplace and in your life. (Most Female)
Fourth – Choicefulness. Focus on the few things that matter most. Learn the art of saying “no”. Decide what you are aren’t willing to do for your job. (Hardest to Stick To)
And finally – Consistency. This is the most powerful C…and it’s the one that starts with the core of who you are today and continues to evolve with each new experience. Consistency requires you to get crystal clear on who you are and what you stand for. It recognizes the importance of integrity and strong principles. It requires that you start all important interactions from a position of trust.
So…Class of 2014…you have the foundation for each of these C’s. From here…all the planning and preparation in the world can’t prepare you for the many twists and turns that are coming your way. You can’t predict it all. People may tell you to plan things out as best you can. They will tell you to focus. They will tell you to follow your dreams. They will all be right.
But they also will be wrong. Never be so faithful to your plan that you are unwilling to embrace the serendipity that can change your trajectory. Look in the darkened windows and be willing to trust that you know your right from your left.
Never be so faithful to a plan that you are unwilling to consider the improbable opportunity that may come looking for you. Be willing to turn right and 3/4s…and see where it takes you.
And never be so faithful to your plan that – when you hit a bump in the road, you don’t have the fortitude, grace and resiliency to get out of your slump.
A final word from our friend Dr. Seuss…
“So be sure when you step. Step with care and great tact. And remember that life's A Great Balancing Act. You’ll find the bright places where Boom Bands are playing. Once more you’ll ride high! Ready for anything under the sky! Ready because you’re the right kind of a guy! Oh the places you’ll go! There is fun to be done. There are points to be scored. There are games to be won. And will you succeed? Yes! You will, indeed! (98 and ¾ percent guaranteed) Kid, you'll move mountains. Today is your day! Your mountain is waiting.”
Congratulations to each one of you – Class of 2014!
Winter 2013 - Felicia J. Fields
Felicia J. Fields
Saturday, May 4, 2013
Success is Defined by Who You Are, And How Life Makes You Feel
Thank you, President Haynes, members of the Board of Trustees, distinguished faculty and staff. I am truly grateful for the opportunity to address this great class and humbled to receive an honorary Doctor of Business degree from Northern Michigan University.
When President Haynes invited me to come speak to you this morning, I was so pleased and deeply honored. I’ve been privileged to travel all over the world and have always been proud to call Michigan my home. I know that Northern Michigan University produces graduates who are passionate, work hard, and care about the people and the world around them. Graduates, thank you for allowing me to be with you, family and friends on this special day of celebration.
As we approach Mother’s Day next weekend, I’d also like to take a second to recognize all the mothers, grandmothers and special women who are here today both in person and in spirit… thank you for everything you’ve done over many years to make these outstanding individuals who they are today. Your job is never done, but today is a major milestone for all families to honor and celebrate together.
As I was contemplating what words of advice to share with you, I mentioned to my daughter, who will soon be a graduate of Savannah College of Art and Design, that I had been invited to provide your commencement address. In addition to being ecstatic that I was not coming to speak at her school, her response to me was fairly direct: “Why would they ask you to give the speech?” That’s the thanks I get after carrying her for nine months and nurturing her every need for 22 years! But her question was a good one, and it made me stop and think for a second, “Will every graduate sitting before me wonder the same thing, why you?” Quickly, I came to my senses and decided you would be less concerned about the speaker and more worried about how long and potentially boring the speech could be! To repay my gratitude for the opportunity to be here today, I promise I’ll be brief… and hopefully, not boring.
So what is the relevance of my life experiences to yours and how does that fit with a generation so different from my own? When I left college, my blueprint for success was clear; land a job at a great company, work hard, do quality work, get along with others, rise up the ranks, and enjoy a great pension after 30 years of work. The plan for my personal life was also pretty clear; marry well, have two kids, live in the suburbs, and get a low-maintenance dog. Even taking into account that my very high-maintenance dog wakes me up barking at 4:30 AM most mornings…I can still say that most of the plan has worked out well.
I’ve been lucky enough to have some success personally and professionally, and I do hope my experiences give me life lessons to share with you as you embark on your next journey. But those lessons are not rooted in a cookie-cutter blueprint. Thank goodness there is no blueprint for success! Thank goodness we are all diverse, unique and special! You should feel wonderful knowing that whether you go to work in a suit and tie, high heels and panty hose, or jeans and your favorite Batman t-shirt, some life lessons are timeless and are valuable, no matter who you are or how you chose to live your life.
The best advice I can give you comes from what I’ve learned about living; not from what I did or the jobs I’ve held. Success is not defined by what you do in life; it’s defined by who you are and how life makes you feel.
What I do is lead human resources for an incredible, large, complex, global company that impacts lives all over the world. Who I am is a proud, third-generation Ford employee from the state of Michigan who loves being a wife, mother, daughter, sister, colleague and friend. High heels, pantyhose and long work days is what I do. Loving life, loving challenging work and working hard to leave the world a better place is who I am.
I don’t want to suggest for a minute that what you chose to do with your life, how you chose to express your passions and how you share the gifts that you, and only you possess, is unimportant. What I do want to emphasize is that what you choose to do, is far less important than how you feel about what you’re doing.
Let me share with you four of my life lessons.
First, do what you love. Find what you love and pour yourself into it with all your heart. When you can work hours on something that earns you no money or praise and still be happy you did it, you know you’ve found what you love. I imagine a world where people are free to learn, develop and achieve their greatest capability. I can work all day and never stop if I believe my work is in service of helping others reach their potential and achieve their dreams. That was true when I was your age, and it’s still true today. Knowing what you love is the source of all possibility. When you work from a place of love, anything and everything is possible.
Secondly, step up to your greatness. Wayne Gretzky said, “You miss 100% of the shots that you never take.” If you’re lucky, more than once in your life you’ll be presented with a challenge that seems insurmountable. You’ll face a problem that seems unsolvable, a task you’re afraid to conquer, or an overwhelming job that takes more skill or strength than you believe you possess. Have the drive and courage to step up to the challenge and take a shot.
In recent years, when this country was going through one of its deepest recessions, Ford, like GM and Chrysler was literally on the brink of bankruptcy, with hundreds of thousands of people counting on us. I remember the feeling of helplessness, as problems seemed to fall from the sky – with each problem, more difficult than the one before it. As a team, we had to make some gutsy choices. We worked together, learned together, and started rebuilding our company one piece at a time. We took our best shot and knew that failure was always a possible outcome. In fact, sometimes failure is our best teacher. Don’t ever be afraid to reach deep and take your best shot. All that matters is the desire to be more than you are; to never stop learning, growing and trying new things.
My third life lesson is, do what needs to be done. Don’t let fear or indifference stand in your way. You have enjoyed the privilege of an outstanding education and you should never take that privilege for granted. You have the gift of knowledge, and more importantly, the gift of knowing how to learn. The marriage of knowing more and caring more is what fuels progress. Take the gift of education and your desire to leave the world a better place and put it to good use. Decide what challenge will fuel your life’s passion. Will it be political, economic, social, or environmental? Will it be for the benefit of this community, this State, this nation, or the entire world? Whatever it is, work hard every day to make a difference… and do what needs to be done.
Finally, enjoy the journey. Sadly, most of us don’t appreciate this lesson early enough in life. When we are young, we see our whole lives ahead of us and dream of what we will become rather than enjoying who we are. It’s not all our fault; society sets us up to focus on the future – our goals, our plans, our next job or next big accomplishment…and that is generally a healthy outlook as we chase our dreams and follow our ambitions.
At the same time, one of the greatest feats in life is to learn to be present and treasure every moment; big moments like this, small moments, happy moments, sad moments. Everything is a gift to be treasured. Everything is a gem. Everything is part of the journey. So I urge you to remember how important it is to cherish your own journey… be present in this moment and never miss what’s right in front of you!
Graduates, this arena is filled with pride and joy as we all gather to celebrate the great work you’ve done, the goals you’ve achieved, and to send you off with love and great hope for your success and happiness in the future. You are inheriting a beautifully complex, challenging, and interconnected world with endless opportunities. There has never been a greater need or more important time for you to step up to your greatness. Whatever path you choose or passion you pursue, remember that your success will not defined by what you choose to do; it will be defined by who you are and by how life makes you feel.
Thank you so much.
Fall 2013 - Ernie Telford
Good morning everyone, President Haynes, members of the Board of Trustees, distinguished faculty, parents and family members, and, especially, the graduates.
It’s a great day to be a Wildcat.
This morning I attended the honors breakfast and want to offer special congratulations to all the honor students graduating today. I graduated from Northern in 1969, “Magna Cum Lucky.” When President Haynes asked me to be your commencement speaker, I was shocked, honored and humbled and wondered for a moment if he checked my GPA before he made that decision. It was a close call for me.
My graduation ceremony was likely a very different experience than yours. First, it was held in the Hedgcock Field House, as none of these facilities existed. Second, my family was not present, so I went through commencement by myself. It wasn’t that they didn’t want to come; I had actually asked them not to attend because I told them I wouldn’t be able to spend any time with them. I had to take some final exams immediately after commencement and my status as a graduate, even during the ceremony, was very much up in the air. I had a solid F in my statistics class and needed every moment to study for the final exam. A friend was an A student in the class and had tutored me for several weeks leading up to the final. I was confident that I knew the material and that I was going to do well, but I still had to take it, knowing that my degree rested on my success in this one last exam. So while that experience taught me about correlation analysis, and mean square weighted deviation, the real take away from that experience was learning about the power of networking.
The 1960s were a turbulent time in this country. President Kennedy was assassinated in 1963. I was at a hockey game here in Marquette on April 4th 1968 and they announced over the Public Address system that Dr. Martin Luther King was shot and killed.
The Vietnam War was extremely unpopular and the resulting civil unrest was rampant all over this country, especially on college campuses. The federal government gave students four years to finish college and, having subscribed to the four-and-a-half-year plan, I was drafted in my senior year. I completed my exams, left Marquette, and flew home to New York, where I nervously waited for my grades. Imagine if you can, a college experience without computers, beyond the conveniences of email, Google, ATMs and cell phones. You could wait for your grades to arrive in the snail mail or call the university to see if they were posted. I picked up the rotary dial phone, called campus and, when the woman read off my grades I realized I made it. I got off the phone and, at the top of my lungs, let the world know that “I graduated from college!”
I know the pride each and every one of you must feel today. It’s an accomplishment that no one can ever take from you and serves as the successful foundation to a promising career, whatever that may be.
With my diploma firmly in my grasp, I was headed back to school – only this time it was the U.S. Army’s Officers Candidate School. But once again, I was Magna Cum Lucky, as the government cancelled my orders to report to Vietnam as an artillery forward observer. Magna cum lucky stayed with me. I asked my wife Patricia to marry me on our second date and 43 years later, she is here today, sitting out there with our daughter Jennifer.
After the service, I got my first job, at Continental Insurance Company in New York. My second job was with AIG, and they sent our family out to California. After eight years of working for AIG in New York and Los Angeles, I started my own commercial insurance brokerage business that today has been parlayed into the largest wholesale commercial insurance distribution platform in the United States
American Wholesale Insurance Group, or AmWINS, distributes 8.7 billion dollars in commercial insurance premiums to the marketplace annually and has grown to include offices in 90 locations across 18 countries, including 60 here in the United States, while employing more than 2,800 people. Though I retired from AmWins in 2006 as its Chairman, I still have an ongoing consulting role with the company. I am very proud of the company and to have been of its founders.
