Saturday, May 12, 2018

Kaplan Institute Exec Director Howard Tullman Gives IIT Commencement Keynote Address

3 Great Pieces of Advice in a 7-Minute Commencement Speech

In May and June, at schools across the country, we become peroration nation. Our speaker distills it all.

By Howard TullmanExecutive director, Ed Kaplan Family Institute for Innovation and Tech Entrepreneurship, Illinois Institute of Technology

I want to thank you for the opportunity to speak with you on this glorious day.  As the former President of two Colleges, I deeply understand exactly how important a rite of passage this is for each of you (and for your family and loved ones as well) and I’m honored to be a small part of this very special occasion.
Many of you are the first in your families to attend and graduate from college and, as the eldest of 6 children and a lifetime entrepreneur, I know in my heart just how hard it is to be the first at any new enterprise. To take that leap and that gamble. To put yourself out there with no net and no turning back. To leave the comfort and security of the way things have always been done and to believe instead that you – and you alone – can make things different and better. For yourself, and for those close to you, but also for many who will follow in your footsteps and hope that you will take a moment and look back to lend them a helping hand just as so many people made it possible for you to be here and to reach this exalted station.  Friends, family, mentors, faculty, sponsors, supporters, and a host of others as well. No one does anything important today all by themselves.

And, of course, that’s why you’re never really alone. You’re surrounded and bolstered by friends and family who are the most critical supporters. We’re all fortunate to have them in our corners, but ultimately, we know that no one else can do the heavy lifting for you. You carry not only all the weight of your own dreams, desires and fears, but also the aggregated expectations of friends, family and even the members of your community in many ways.

And you have the additional responsibility of dealing with the naysayers. The ones who know what’s best for you even as they sit squarely and safely on the sidelines. And the ones who are happy to tell you in great detail what’s above you, or beyond you, or too big for your britches (whatever those are), or forever out of your reach. And finally, the ones who take great joy in pointing out all the reasons