I learned a great deal every day I was on the job, but it was Northern that gave me the basic skills I needed to do well in business. I didn’t go on to get an MBA; instead I had a MBF, which might not mean what you think it does when you first hear it, but it is something that was very tangible to me. An MBF, is Management by Fear – Fear of failure; fear of going bankrupt; fear of letting down people who put their faith and trust in me. Fear of giving the commencement address at my Alma Mater. This MBF served me well for my entire working career. Every time I thought the company was doing well enough and was on solid ground, I relaxed a little bit and the business relaxed with me. That’s when my MBF kicked in: l realized that complacency and settling for “just good enough” was a dangerous road to travel. I’m sure you all have felt it at some point, worrying about grades. Will I make it to graduation? Will my cell phone battery last through the end of this ceremony? This MBF is a good thing; it keeps you focused. Stay in touch with it
The NMU foundation approached me about six years ago to gauge my interest in giving back to Northern. I suggested that the University had some seeds that, with some nurturing, could grow and expand to launch new academic programs in Risk Management and Actuarial Science.
We provided the capital to start the Risk management and Actuarial Science programs here at NMU. Some of money we gave went to scholarships for students pursuing these disciplines. I am very proud of the two Telford scholars who are graduating today, Michael Reyer and Sean Coykendall. Both of you can buy me a cold beer this afternoon as I am working up quite a thirst giving this speech.
I’d like to encourage all of you, once you settle in to your jobs and life is going well, to give back. I know you feel like you’ve already given the school quite a bit over these last four or five years, but pay it forward. It really does make a difference.
I will never forget the letter I received from Michael telling me that he was packing up and leaving NMU at the end of his semester because he didn’t have the money to come back. He received a call from the university informing him that he received a scholarship from the funds that Pat and I gave to the school reversing the path he was about to take and today he is graduating with honors. I have been Sean’s mentor for the last two and a half years, have helped him find internships and, working closely with him, there is no doubt in my mind that he will go far in life. A recent letter Sean wrote to us thanking us for the support included such heartfelt words and only deepened our understanding of why we give our time and treasure back to this university. Today Sean also is graduating with honors.
Today isn’t about me, or Michael or Sean. It’s about all of you, collectively, and the great things you have and will accomplish in your lives. Your education is as much about what you learn about yourself as those things you discover in the classroom. The time and toil you have spent preparing yourself for this day means just as much as those tools you have developed. Your diligence and tenacity have made each of you a good, responsible and respected person. This day is about you and the people sitting next to you in this sea of green and we are here to celebrate your accomplishment.
David Letterman is famous for his Top Ten lists on relevant topics of the day, and since today marks the culmination of your coursework, I want to share with you ten lessons I Learned outside the Classroom, and I hope they resonate with you.
Number 10: You will actually miss this place more than you’ll realize. Sure, the winters are brutal and the summers are less than tropical. And the Wildcats will most likely never play in the Rose Bowl. But I can guarantee that some of the friends you have made here will last a lifetime. My college roommate, Bruce Jones, is a retired High School teacher and lives in New Jersey. The bond that we established here remains as strong as ever, unbroken for almost 45 years. I have run into Alums proudly wearing NMU apparel in airports, on a bike trail in Ventura, California, and recently in my gym. The common bond and shared pride that is revealed through a quick conversation with a stranger creates an instant link and brings me back to my time here. I don’t know what it is, maybe it’s because we have all know how cold the winters can be. It’s like we went to school and a winter survival course all rolled into one.
Number 9: Find a Mentor. This should be someone you respect and trust, someone you can think out loud without fear of judgment, someone who will speak the truth into your life even when you may not want to hear it. Your continued development as an adult is critical to whatever next step you take after you leave here today, and you’re going to need help along the way.
Number 8: Continue to Learn. The most rewarding moment in life is when you learn something new and there will be new opportunities to do this every single day.
Number 7: Work with people you like and respect. You will spend more time at work than you will at home with your family. I’m sad to say there are a lot of arrogant jerks out there. Find the people who aren’t and make them your contemporaries.
Number 6: Find work that helps develop the world rather than depleting it. The causes you choose to advance and the responsibilities you are willing to take on will have a great impact on the lives of others. You get to determine if your place in the world will yield positive or negative results on the people and places that surround you.
Number 5: Be honorable and humble. Every second. Every minute. Every day. If you have honor and humility, you will live your life without question. When you do that, and that alone, no one can ever question you. Kindness, honor, and a little bit of modesty are a powerful combination and will serve as the most potent attributes you’ll ever find or need.
Number 4: Put your conviction out there. Know what it’s like to say to a boss, client or co-worker: “Don’t worry, it’s taken care of.” And really know what that means. While these words are powerful, the confidence you gain in yourself and the reliability you earn from others is even greater and will take you farther than you can ever imagine.
Number 3: Don’t try to be great, just try to be solid. People who strive for greatness and perfection but are afraid to make a mistake will probably miss an opportunity to take a risk. We need risk-takers; the risk I took with others to form AmWins a little more than 10 years ago today employs 2,800 people in 18 countries. See for yourself what happens when you believe in an idea and give it your all.
Number 2: Make some mistakes. I have made plenty of mistakes. The only thing wrong with making a mistake is learning nothing from the experience. Mistakes are great learning opportunities, and there is nothing wrong with trying, failing, and trying again.
Number 1: Live and Love Life. Life goes go by very quickly and it accelerates the older you get. Find your passion, but realize that sometimes your passion just finds you.
In closing, I want you to know you have been given a tremendous gift, and that is the gift of promise and the unknown for what the future holds. If that sounds scary, I assure you it is not. And while luck, Magna Cum Luck has been part of my life and will be for you, you will go much farther in life by relying on hard work and your integrity. You all are smart, well-educated, and free to do whatever your heart desires. There is great power in that, and I hope you use it wisely.
When this commencement is completed, your status will change. You no longer will be NMU students; you will be graduates of Northern Michigan University, a university where students matter, where the faculty cares, where the harsh winters fostered warm friendships that will last a lifetime. For many of you, this day marks the end of your formal studies. You arrived here equipped to deal with absolutely nothing. The knowledge you discovered in the classroom and the wisdom you have found through your studies and time here have prepared all of you to deal with anything and everything.
Well done wildcats. May God bless each and every one of you.
Fall 2012 - Dan Musser
Thank you, President Haynes. Thank you to members of the board, faculty and staff and most of all, to the students of Northern Michigan University, particularly those graduating today.
This is a landmark day in the lives of each of you who are graduating -- a day that you will remember for the rest of your lives. I am honored to have been asked to share this celebration with you.
You are graduates today because of your own intelligence and hard work and because you, your families and the taxpayers of this state have invested substantially in your future. You can be proud that you have earned a diploma from Northern Michigan University. This school is a great example of the kind of excellence and quality that can be produced by a publicly supported university.
It also represents the way that institutions can and must successfully adjust to changing times and changing needs.
Northern State Normal School was founded in 1899 with an initial enrollment of 32 students and a focus on educating teachers. Since its founding as an education school, however, this school's name has changed five times as enrollment climbed and as students looked for training in other areas. This school has evolved from strictly an educational college to a comprehensive university of 10,000 students working toward degrees in 180 different undergraduate and graduate programs.
I am here today representing an institution that is actually 12 years older than Northern Michigan University. Grand Hotel opened its doors to the public on July 10, 1887 to receive summer vacationers who arrived either by lake steamer or by rail.
In the intervening 125 years, our season has expanded from two months to six months and our annual guest list has expanded from a relative small number of wealthy families who spent the entire season to 130,000 visitors of all ages from all walks of life who stay an average of two and one-half to three nights.
If you were to set out today to create a successful business model, you probably wouldn’t follow ours. We’re a hospitality venue nearly 300 miles from the closest major metropolitan area. We’re on an island, which means you can’t drive up to our entrance. We’re closed six months every year. Each spring we have to hire upwards of 600 employees to open our doors. Mackinac Island has about 500 full-time residents, including children and seniors. That means almost all of our employees have to leave homes in other parts of the country and the world to work at Grand Hotel on a job they know will end in the fall.
And yet, it works. We have a loyal team of skilled and dedicated employees who come back to us year after year. And we have a loyal family of guests who come back year after year. And we are listed annually as one of the top hotels in the world by such prestigious publications as Travel & Leisure magazine and Condé Nast Traveler.
So what’s the secret?
To me, the story of Grand Hotel from its beginning to today is the story of people who had a vision, who followed their heart to do something they loved and who worked hard at it.
The vision began in the late 1800s with Francis Stockbridge, a lumber baron who eventually became a United States Senator. Sen. Stockbridge loved Mackinac Island. He believed the island needed a major hotel that fully utilized the island’s beauty. So he purchased the site on which Grand Hotel is located in 1882. His goal was to find someone who would build such a hotel. Five years later he found a builder and arranged financing for its construction from the three major transportation companies that served the island at that time – the Michigan Central Railroad, the Grand Rapids and Indiana Railroad and the Detroit and Cleveland Navigation Company.
These companies wanted a new and grand destination on Mackinac Island to which they could transport people.
In the fall of 1886, the foundation where the hotel sits today was built, high on the bluff overlooking the Straits of Mackinac. During the course of the winter of 1886 and 1887, more than one million feet of Michigan white pine was milled in Cheboygan, brought to the island over the ice, and stockpiled where our tennis courts are today at the base of the hill. In the spring of 1887, 400 carpenters, living in a tent city at the base of the hill, constructed the main façade and structure that you see today. The goal was to complete the hotel in 90 days. They failed. It took them 93 days. On July 10, 1887, Grand Hotel opened its doors to our first guests.
In the intervening years, through two World Wars, one Great Depression, and a more recent Great Recession, we have not missed a season.
My family’s history with Grand Hotel goes back to 1919, which means we have been involved in the hotel for 75 percent of its history. My great uncle, William Stewart Woodfill, came to northern Michigan from Indiana in 1918 because he suffered from hay fever. Traveling to northern Michigan to escape such maladies was the fashion of the time, and he originally went to work at the Arlington Hotel in Petoskey, Michigan. After one season there, the manager said if you are really serious about this business, you should go work for Logan Ballard up at Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island. He really knows the summer hotel business. So my great uncle did.
In 1919 he went to work as a clerk at the front desk, which then and still today is the nerve center of any hotel. Uncle Stewart approached Mr. Ballard and told him that he would work for no pay, with the understanding that, at the end of the season, Mr. Ballard could pay him what he thought he was worth. My uncle’s brashness and dedication to learning the business appealed to Mr. Ballard and they became good friends. More importantly, Mr. Ballard became Uncle Stewart’s mentor in the hotel business.
Following Mr. Ballard’s death in 1923, Uncle Stewart went into partnership with the heirs of Mr. Ballard’s estate and the auditor, and quite frankly hated it. My uncle did not like having partners, so he sold out and took paper with the thought that he would go live the life of Reilly. But the stock market crash of ’29 happened and Uncle Stewart learned pretty quickly that his paper was worth nothing if the hotel wasn’t thriving, and so he came back and foreclosed on the hotel.
Eventually, In March 1933, in the depths of the Great Depression at a time when all the nation’s banks had been closed, Uncle Stewart was the sole bidder in an auction to take the hotel out of receivership.
In a 1969 speech, my uncle said his family and friends were not enthusiastic about his decision to purchase the hotel.
“They suggested,” he said, “a bucket be secured, a sterling silver bucket if need be to please my expensive tastes, and that my money be put into it and poured down the sink. This would shorten the ordeal of losing my money and make it much easier!”
But my uncle had a vision. He was following his heart, doing something that he loved and he was prepared to work very hard at it.
He also was a wonderful promoter. He convinced Ripley’s of Believe it or Not fame to promote us as the world’s largest summer hotel with the longest porch in the world. This nationwide promotion enabled him to kickstart and expand our brand beyond Detroit, Chicago, Indianapolis, which had been our traditional markets to that date.
He was also the first of our type of carriage trade hotels to take conventions. His peers warned that by adding conventions, he would scare away the wonderful social guests who came for weeks or months at a time with their staff and steamer trunks. But Uncle Stewart could see that with good roads coming and cars that worked, travel was going to change. The idea of people leaving their homes for the entire summer was slowly going to diminish. So he began to transition from a hotel that hosted guests who stayed for an entire 90 day season to today where our average stay is about 3 days in the summer and 2.5 days in the shoulder season.
My great uncle also worked with my wife’s grandfather, Senator Prentiss Brown, to help see that the Mackinac Bridge was built. This has helped commerce, not just on Mackinac Island, but obviously throughout the entire Straits area and the Upper Peninsula. In fact, it had a major impact on the enrollment here at Northern Michigan University.
The next key person with vision was my father, Dan Musser, who worked for Uncle Stewart right out of college. Uncle Stewart told my father, whose own father had died, that he would pay for my father’s college education if he agreed to work at Grand Hotel for at least two years. If they liked each other after that, then they would continue. Well they did like each other and it worked.
My father brought with him an incredible attention to detail and his own vision for transforming Grand Hotel, which was complemented by my mother’s love of beauty, something that is reflected throughout the hotel whether you are in our rooms, our public areas or in our magnificent grounds. He also brought a commitment to excellence and a refusal to cut corners. He has always seen Grand Hotel as a state treasure and our family role as being caretakers of this unique institution.
I grew up watching all of this, watching my father work funny hours for six months out of the year. I thought this was a crazy business. I always liked numbers, so between my sophomore and junior years in college, I decided to work at the Board of Trade in Chicago, thinking that that would be a better lifestyle and something that would fit my knack for numbers. I realized pretty quickly that whatever you want to do, if you want to do it well, you are going to put some time into it and you are going to work hard.
It hit me at that point that I really like our business. I like interacting with a wide range of staff members with different life experiences and expertise from different parts of the country and the world. I also like interacting with our wide variety of guests who travel from our wonderful state, across the country and from other parts of the world.
And I like being able to implement my own vision in continuing the legacy of Grand Hotel. For instance, in recent years we have focused on adding family friendly amenities and offerings so that families with young children would start to come to us and create our next generation of guests. I am proud to say that we have accomplished that.
Some parts of the vision remain unchanged. We have always asked gentlemen to wear a coat and tie and ladies to dress in their finest after 6:30 p.m. We think that this creates an atmosphere that certainly is unique, particularly more so in these days. I feel that, while it is not for everyone, there is a niche there that we do not intend on changing or leaving. My father has always said that it does not cost us a dime to make gentlemen put a coat and tie on, but it changes the feeling in our Main Dining Room instantly.
All that being said, though, I have recognized the fact that the traveling public has changed and not everyone appreciates the more formal atmosphere of our Main Dining Room. So in recent years, we have added several restaurant options with a wide variety of food choices in casual settings. We have found that by introducing this added value, while always keeping our mind on the very basics of what a hotel is (good clean rooms, good honest food that is prepared well and served in a truly gracious and friendly way), we will succeed.
What is the lesson of all this? As you embark from Northern Michigan University, whatever you decide to do, if you want to be successful it is going to take dedication, hard work and character.
One of the most powerful Americans of the 20th century was Bernard Baruch, a financial genius who became a multi-millionaire before he was 30 back in the early 1900s when a million dollars was real money. He then spent much of his life advising American presidents from Woodrow Wilson to Franklin D. Roosevelt to John F. Kennedy on economic matters and other issues that called for his wisdom.
At the age of 87 he made this observation about changes he had seen in his life: “I have witnessed a whole succession of technological revolutions,” he said. “But none of them has done away with the need for character in the individual or the ability to think.”
I think that sums up what has made Grand Hotel so successful through the years – leaders with strong character, the ability to think and a willingness to follow their heart.
The late Steve Jobs put it this way in 2005 when he delivered the commencement address at Stanford University: “Have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.”
If you follow what you love, I am confident that you will be successful, particularly with the degree that you just earned.
As you move forward from Northern Michigan University do what is in your heart. Do it well. Do it with enthusiasm. Do it with all your might. And don’t forget to enjoy the trip.
Winter 2011 - Johnetta Betsch Cole
One Flower Never Makes A Spring
Johnnetta Betsch Cole
December 17, 2011
And what a great getting' up morning it is as we gather to celebrate the accomplishments of each of these Northern Michigan University and wish them well as they "commence" the next leg of their journey.
To you, dear graduates, let me say: Congratulations! Felicidades! Mahbrook! Mazel-tov! and, "You done good!" But as much as I applaud you, I know that you did not get here all by yourselves. Indeed, you would not have made it to this day if you had not had been supported by your parents, grand parents, aunts, uncles, partners, spouses, children and all of the folks who have believed in you, especially during those times when you didn't fully believe in yourselves. And many of you are surely grateful for the way that your folks have been your human ATMs!
I trust you will continue to appreciate the faculty at NMU, the women and men who have been your partners in the precious and powerful process of teaching and learning. And may you always appreciate NMU staff, those women and men who provided all of the support services that allowed you to grab a hold of and fully embrace a fine university education.
Please know that it is an honor and a joy for me to share this great celebration with you; and in receiving an honorary degree from Northern Michigan University, I consider it a privilege to be a member of your class, the class of 2011. All that I have read about President Wong leads me to respect and admire him. I have known Brian Cloyd for many years, and I can testify that this university is mighty fortunate to have him serving as the chair of your university's board of trustees.
I bring you greetings from the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art in Washington, D.C. It is a special place where we collect, conserve, exhibit and educate about the diverse and dynamic traditional and contemporary visual arts of Africa. Yes, Africa, the place that is the cradle of humanity. What an important and moving fact it is that there is but one place from which all human kind has descended. And how true and significant and amazing and full of Grace it is that there is only one human race.
Dear classmates, know that I gave a lot of thought to choosing the topic on which I should center this commencement address. There is no shortage of topics about issues of critical importance in our communities, our nation and our world. To name just a few issues: poverty; the presence of war in many parts of our world and the crying need for peace, assaults to our environment that threaten our planet; the state of education in our country, especially what is taking place in our K-12 public schools, the troubling state of the American economy, indeed economies around the world, complex issues around immigration; and technology – oh the power of it and yet the importance of letting it be of service not disservice to humanity.
I settled on something that is clearly of critical importance all over this great country of ours, and in so many other countries as well. I have chosen this commencement address to focus on the critical need for each of us to do what we can to address bigotry and discrimination wherever we find it: in our own homes, in our schools, in places where we worship, in places where we go for recreation, in our work places, and in world places.
I thought that Brother Chair Brian Cloyd will speak about diversity and inclusion. But that's alright, because when it comes to education, repetition is good for the soul.
Let me begin by drawing on words of the great African American scholar and activist, Dr. W.E. B. DuBois. He said that the problem of the 20th century is the problem of the color line. Here we are in the 21st century and we have yet to eradicate the problem of the color line, and there are so many more lines we human beings have constructed to divide us---lines based on gender, class, religion, nationality, sexual orientation, age, and physical and mental abilities.
Because various forms of bigotry and discrimination are so widespread and so tenacious, many are led to say and to believe that it is "just human nature" to dislike people who are different from the way you are, and to create systems of inequality based on those differences.
No! Bigotry is not "just human nature," and it is not passed on genetically! Bigotry is learned, and because it is learned, it can be unlearned, and indeed we could just stop teaching it. I am not naïve enough to think that we can rid the world of bigotry by declaring a moratorium on teaching it.
How well I know that bigotry and discrimination are about power and privilege. And it is not easy for folks who have power and privilege to decide to just give it up. We have to offer to those who have it, a more rewarding alternative. We need to imagine and work toward making real a world in which difference doesn't make any more difference. We need to envision and then create communities where everyone is respected, and invited "to the table" so that their voices can be heard. And if there isn't room enough "at the table" for everyone, then a bigger table must be built.
Here in the United States, power and privilege based on race and gender stand out, and so, as an African American woman, I know what it is like not to have White skin privilege and not to have male privilege.
But it is ever so important that I acknowledge and deal with the reality that there is some power and privilege that I do have. I clearly have some power and privilege as someone who is upper middle class, heterosexual, a Christian, and physically able.
This reality, that each of us has some form of power and privilege flows from the fact that each of us has multiple identities. And it is ever so important for us to be aware of those identities and to guard against efforts to characterize us in singular terms.
Let me share another reality about this stuff that we call bigotry and discrimination. It is this: unfortunately, being the victim of one form of bigotry or discrimination does not immune one from victimizing others. For example, some White women who have been the victims of sexism practice racism. Some Black people who have known the bitter sting of racism are homophobic, and practice heterosexism. Some people who are Jewish, and have been the victims of anti-Semitism can harbor feelings and carry out actions that stem from Islamaphobia.
My sisters and brothers all of this mighty class of 2011, based on the points I have just made about on-going challenges to human diversity, challenges that take the form of bigotry and discrimination, what can I ask of you as you go out into the world of graduate and professional studies or the world of work? There are indeed some very specific things that I want to ask you to do, but please know that I will not ask anything of you that I do not continue to ask of myself.
First, I ask that you seriously think about how you learned your prejudices. That is, interrogate yourself about your particular journey around questions of human diversity. And when that day comes when you are parents--- if that is something you want to do and can do--- then please contribute to changing the world by refusing to teach bigotry to your children.
If you are off to do post baccalaureate work, then encourage your new institution as I hope you encouraged NMU to do its part to promote respect for diversity and to create an inclusive environment. How much better our communities and our nation would be if each of us spoke up and called out folks who tell racist, sexist and heterosexist jokes. And suppose each of us took time to truly understand the issues involved with highly charged topics such as immigration, and the number of Black and Latino men --- and yes women too---who are entangled in our nation's criminal justice system.
I ask that each of you get in touch with your multiple identities. And once you do so, then you must never let others relate to you in terms of only one of your attributes.
I also urge you to honestly examine your own power and privilege. For if you are to avoid using your power and privilege in ways that exploit and oppress others, then you must be in touch with what power and privilege you have, the basis of it, and how it can be used in positive ways.
It is time now for me to move toward closure on this talk, and I want to do so by leaving with you some inspiriting words that come from the heads and the hearts of women and men of diverse communities.
From a Native American people, the Sioux, we hear these words: with all beings and all things we shall be relatives.
Here are words that are spoken by many different people to capture the value of gender equity. The words are: Women hold up half the sky!
I turned to a Chinese saying for the tittle for this commencement address. It is a saying that speaks to the beauty of human diversity: One flower never makes a spring. Indeed it is when there is an incredible array of many different flowers that we say – after a long Northern Michigan winter, spring has come!
Even though each of us has heard them many times, I must lift up Dr. Martin Luther King's moving words that continue to speak to the struggle against racial discrimination. "I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character."
Caesar Chavez, the exemplary Chicano leader once said: "Our ambitions must be broad enough to include the aspirations and needs of others----for their sakes and for our own."
The beloved Rabbi Hillel was asked if he could stand on one foot and say everything that is in the Torah. He responded that he could and this is what he said: "What is hateful to you, do not to your fellow men (and women). That is the whole Torah. All the rest is commentary."
There is a passage in the Koran that says this: "We are made into nations and tribes that we may know and love each other.
One of my sheroes, Audre Lorde, who described herself as a Black, feminist, lesbian, mother, warrior poet offered these profound words: It is not our differences, it is our silence about our differences that harms us.
Here are the words of Helen Keller, an amazing social activist who was deaf and blind from the age of 10 months: "Each of us is blind and deaf until our eyes are opened to our fellow men and women, until our ears hear the voices of humanity."
Now I really will bring closure, but to do so I must ask one more thing of each of you, my classmates of the mighty class of 2011. Please, will each of you who is graduating today to please stand. Now give yourselves a big hug. Remember, you must first love and respect yourself before you can love and respect the diverse people of the world.
Spring 2011 - Mark Lovell
Dr. Mark R. Lovell Commencement Speech
Having an Impact on Your Future and Your World.
Mark R. Lovell, Ph.D., FACPN
NMU Spring Commencement, 2011
Greetings and Introduction
President and Mrs. Wong, Members of the Board of Trustees, Provost Koch, Distinguished Members of the Faculty, and particularly members of the Graduating Class of 2011, Parents, friends, and guests.
It is a tremendous honor for me to have the opportunity to speak briefly with you today and a real pleasure to be back in Marquette. It is also very special for me to have my wife Eileen with me today for this occasion. Eileen and I have been married for over 34 years and she has been my biggest supporter over the years.
I have vivid memories of walking across this stage in 1977 to receive my degree from President John Jamrich and never would have guessed at that time that I would be back here today under these circumstances today. I also remember how proud my mother and father were. My Dad really wanted to be here today but at 90, the trip from Grand Rapids would have been a bit difficult.
As I reflect back on the 34 years since my graduation, it is easy to see how my experiences at Northern provided the foundation for success in my professional and personal life. I owe this university a great deal and feel that my time at NMU was perhaps the most important and transformational time of my life.
We are all different and reach our goals in a different way but I hope that my brief remarks will help you in some small way throughout your lives.
Honestly, I will be very happy if you remember even one of the points that I make today.
Not to bore you too much with my personal history but I came to Northern as a bit of an underachiever. Quite frankly, I found High School to be boring. However, this soon changed when I arrived at Northern. I immediately felt at home in the UP and found that the natural beauty of the area provided an excellent backdrop for my education.
In particular, I found that the incredible amount of individualized attention and mentoring that I received through the Department of Psychology provided excellent preparation for graduate study. I have to thank Drs. John Renfrew and Pryse Duerfeldt for their active mentoring and belief in my abilities, even when I doubted myself from time to time.
As I moved on to graduate school, it became clear to me that I was often better prepared than my classmates- many of them being from larger schools. In particular, my colleagues were amazed that I was allowed to lead seminars and serve as a teaching assistant as an undergraduate. These were opportunities that they did not have access to. In fact, I found that many of my graduate school colleagues did not even know their undergraduate professors. At Northern, the faculty members were a constant source of support and mentoring and developed close working relationships with the students. I understand that this is a philosophy that has continued to this day and it is one thing that makes Northern special and unique.
To put it simply, NMU provided the perfect environment for my personal growth. Honestly, I can’t imagine having attended another University.
Developing and Living the Dream
Most people that I meet tell me that I have a “dream job” and I am inclined to agree with them. After all, I am doing exactly what I wanted to do when I started down this path as a student at Northern. What’s not to like? On a day to day basis, I work with the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Pittsburgh Penguins and yes, even occasionally I deal with the Packers….
So how did I get here and how did Northern help to prepare me…
My dream has always been to combine my interest in sports in with the field of neuropsychology. However, I had a fundamental problem: The field of Sports Neuropsychology did not exist at that time. This created some initial obstacles for me. In fact, in the 1970’s there were only a handful of graduate programs in neuropsychology nationally and none that offered specific training in working with athletes, while now there are hundreds of Ph.D. programs and an increasing number of Sport-oriented programs, including the program that I developed in Pittsburgh back in 2000.
Many years ago, I remember discussing this dilemma with Dr. John Renfrew who was my mentor and advisor at the time. We decided that I would need to configure somewhat of a hybrid program that would allow me to eventually combine my interest in the neurosciences with my interest in working directly with people. He definitely guided me down the right path
After leaving Northern in 1977 and spending two years in Kansas (where I met my wife Eileen), I was accepted into an innovative Ph.D. program at the Chicago Medical School that combined aspects of Psychology with the neurosciences. This took a bit of a leap of faith on my part as the program was in only its second year and had not yet been accredited by the American Psychological Association. I followed my heart and my instincts, we moved to Chicago and I have never regretted it.
Upon finishing my Doctorate in Chicago and completing my internship and fellowship at Nebraska, we moved to Pittsburgh where I had the opportunity to begin to work with the Pittsburgh Steelers at a time when no one knew what a neuropsychologist was or what I did. More often than not I was referred to as a “Psycho neurologist” rather than a “Neuropsychologist”. I think you can see how the first label may have been problematic…..
Finally, things were shaping up the way I had dreamed that they might earlier in my life.
Lessons Learned Along the Way
I have now been working as a neuropsychologist since 1984. I have had my share of successes as well as failures. I also think that I have developed some perspective on what has helped me to eventually reach my long-term goals. I would like to provide you with just a few thoughts that may be helpful to you in the future.
Embrace Change and Development throughout Your Life
First and foremost, remember that life is a never ending series of developmental steps and you leave here today as a work in progress just as I did many years ago. In healthy and happy people, this process of development continues throughout our life and we hopefully continue to learn and grow along the way. Personally, I hope I never lose the curiosity of a child that has kept me learning throughout my adult life.
Perhaps the most important part of the growth process is learning to deal with change. Psychologists have known for years that happy and successful people view change as a challenge rather than as a threat and view change as a temporary obstacle rather than as a roadblock.
Throughout my career, I have often had to deal with changing circumstances and new challenges. Back in 2000, I was working as a Division Head at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit. I had been hired away from Pittsburgh to direct the Division of Neuropsychology. At that time, Sports Neuropsychology was more or less a “hobby” and I spent much of my professional time dealing with other neurological diseases and injuries. Although I enjoyed this work, it was not really what I wanted to do.
Then it happened! I was offered a position within a Department of Orthopaedic Surgery and Sports Medicine at the University of Pittsburgh that would allow me to work with athletes on a full-time basis. Wow, what an opportunity. So we packed up and moved to Pittsburgh. However, once we arrived, I realized that none of the surgeons had ever worked with a neuropsychologist before and really had no clue as to what it was that I did. One surgeon actually asked me if I was the guy who they were bringing in to do acupuncture and help people quite smoking….
During that first year, the patient referrals were few and far between and (for a split second) I began to question the move back to Pittsburgh. However, this didn’t last long. My assistant Micky Collins and I dug in our heels and decided that we needed to adapt to our new circumstances. We went on a non-stop educational tour starting within our own department and spreading to schools and leagues in the area and the request for our services began to pick up. At the current time, we now routinely evaluate over 200 athletes per week in the Pittsburgh area and work with over 5,000 professional, college and high school teams.
Be Ready to Recognize and Seize Opportunity
Another important component of my journey has been recognizing important opportunities and being ready to act when an opportunity presents itself.Back in the 1980’s one of my major opportunities presented itself when I was approached by Dr. Joseph Maroon, the Steelers Neurosurgeon. Joe had a problem: He had concerns about the readiness of the starting quarterback to play in an upcoming game but Chuck Knoll, the Steelers coach at the time pressed him on HOW HE KNEW that the QB had suffered a concussion. The fact is that back then, there was no way of evaluating concussion and Doctors were forced to go on their “gut reaction” in making decisions. At this point in we decided that we needed to develop a more systematic and objective way of evaluating concussion. This in turn led to my direct work with the Steelers and eventually to the development of the ImPACT Program.
This approach later became the model for the entire NFL when one of the Steelers players and current ESPN broadcaster-Merrill Hoge was traded to another team, had a series of concussions and eventually retired from sports. Merrill came back to Pittsburgh for his treatment and the NFL asked me to help them develop a more league wide approach. The NHL soon followed as well as other professional leagues.
I often wonder what would have happened if I had not had lunch with Dr. Maroon that day in 1986. I would like to think that I would have found a way to get involved but obviously, having this opportunity provided the springboard for the rest of my career.
Having big dreams is important and keeps us focused on our futures but dreams without a plan are of little value. While dreams are the destination, goals are the roadmaps that help us achieve our goals. You need to set goals and review them regularly to make your dreams a reality: I firmly believe that one of the most important things we can do in your life is set goals. Without goals, nothing meaningful ever happens and time can slip away.
In addition, set both short-term and long term goals. Be thinking of where you want to be in 2 years, 5 years, and 10 years and at the end of your career.
In my own life, I have found it helpful to try to accomplish at least one thing each day that moves me closer to reach my goals, even if it is very small. This is particularly important when I am having a bad day and nothing seems to be happening the way I expected.
This strategy has pulled me through difficult and challenging times. I remember one particular time during my freshman year lying in my bed in my dorm room in Hunt Hall feeling discouraged and overwhelmed by the fact that I had two big exams the next day, had no money and it felt like there was no way I was going to make it through the school year. For a brief moment, I felt paralyzed by fear and uncertainty. I somehow persuaded myself to get out of bed and study for another half hour. I somehow obtained an A and a B on the exams, and things began to look more positive. Although this was a relatively small and insignificant event at the time, I have never forgotten it and it has become an important mantra in my life: When things are going badly, pick some small goal that moves you forward and makes you feel like you have accomplished something every day.
You will be amazed at how obtaining small goals on a daily basis over time can help you reach your more long term goals and keeps you on track.
Defining Your Own Legacy
Finally, I would like to emphasize the importance of giving back to the world. What do you want to give back and what will your legacy be when you are gone. How would you like people to remember you? Although I am only 58 years old, I find myself thinking more and more about how I want to spend the rest of my life, how I would like people to remember me and what my contribution will be. Will people remember that I was here? What will my impact be?
What we give back to the world can take many forms. For some it is volunteering as a big brother or big sister (as I did while an NMU student), for others it is donating blood or working with Habitat for Humanity. For others it is volunteering financial resources. Although money can be a powerful tool in helping to change the world, it is not near as important as personal involvement and hard work.
The point is that we all contribute to the world in different ways but it is important to give back and have an impact on the world.
I have very much enjoyed talking to you today and this weekend has been very exciting for Eileen and I and we will never forget this place in time. I wish all of you the very best in your journey through life.
Thank you and good luck.
Fall 2010 - Dr. Daniel Mazzuchi
Surprises and Remembrances
Members of the Board of Trustees, President and Mrs. Wong, Provost Koch, Distinguished Members of the Faculty, Members of the Winter Graduating Class of 2010, Parents, friends, and guests.
I cannot tell you how surprised, pleased and honored I am to have been asked to be your Winter Commencement Speaker and to receive an honorary degree from this wonderful institution.
In my 71 years I have had many surprises. I had a hole-in-one on Number 7 at the Marquette Golf Course. I had a fire truck running around the city with my name on it for many years. These, among others, were truly unexpected events. And some of these surprising things have been unexpectedly helpful to me in ways I am only beginning to really understand.
So, the title of my address today is “Surprises and Remembrances.”
What I want to do is to share with you a few of the most important surprises in my life and some snapshots of a few people whose lives have touched me in mysterious ways.
I do this in the hope that you may find them both interesting and relevant.
And, there is a bit of humor in many of them.
First, the Surprises
Surprise #1: Being a bartender.
I worked my way through college and medical school by being a bartender. By the way, a dollar earned in 1960 equals about seven dollars today. Back then I could save about $1,500 each summer. Imagine having a summer job today that let you save $10,000.
Anyway, I loved being a bartender. It felt kind of manly, and it gave me the independence I craved. What surprised me about it was how older people, men and women alike, would tell me the most personal stuff. Things that I would expect people to mention only to their closest friends.
It took me a while to realize that I was being trained to be a listener, that people were beginning to see me as someone they could confide in, and that the telling of all their problems and concerns was therapeutic.
I discovered later on how important it was to be a listener when I became a physician, but I know that listening is an important attribute of anyone who is dealing with people, especially where trust is needed.
So, tending bar gave me my Bachelor’s Degree in listening. We don’t learn everything in school!
Surprise #2: Connie says “Yes.”
I went to a small Jesuit College in Massachusetts from 1957-1961. In December of my senior year I decided to work over Christmas break instead of going home. I heard about Connie from one of my friends who told me she was a nurse at the local V.A. Hospital and fun to be with. I called her, introduced myself, and we had our first date on New Year’s Eve.
I don’t really know what to say about it except “I knew.” I was 21 years old, and when I looked into her beautiful face, I knew that this was to be the one for me to spend the rest of my life with.
But, I didn’t know if she knew. And we had only just met. But, two weeks later I took the risk and asked her to marry me—and she said YES!
I couldn’t believe it. My mother and father couldn’t believe it either. I won’t quote them here, but let’s just say we worked it out.
We married a year later, and in the next eight years we had seven children! As you may imagine, this brought a certain focus to our lives. And this was all before the discovery of disposable diapers!
Watching those children grow, watching Connie give so much of herself, her time, her energy, to see that they were loved and cared for has taught me more about what real love is than anything else in my life.
Surprise #3: The Rapidly Changing Face of Medicine
When I was born in May of 1939, antibiotics had not yet been discovered, nor had television, nor jet planes, nor personal computers. Most people lived where their parents lived, and their aunts and uncles and grandparents if they were still alive. In the last 100 years, average life expectancy has increased by nearly two decades. An old person when I was growing up was 50 or 60. That is hardly the situation today.
When I got out of medical school in 1965, there was no heart surgery and brain surgery was uncommon and extraordinarily hazardous. Diabetes was very difficult to control and often lethal at a very young age. Modern antibiotics were just being discovered, and there was virtually no technology. We had X-ray and EKG, and that’s about it.
Medical school had prepared us to know about disease, especially what we called the Natural History of Common Illnesses. The principal service a physician of that day could offer was a rigorous history and a physical examination.
These skills, which took so long to learn, are vastly less important today, and I am still blown away by how quickly that has happened.
It’s not quite “Star Trek” yet, but almost. There is a machine in every corner of every hospital or doctor’s office that will spit out data about a patient if only you will ask it to. It will quantify and qualify virtually every illness. It will prepare the patient for surgery, map the spread of malignancy, allow you to see inside the body and inside the cell. This is a highly enlightened technological age.
And, you know what is the greatest surprise of all? As fast as these changes have happened to my generation, they will happen even faster to yours. Because in this day, new information is researched, developed and applied to human use with the efficiency of a science fiction movie. Get ready to have all that you know become obsolete. Get ready to find a way to engage in life-long learning.
1. Elsa Fox
My mother’s mother, Elsa Fox, was born Elsa Sonneman in 1893 along the Oder River in East Prussia. She immigrated to the United States with her family somewhere near the turn of the century and settled in Wisconsin. She met my grandfather while in school, and they eventually settled in Washington, D.C.
She was widowed in 1940, two years after my parents were married and moved in with us. My father called her “Toots” and loved her as his own mother. To me and my siblings she was NANA, but she was really a second mother for all of us.
Her bedroom door was always open. You could go into her room and tell her anything, without fear that she would squeal on you. She never judged us. She let us tell her a few off-color jokes, or try a sip of her ever present bottle of sweet wine or curl up on her bed and watch TV. Or just sit with her if we were lonely or troubled. She loved us all without any reservation whatsoever.
When I was grown and had moved to Marquette and she was in her 80’s, she would call once or twice a year and say she was coming up for a visit. “How long Nana?” I would say, and she would always say, “a few weeks or a few months.” And, she would stay a few weeks or as long as three months. I always had a room for her, though she didn’t demand much privacy. She referred to me as the Lord and Master, saying “when is the Lord and Master coming home for dinner?”
On her last visit to Marquette we sat in my kitchen and she told me the story of her long and very uncomfortable boat ride across the Atlantic when she was 12 years old and of the wonder at seeing a new land and the fear of never going home again. I was too dumb to have gotten that talk on tape, but I will always remember it as I will always remember her, and Nana always made me laugh. Here is a picture of her I will never forget. There she is, sitting in my living room watching her favorite afternoon soap opera, her body bent slightly forward, watching the drama unfold. And then she yells at the lead female character, “Don’t listen to him honey, he’s no damn good!”
What my beloved Nana Fox taught me was that our immigrant ancestors gave us more than life at great sacrifice to themselves and with great courage. They gave us dignity and hope and opportunity.
Whenever I stand on a stage, and especially today, I feel them standing here with me, and I want to hug them and thank them for giving so much of themselves so that I and my family could have a better life.
2. Jim Tretheway
When I first met Jim Tretheway in the early 1970’s, he was an angry man. He had come to the Emergency Room with chest pain, and no one had been there to see him. It took over two hours for the doctor on call to finally come in to check him out, and he was very rightly upset about it.
Jim was the retired editor of the Mining Journal, and I had just been elected Chief of Staff at Marquette General Hospital. He came to my office, asked to see me, and after he had introduced himself he asked me to read a series of articles he had just written about the inadequacies of the Marquette General Hospital Emergency Room.
I read them quietly, and then I told him I agreed with every word he had written. I also told him that modernizing our emergency room was my first priority as the new Chief of Staff, that it would take about six months to accomplish and I invited him to watch the progress with me. I asked him to hold off publishing these articles because I thought they might harm our ability to improve the situation. But I also said if he didn’t like the progress we were making, he could publish them with my blessing.
It all worked out very nicely. MGH got its first full-time Emergency Department and set the very high standard that it has maintained and improved upon to this day. And those articles were never published.
And, Jim Tretheway and I became friends, and we became golf partners. Playing together in the men’s league at Marquette Golf Club for many years, we were a Mutt and Jeff team and produced lots of smiles in our opponents. He was 5’4” and 135 lbs. I was 6’3” and 250 lbs. He used nothing but wooden clubs, and I used all irons. We had a lot of fun together.
A few years after we met I was carrying the beeper for the Cardiac Arrest Team, and it went off, the voice saying “Code 5 Emergency Room.” I ran there as fast as I could and found that CPR had already been started on an older man that looked like he was beyond help. I took over the CPR pumping his chest for fully 10 minutes before I realized that it was Jimmy, my partner and my friend.
I said a special prayer, and we worked for a long time before he came back to sinus rhythm. Because of the length of the resuscitation, I was afraid that his brain might be damaged, so I went up to the CCU with him and sat at the foot of his bed, hoping for the best. About 40 minutes later he opened his eyes, looked around the room, saw me and said “Well, Dan, I know I’m not in Heaven because you are here with me.”
He was fine. He lived many years after that, saved by the emergency hospital system that he had helped to create.
When I retired from practice, I became a hospice volunteer. I had seen a lot of death and suffering, and I thought my experience as a physician would be of help. I didn’t want to volunteer as a physician though; I just wanted to be Dan again and do my best to comfort dying people.
During my first visit to a hospice patient, I was introduced by a nurse who knew me. “This is Dan Mazzuchi. He used to be a doctor,” she said, “ but now he is a real person.” I have never forgotten that introduction and have always wondered since just how much our uniforms and our titles isolate us from the rest of our fellow men.
Shortly after, I met George. George was dying a slow and painful death from chronic heart and lung disease, and he had to labor to speak. But, speak he did, and over the next several weeks he told me the story of his life. And we became friends, a friendship that grew to mean a great deal to both of us.
George was ready to go, tired of all the pain and helplessness but couldn’t understand why God had kept him alive so long when he didn’t want to be. Finally, he became angry with God for not taking him and became depressed and guilty because of his anger.
A couple of weeks later, he was all smiles again, and I asked him what had caused such an obvious change in his mood. George said, “I finally figured out why God has kept me alive.” “Why, George?” I said. He said, “For you. God wants me to teach you something about living before I die.”
I thought I was helping him, but he was helping me.
I thought I was consoling him, but he was consoling me.
I thought I was the teacher, but I was the one being taught.
So—what can we say in summary about these things? What are the take-home lessons?
1. Learn to be a good listener. Give time and attention to others, and they will hold you in their hearts.
2. Remember that we accomplish very little by ourselves. Having someone believe in you, especially if they love you is the most potent catalyst to achievement in existence.
3. Remember that you have just begun to learn. Learning must be a lifetime commitment.
4 . Be prepared to learn from everyone you meet. It is amazing what people can teach you if you let them.
5. Be prepared to accept twists and turns in your life. Smile at them. Build bridges. Make friends. Roll with the punches. It gets better. Who knows? You may even save your life in the process.
And finally, remember those who gave you life—and dignity—and hope and opportunity. They are all with you here today, proud of you and smiling at your success.
It has been an unforgettable experience for me to be with you here today. I wish all of you the very best as you continue your life’s adventure. God be with you always. Thank you.
Daniel S. Mazzuchi
Northern Michigan University
Winter Commencement Ceremonies
December 11, 2010
Spring 2010 - Mike Prusi
Senator Mike Prusi
May 1, 2010
Northern Michigan University
The World Is Yours, Go Get It
Good morning everyone. Dr. Wong, members of the Board of Control, distinguished faculty, parents and family members, and especially graduates. Let me begin by thanking Northern Michigan University for allowing me the opportunity to be a part of this solemn yet joyous occasion. I know you seniors will be smiling and your hearts will be light as you line up to receive your well earned degrees. Trust me; watching as you transition from carefree student to hard working taxpayer will bring a smile to this politicians' face as well.
Next I would like to express my deep appreciation to the Board of Control for awarding me an Honorary Doctorate today. It is an honor that is truly humbling and I am immensely grateful. Not only is it an honor, it allows me to fulfill a commitment I made to my parents over forty years ago. My mother is here with us today so Mom, it may have taken me longer than I planned but honorary or not your oldest son finally got his degree.
However, graduates, today is your day not mine. While I was searching for subject matter and a suitable style in which to write these remarks, I learned that this commencement address should be a message to and for you. I read a dozen speeches by famous people in the hope that I would get inspired, or at least find some ideas to plagiarize. Then I read a column that said politicians make lousy commencement speakers and that celebrities are much more preferable. Unfortunately, you are stuck with me because Glen Beck and Lady Gaga are unavailable.
Actually, I asked my wife, my daughters and a number of other college graduates I know what impressed them the most, what stuck with them from that big speech on their big day. Most of them could not even remember who spoke at their commencement much less anything the speaker said. That was a huge relief when I realized that nothing I planned to say would alter your course in life. None of you will abandon careers in investment banking or hedge fund management for a life of saving the world no matter how convincing I try to be.
That being said, I didn't come here this morning simply to provide filler in a program of this importance. My remarks may not be memorable but I believe I can offer some perspective gleaned from a lifetime of very diverse experiences. Let me provide some context for those experiences.
I grew up in the little mining town of Negaunee, about twenty miles from where we sit. It's not exactly Mayberry but close enough. I began working at various after school jobs while in junior high. I left Northern over forty years ago after I ran out of financial resources. From there I wound up working on the assembly line at a GM plant down in Lansing, became a technician for the state highway department, served as an orderly at a nursing home and worked in various construction trades before landing back in Negaunee as an underground iron ore miner. I became a family man and helped raise two intelligent beautiful daughters who made me very proud when they graduated from college. While working in the mines of Marquette County I was elected by my co-workers to three terms as President of my union, Steelworkers Local 4950. Now I stand before you as I enter my fourteenth year as a state legislator, leader of the Democratic caucus in your state senate. In the words of an icon from my generation, Jerry Garcia, "What a long strange trip it's been."
After sixty years of all that diversity and experience what can I tell this illustrious gathering as you leave this campus and prepare to take on all the responsibilities of adulthood? I realize that at any given moment during this address a number of you will appear to be looking down at your laps as though reverently listening to the wisdom pouring forth from this distinguished gentleman on the rostrum. Yeah right, I know you have your mobile devices out and are texting or tweeting, "OMG he's TTL." Please stick with me, I'll eventually have a point.
I had planned to talk to you about change because everything about your lives will change dramatically over the years ahead. The pace of change is bewildering to someone of my age but you have been witnessing these changes since you were kids. You will be the drivers of some of the change and some of it will roll right over you. Technology is changing the way we learn, the way we work, how we travel, how we communicate and how we interact as a society. You know what to expect and nothing I can say will enlighten you any further. Plus, change as a subject has sort of lost its' luster since the ‘08 elections.
When you leave here today you will have with you a precious piece of paper, your degree. It will provide proof positive that you have completed the required coursework and demonstrated your ability to learn and absorb a tremendous amount of information. I hope one of the things you have learned is that you still have much to learn. No one gets to stand still for very long.
After discarding change as a theme, I was thinking I would apologize for the way things are looking out there in that great big world we will be handing over. You have to agree the situation looks pretty grim if you watch cable television news programs. America's economy is struggling to put it as mildly as I can. Not to mention climate change, war, global terrorism and a government in gridlock. The reality is that it's not my fault, or at least hardly any of it is, so an apology would be an inappropriate gesture. The little part that is my fault is simply the fact that all of us collectively bear some responsibility for what happens in our society and the little bit bigger part is that I serve in government.
All of us are familiar with Lincoln's phrase from the Gettysburg address about a "government of the people, by the people, and for the people." Perhaps that is why things look so chaotic. Perhaps too many people spend way too much time watching who gets voted off the island in "Survivor" and too little time watching who gets voted into our halls of government. (Although I did think they let the skinny girl hang around way too long this season.) More votes are cast in a season of "American Idol" than in some of our national elections.
So many of the problems that have citizens so upset and out in the streets are a result, in my opinion, of a serious disconnect between our responsibility as the governed to educate ourselves on what is being done in our name and what is actually happening here in America. We all seem to believe that someone else will take care of it or that nothing we do matters anyway so why bother. All of those serious issues I listed earlier are primarily the result of some action or inaction on the part of governments here in America and around the world. The decisions may have been made last year or last century but they will reverberate in your lives and in the lives of the families you will start soon. They can be made better or they can get worse depending on the people we collectively elect to make the next round of decisions.
Now none of these problems are insoluble or beyond the capacity of mankind to deal with. When I was your age, (don't you just love hearing that phrase so often) we had big problems too. Really big ones. We had war raging in Asia. Bands of terrorists were kidnapping and murdering government officials in Europe and the Middle East. In America we had institutionalized cruel discrimination based on race, gender, and sexual orientation. Centuries of industrial pollution had fouled our air and water. There were street protests and demonstrations and campus takeovers that turned into riots. You know, I think they said the earth was cooling and the glaciers were on their way back, but I should check my notes on that one.
Our political discourse is extremely ugly today but it wasn't much prettier back then. Things changed, however, because people cared enough to change the way they thought about themselves and the society they lived in. It was unrelenting political pressure that brought an end to the war in Vietnam. It took the same sort of pressure to start to end discrimination and to begin to care about the environment. Not everyone changed. Not all of the problems have been resolved. Forty years later some people still hold those biases, still cling to those attitudes. But enough people changed so that our government changed the laws and enacted the policies that made it harder for discrimination to occur or for pollution to continue unabated.
All of this debate occurred on a large scale with our federal government in Washington D.C. All of the issues I mentioned earlier will be dealt with on that scale as well and your only input will be in who you select to represent you in the halls of government. Choose wisely on an informed basis. Too many people either don't participate out of apathy or jump into a debate on information taken from one source or from a thirty second sound bite. You carry around in your pocket the ability to access more sources of information than we could dream of even ten years ago. Use them; check out all sides of an argument before you decide. Don't allow yourselves to be drawn into the extremes on either end. America needs to stop shouting and start listening. There is a lot riding on what happens. If you don't take part you really have no right to complain about the outcome. This concludes my lecture from Government 101.
That was sort of the big picture. Let me zoom in a little to talk about a smaller scale. Here on the campus of NMU we are nearly in the center of my Senate District. In the 38th District there are thirteen counties made up of one hundred twenty two townships, twenty two cities, sixteen villages, four Native American tribes and fifty one school districts. Every one of those political sub-divisions relies on citizens to run them. Sometimes it seems as though half of the people in my district are serving on some sort of governing board, either elect or appointed. These are mainly unpaid, thankless positions. Why would anyone want to serve in this capacity? Why would someone set themselves up for criticism and complaint? Because they care about their communities. They want to be part of making things better. For if no one cared, things would fall apart in a hurry. You will find that community spirit in most parts of the country but it is particularly strong here in the U.P.
That is the point I would like to leave you with; community activism. Ok, I know it sounds a little hokey, sort of like a Jimmy Stewart movie. You are trying to get your lives going, finding jobs and starting families. The last thing you are probably thinking about is running for city council or serving on the library board. But there will come a time when you look around your community and see things that need doing or could be done better.
When you get settled over the next few years take a look around at what your community needs to make it better. You'll be surprised at how much you can help. You'll be surprised at how much satisfaction you can get. There are any number of boards and commissions that need people to serve. Your kids will need safe streets, good parks and well run schools. If you won't help to provide these things, you will cede those decisions to people who may not care as much as you. Who knows, you just might like it. Who knows, you just might wind up on a long strange trip yourself.
Like many of you, the Upper Peninsula has been my home nearly all of my life and I love it here. It is one of the most beautiful places in the country, not just in Michigan. I hope that all of you have enjoyed your time here. I know some of you would like to stick around and we are working on an economy that someday soon we hope will keep you here. But wherever you go as you seek your way in the world I hope you look back at your time here in Marquette with fondness and a desire to come back often.
Parents, I know you are feeling that same sense of pride mixed with relief that I felt as my children completed their degrees. Congratulations to you. Graduates, you are mere minutes away from that goal you set a few years ago. You have accomplished much yet you still have much to do. Congratulations and my very best wishes on every success in the future. To everyone, thank you so much for allowing me to share this special day with you. Class of 2010 the world is yours, go get it.
Spring 2009 - Bart Stupak
Thank you, President Wong, for that kind introduction. Good morning Northern Michigan University graduating class of 2009! Good morning also to your excited, relieved and proud parents, families and friends who are here or watching at home on WNMU-TV.
Congrats to our distinguished faculty and student recipients this graduation weekend. All that I am and have become I could not have accomplished without Laurie and our sons.
I wish to thank NMU President Dr. Les Wong and the Board of Trustees for inviting me to be your commencement speaker and for the honorary doctorate degree the university has bestowed upon me. I am truly humbled and grateful for this honor and the opportunity to address this graduating class.
To our graduates, congratulations! I realize I have your attention for only a short time today. And I promise to keep my comments brief – for a politician! We in the U.S. House have that ability to be brief, unlike our filibustering colleagues in the Senate!
There is so much emotion – and so many activities – that surround a graduation ceremony. It’s hard to focus on the moment, let alone a speech!
Yet it is fitting that we are standing – or sitting – here today in the Superior Dome, a.k.a. the Yooper Dome. This dome constructed for football games nearly 20 years ago has come to host numerous sporting and community events. It also serves as a community center for Marquette residents and the entire U.P. community. If that wasn’t enough functions for one building, the dome also houses the facilities of the U.S. Olympic Education Center. And we are proud of the work Northern does in training and educating our Olympic athletes.
I’m sure that when you saw this great dome for the first time as a freshman four or five years ago (maybe even six years ago for a few of you) it seemed like a huge and somewhat impersonal place.
Now it probably feels like home and a place that you will miss when you leave here to begin the next chapter in your life. One thing is for sure though – this dome and this campus will hold a special meaning in your life.
The degree you receive today also holds a special meaning for you. A different meaning than it holds for your family, friends and – more importantly – future employers!
To you, your degree represents a set of skills and knowledge necessary for employment. To your parents, your degree may signify a sense of pride but also relief that they can focus on rebuilding their own financial security. To your friends, it might signify achievement and a step into the real world of life challenges, achievements, great expectations and personal fulfillment.
While it is true that Northern has equipped you with more than a transcript, textbooks, a collection of facts and many good memories; Northern has also equipped you with the skills necessary for a life of learning!
So learn from learning, learn from listening, learn from experience.
You are leaving Northern with a degree, but more importantly you are leaving with the tools that equip you to achieve your dreams, overcome obstacles and adapt to an ever changing world and workplace.
Northern has prepared you for that change and given you the ability to seize and embrace life challenges, and confront career and family decisions. The world will force you to accept challenges you cannot even imagine today!
So what I offer as your commencement speaker, a person who has experienced many of life’s challenges, is that some of these challenges will be magic and some will be tragic!
For example, my greatest personal challenge is dealing with the death of our son B.J. Here in this dome, B.J.’s photo hangs on Northern’s Wall of Fame by the connector to the PEIF building. It is difficult for our family to accept that he is gone, but still there is a sense of satisfaction in knowing that his memory and drive as a student athlete is being realized by today’s Olympic athletes who are trained and educated with the help of the B.J. Stupak Olympic Scholarship Program.
This past week, Obama Administration officials pledged to place the Olympic Education Scholarships in the President’s budget and seek an increase in funding so more students can train to represent our country in the Olympics while receiving a college education.
You might think – and many of you probably hope – today marks the end of your education. Probably the last thing you want to hear is that this is just the beginning – you must never stop learning!
You must continue to learn from learning, learn from listening and learn from experience.
In a speech that was never given in Dallas on Nov. 22, 1963, President Kennedy planned to say that “Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other.”
Whenever you have an opportunity to learn, embrace it!
With new technology and a changing global economy, the job you hold today could be gone tomorrow.
The demands of the global economy have placed greater pressure on the American workforce to be more adaptable.
Current statistics indicate that most of you will change jobs at least 11 times during your lifetime. Changing jobs or careers can be a painful or exhilarating process.
Let me give you several real-world examples, from my own congressional staff.
A couple of my staff members were from my hometown of Menominee and were provided the opportunity to change career paths.
First there was Bob. He attended Michigan State University and earned his degree in geology.
He graduated in the middle of the Vietnam War and became an officer in the Navy.
After three years in the Navy, he returned home to the Upper Peninsula where he worked on fiberglass boats. He then spent a dozen years managing a business selling Honda motorcycles, Arctic Cat snowmobiles and other outdoor recreational products.
He left that job when he was in his 40s and was hired on as a rookie reporter at the Menominee Herald Leader newspaper and worked his way up to city editor.
He spent most of his working life in Menominee, but when the local paper downsized I hired him as my press secretary.
I knew he could write, but I never thought he would be interested in moving to DC!
With his sons grown, he and his wife sold their home and moved to Maryland.
If you ask Bob, he will tell you that in ways he cannot exactly define, each job prepared him for the next.
Leslie was another member of my staff, also from Menominee.
She attended the University of Wisconsin and worked for a while as a writer, editor and publicist.
She later earned her law degree and worked in both private practice and as a city attorney in California, living in a small cottage near the ocean.
Always fascinated with flowers and plants, she bought and operated a greenhouse and nursery.
But the political bug bit her during the 2000 presidential campaign and she sold her northern California cottage and moved to Washington, DC.
She applied for work in my office and was hired as a legislative assistant.
My chief of staff, Scott Schloegel, is a Northern graduate. He grew up working first as a stock boy and eventually manager of his family’s restaurant business.
Scott received a degree in communications from Northern, with no intention of working in politics. But when I was elected to the Michigan State House of Representatives, Scott came to work for me as a legislative assistant. After working for me for two years, Scott changed jobs to work for another state representative.
When I was elected to Congress I hired him as my district director. Four years later he moved to Washington to take the job as my chief of staff.
Scott is also one of my lead investigators on my Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee. In that role he assists in hearings on food and drug safety, gas price gouging, energy market price manipulation and nuclear safety.
Let me give you one more example. After graduating from Gladstone High School and then earning my associate’s degree, I became an Escanaba police officer at age 20.
When I turned 21, I applied to the Michigan State Police and became a state trooper.
While working full time as a trooper, I completed studies for my bachelor’s degree and then earned my law degree.
After sustaining a career-ending knee injury, I was medically retired from the Michigan State Police.
The very next day, Laurie and I moved our family to Menominee. I began practicing law full time in Menominee and Escanaba.
After a few years, I ran against the incumbent state representative and won.
Eighteen months later, the early retirement of a northern Michigan state senator gave me an opportunity to run for the Michigan State Senate.
Maybe I was moving too fast. I lost that race in the Democratic primary.
But two years later, when our northern Michigan congressman unexpectedly announced that he would not seek reelection, I won my current seat in Congress, a position I’ve held now for 17 years. This is the longest I have held one job!
So here we were, four of us Yoopers in Washington, DC.
With our backgrounds, we were quite a combination.
A geologist, a Navy officer, two attorneys, a florist, a newspaper editor, a communications major, a restaurateur, and a state cop!
All with different backgrounds and life experiences; all working together.
Every one of us would tell you that each job prepared us for the next.
Following commencement, some of you will be leaving the Marquette area to continue your education.
Some of you will be returning home.
Some of you will find jobs outside of Michigan.
Some will stay here.
There is a unique lifestyle here at Northern that you will miss if you choose to leave – the pace of life, lifetime friends, the proximity of woods, streams and the Great Lakes.
As my congressional staff has shown, circumstances can change with a career-ending knee injury, a company merger, the urge to pursue a new challenge, or an election to public service.
Step out into the world bravely, with the sense that every problem has a solution, every obstacle can be overcome, and every life experience prepares you for the next.
Learn from learning, learn from listening and learn from experience.
Your life need not be defined by where you live.
Your life need not be defined by a particular job or profession.
Your life should be based on a sense of conviction, passion and personal growth.
Embrace opportunity, for as President Kennedy intended to say, “learning and leadership are indispensable to each other.”
So with God as your guide, and friends and family at your side, go out into the world and help to make it a better place.
Congratulations. The best of luck to all of you, and may God bless you!
Fall 2009 - Erna Blitzer
Address of Erna Blitzer Gorman
Honorary doctorate degree in Education
Northern Michigan University
December 12, 2009
“One Person Can Make a Difference”
Thank you, Dr. Koch, for that wonderful introduction.
I wish to thank NMU President Dr. Les Wong and the Board Trustees for inviting me to be your commencement speaker and for the honorary doctorate degree in Education the university has bestowed upon me. I am truly humbled and grateful for this honor and the opportunity to address this graduating class.
A special thanks to Dr. Helen Kahn for her nomination and to the Marquette Jewish community for their added recommendations. Thanks also to my dear friends, Shel and Florence Dulberg, Barbara Kriegel, Jim and Anna Hicks, my husband, Herb, and our two sons Mark and Robert, his wife, Ruth, and our three grandchildren, Julia, Lily, and Sydney, and my many friends from the U.P.
Good morning Graduates, Proud Parents, and Friends.
I wish you all a life free of war, bigotry, and prejudice.
As Dr. Koch explained, as a child I survived the horrors of World War II and the Holocaust. Why, you may ask, do we still speak about the Holocaust almost 70 years later?
There are important lessons to be learned from it. The Holocaust did not start with the gas chambers. It started with words. Yes, with words. With racial slurs, with anti-Semitic remarks, with scapegoating, and with hateful accusations.
It happened due to the restriction of liberties such as the right to go to school, the right to work, the right to fraternize, and who you could marry. These were known as the Nuremberg Laws which were passed in Nazi Germany in 1935 and quickly spread to other places within Nazi-occupied Europe. There was also the burning of books and Kristallnacht.
It ended sadly with the planned systematic murder of millions of human beings. Six million of these were Jewish, and a million and half of these, likely myself at the time, were mere children.
Yet, I survived this. It’s almost impossible to relate to you what I endured in the few minutes I have here, but I’m going to give you a brief synopsis.
We, that is my mother, father, 12-year-old sister, and myself left my hometown of Metz, France to go to a family wedding in Poland in 1939 where my father was from. The Nazi’s invaded Poland while we were there and we were trapped.
Some fifty members of father’s family were arrested, never to be seen again. We managed to evade discovery and fled to the Ukraine where my mother’s family lived. At the time, the Ukraine was under Russian control, an ally of the United States.
We lived with my grandparents in the Ukraine. We were told to stay quiet and curtains were drawn. I was made to understand that I should make myself invisible.The Nazi’s soon took over the Ukraine and where we lived became a ghetto. I was not allowed to go outside as it was too dangerous and the restrictions on Jews were becoming increasingly severe.
The Germans and their sympathizers conducted “aktionen” searching house to house for Jews to arrest. On one such occasion, my father was taken away and we thought he had been shot. But, he soon returned with his head shaven, telling us that he been forced to bury people in a mass grave and among the dead were most of my mother’s family.
My memories of the ghettos involve quiet, stillness, fear, and hunger. As young as I was, I knew it was better not to be seen, and to remain as insignificant as possible.Sometime in early 1943 while were still in the ghetto and after 4 years of hiding, my father made contact with a Christian farmer who agreed to hide our family. Why the farmer was willing to do this at the peril of his own life and that of his entire family, one can only speculate. We had no money, no jewels, no items of value that the farmer could have wanted. Perhaps he was just a good man who couldn’t stand to witness what was going on, without doing something.
The farmer made a conscious choice. He saved our lives and he is proof that one person can make a difference. The bravery of this man was incredible.
The night we arrived at the farm, the farmer and his young wife were waiting for us near a barn. The barn was small, not much more than shack with a second-level haystack. There was no livestock in the barn, just some pails, hay, and a makeshift ladder on the left side going up the loft. My father and the farmer cleared a space in the hayloft for us to hide. We climbed up into the loft and all sat down. The farmer put two bales of hay against the entrance to the loft to camouflage the hiding place, locked the barn, and that was it. We hid there for almost two years, never coming down during that entire time. Our food was mostly potatoes and sometimes brown soup with break. I was always hungry although I think the farmer did the best he would to provide us with those pitiful provisions. The water was for drinking only. There was none for washing.
One day late in 1944 or early 1945, the farmer came to us to say that the Russian soldiers were in the area and my family had to leave the barn at once and join them. We could hear the gunfire. The farmer carried us down the ladder one-by-one because we could not walk. We had only the clothes that we wore when we went into hiding two years before. We were forced into cold snow without any suitable clothing. I remember crawling in the snow and ice. The pain was intense. When we got to the side of the road, there were many people there, probably other survivors eager to join with the Russian soldiers. They were in the middle of fighting the Nazi’s and didn’t have time for us. At one point my mother was hit during some artillery that was propelled. I can still picture blood running down her side, so much blood. Why didn’t I scream out? Maybe because I was numb. We just scattered in silence.
After the raid was over, the Russian returned and took us to an infirmary in a nearby village. The caregivers in this place spoke Ukranian, which I understood. My mother was lying on a cot with her hip bandaged. She was covered with lice. She was separated from the other patients and I remember the caregivers standing around talking about my mother and referring to her as “jadova” which means Jewess in Ukranian. She was refused treatment because she was a Jew. I watched her die. My father, sister, and I buried her in a shallow grave, wrapped in a blanket without a casket. At the time of mother’s death, I was dead inside, so to expect that I would be emotional was unrealistic. I felt anger at how she was treated, or accurately, not treated.
After my mother’s death we eventually went back to my hometown of Metz, France where I attended a public school. Because of the war and the years of hiding, I’d had no formal education. I was 11 ½ by then and put into a first grade class. I was taller than the other children and a real oddity. I had boils all over my body and unflattering clothing. The children sensed I was different and made fun of me. I didn’t know any French at the time but I still remember them laughing at me and taunting me. They called me “salejuive” which in French means “dirty Jew”. When I learned what this meant, I lost control of my bladder and I remember the other children pointing and laughing at me as urine ran down my legs. But I didn’t cry just as I didn’t cry when we lived with my grandparents in the Ukraine, when we hid in the barn, and when my mother died.
Now, I ask, where did these 5 and 6 year old children learn to say “salejuive”? Mind you, this is after the war and France suffered terribly. I should remind you that no child is born with hate. Hate must be learned. I am reminded of the song “You’ve Got to be Carefully Taught” from the musical, “South Pacific”.
“You’ve got to be taught before it’s too late
Before you are six, seven, or eight.
To hate all the people your relatives hate
You’ve got to be carefully taught”.
After the incident in the school yard, I was shattered and traumatized, desperate for a word of friendship, a hug, a touch, or a small act of kindness. It never came.
I know how it feels to be singled out, or to be discriminated against. I know only too well.
Remember this whole tragic period of the Holocaust and World War II started with words.
After World War II, my sister stayed in France where she married and raised two children. My father and I moved to America where he had a sister. We settled in Detroit and I married and we raised two sons. I suppressed what happened to me during the Holocaust until I saw a television interview with a Neo-Nazi “skinhead” in the 1980’s There stood a brash young man in a German uniform, with a raised arm, declaring “I’m here to finish Hitler’s work”. This stuck in my mind and petrified me. It was as if he was saying that I, Erna Gorman, and my family had no right to live here in the United States, or at all, because we were Jews. My wonderful sons were already in college and had no right to exist? How could this be? This is America, where everyone has the right to follow any religion they choose. This interview sent me into a tailspin. I began recalling and dwelling upon all the horrible things that had happened to me that I had for so many years effectively suppressed. It was a sad time for me and for my family as I worked through those suppressed memories of what happened to me during the Holocaust. Eventually, I felt compelled to tell my story. And ever since, I have been speaking out.
You graduates are now our future. Soon, you will settle down and you may have children of your own. Don’t teach them to hate. Teach them tolerance and to love!
And I implore you—Don’t be a silent and passive bystander. Stand up to the wrongs that you see. Yes, it takes courage.
We all have choices. My Ukrainian Christian farmer made a choice.
We all, each and everyone one of us, by making the right choice, can make a different. And thus, make this a better world.
Fall 2008 - Gloria Jackson
Gloria Jackson, secretary/treasurer and owner of CableAmerica Corp. in Mesa, Ariz., will be the keynote speaker at Northern’s Dec. 13 commencement ceremony. The Marquette native and NMU alumna will also receive an honorary doctor of business degree.
Jackson graduated with a bachelor's degree in business administration from NMU in 1968. She has maintained strong ties to her alma mater, hosting many alumni gatherings at her Arizona home and serving as an NMU Foundation trustee for 19 years.
Her passion for higher education has inspired her support of students throughout the Upper Peninsula. She has established endowed scholarships at NMU, Michigan Technological University and Finlandia University. She has also served as chair, secretary and member of the Finlandia Board of Trustees.
Pride in her Finnish heritage has kept Jackson active in the American-Finnish community and has led her to travel overseas frequently. She has been a delegate to the Parliament of Expatriates in Helsinki, Finland, a former chair of the Finnish Council in America and a member of the Suomi Seura (Finland Society). She is the honorary consul of Finland for the State of Arizona and chair of the Consular Corps of America.
Jackson also is a generous patron of the arts and has helped to build bridges between the arts communities of the Americas and Finland by sponsoring the 2000-03 North American tour of F2F: New Media Art from Finland, an international touring exhibition showcasing works by contemporary media artists.
She is a recipient of the Alumni Service Award from NMU, the Silver Award of Merit for promoting Finnish culture from Suomi Seura, the Lion Award from the former Suomi College (now Finlandia University) and an honorary doctor of humane letters from Finlandia University.
The family-owned CableAmerica Corp. has been developing and operating cable TV systems since 1971. The company employs more than 200 and operates or has operated in 17 states, including Michigan.
Northern’s commencement exercises begin at 10:30 a.m. in the Superior Dome. They will be broadcast live on WNMU-TV.
NMU Commencement Address - December 13, 2008
My Journey: 1968-2008
Good morning Graduates, Faculty and Staff, Parents and Friends of Northern.
George Burns once said “The secret of a good sermon is to have a good beginning and a good ending; and to have the two as close together as possible.” I think this also applies to commencement addresses and I shall keep that in mind. Finns do not waste many words and being of Finnish upbringing I am not prone to long orations. There are numerous stories about how brief Finnish conversations are. For example: two Finnish loggers went into the forest to cut trees. On the way in they saw some tracks on the forest floor. One Finn said “rabbit?” A week later they returned and passed the same tracks and the other Finn said “yes”.
When Northern contacted me about this morning’s ceremony I was asked to make some remarks on a topic of my choosing. I have decided to talk about my forty year journey from where you are sitting today to where I am standing today.
First I want to congratulate the graduates on your achievements. You have acquired an asset at NMU that no one can take from you. It is not the piece of paper that you will receive attesting to the fact that you have graduated from Northern Michigan University, but the knowledge that you have acquired and stored in your RAM over the last few years. Your professors have worked diligently with you to help prepare you for your journey following graduation. On this journey you will arrive at junctions where decisions must be made regarding the path you will follow. Sometimes the decision you make may be very small, but the impact on the rest of your life may be huge.
Yogi Berra once gave a commencement address with five pieces of advice to the graduates. His advice included the following: “during the years ahead, when you come to a fork in the road, take it.” I believe the advice suggested in Robert Frost’s poem “The Road Not Taken” and Dr. Scott Peck’s book The Road Less Traveled” are more meaningful.
To begin, I would like to share with you Frost’s poem which is my favorite.
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence;
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I ---
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
I believe we can equate our life’s journey with Robert Frost’s poetic journey. Dr. Scott Peck in his book The Road Less Traveled, also addresses the same ideas: known versus unknown and acts of conformity versus totally free choices. Life is relatively safe and secure when we make known choices or conform to what others expect of us. There is a much greater challenge and a great deal of risk when we pursue the unknown by making totally free choices independent of what those around us expect or think.
Frost’s poem reminds me of three philosophical sayings that I have made a part of my life’s journey:
- To dream about the person you would like to be is to waste the person you are. Be true to yourself. You are who you are. Do not try to be what someone else thinks you should be. You have your own unique strengths and talents. Capitalize on them and you will be sure to succeed. If you really would like to change, don’t dream about it, do something active about changing.
- Footprints in the sands of time are not made sitting down. Dare to be involved: involved with your children and their activities, your family and friends, your church, your community, your country, your political party, charities, your alumni association. To sit down and not be involved is a lot easier but a lot less rewarding. And you will have no right to complain if things are not going the way you think they should be.
The latter two were published on little plaques by anonymous authors. The following one is my version of behind every cloud there is a silver lining:
- When something bad happens to you something good will come out of it. It may not immediately, but eventually it will. In the midst of a crisis, it’s hard to imagine that something good could come out of it. But, if you hold onto that thought, it will help you get through. A recent example in my life happened last summer. I was flying to Hancock on a flight that left Phoenix at 6:50 a.m. I set the alarm for 4:15 a.m. I awoke with a start at 6:20 a.m. I had inadvertently set the alarm for 4:15 p.m. I have flown over one million miles with Northwest Airlines and had never missed a flight before. I was able to change my flight to an afternoon flight with a connection that arrived in Hancock close to midnight. What is the good you ask. It turned out that the morning flight was three hours late and I would have missed my early connection in Minneapolis, arriving in Hancock on the last flight anyway. Instead of spending four hours at the Phoenix Airport and another six to seven hours at the Minneapolis Airport I had a good night’s sleep, spent only a couple of hours in Phoenix and a couple of hours in Minneapolis.
I have been accompanied on this journey by my husband Bill. What better combination for business than a Michigan Tech engineer and an NMU accountant. Tech’s President calls it a mixed marriage, of which he says there are many. Together we have been involved in several different business enterprises. We have owned an electronic parts distributorship, an industrial equipment sales business, an antenna installation business, a local origination TV station, and a gourmet cookware store. In 1971 we entered the cable TV business when the Air Force decided that the government operated cable TV system at K.I. Sawyer AFB should be run by a private contractor. We placed a bid and won the contract. Following that we have had systems in seventeen states and are currently in two. Since then the Cable TV industry has gone from offering twelve channels to hundreds of channels, internet service and telephone service.
Along this journey one of the most interesting and rewarding experiences has been my service to Finland following my appointment by Finland’s Foreign Ministry and confirmation by the U. S. State Department as the Honorary Consul of Finland to the State of Arizona. This brought me into contact with thirty other diplomats in Arizona, some honorary and some career. Following service to the Corps as Treasurer I was elected Chairman. Because the Arizona Consular Corps has an endowed scholarship at Thunderbird School of Global Management the Chairmanship brings with it appointment as an ex-officio member of Thunderbird’s Global Council. Thunderbird is a private graduate level business school with affiliations in Mexico, China, Switzerland and France and is currently working on programs in Russia and Saudi Arabia. With these two connections my interest in international, or global, issues has reached new levels, especially in the area of global education.
One of Thunderbird’s programs is called Project Artemis. The program was started in 2005 and each year brings to the campus fifteen business women or aspiring business women from Afghanistan for a two week crash course in business. Even after Taliban rule has ended, conditions for women in Afghanistan are nowhere near what they are in the West. In many places they are quite grim. I sponsored one of the ladies for the recent class in October and had the opportunity to meet all of them. They had with them one of the previous graduates who now runs a business in Kandahar called Kandahar Treasures. She employs about five hundred Afghan women to do hand work at their homes. She then sells their work worldwide. She told me that ninety-nine percent of the women are illiterate, they can neither read nor write and cannot even sign their names. The very intricate work they do takes their minds off the situation and the money they earn, about twenty U.S. dollars a month, goes a long way toward improving their living conditions. I applaud these business women for their courage and vision as they are helping rebuild Afghanistan one women owned business at a time.
Plans are to expand Project Artemis to bring in women from Jordan for the same kind of education.
Goldman Sachs in New York is partnering with fifteen schools, including Thunderbird, in what they call the 10,000 Women Project. The goal is to educate 10,000 women from developing countries in business skills.
With the world shrinking as it is today, it is vital to include an international, or global, component to education. When Dr. Wong told me about his plans for an international experience for students at Northern I could not have agreed more enthusiastically. I am happy to see it included in NMU’s Road Map to 2015 and Beyond. We plan on assisting students gain the experience through an endowed scholarship.
I think “The Road Not Taken” and The Road Less Traveled also applies to NMU. It will arrive at diverging paths and the choices made by the Board of Trustees and the Administration will have a great impact on the future of Northern Michigan University and its students. To quote from the Roadmap “Most of the destinations are planned and desirable, and some will surprise us as interesting and newfound opportunities.” Those are the roads less traveled.
Once again, congratulations on reaching this milestone. When you walk out of here today you will no longer be students at Northern Michigan University; you will be alumni. Stay in touch with the University and keep the Alumni Association up to date on what is going on in your life. Finally, I wish you all the success in the world as you take the road less traveled by, which will make all all the difference.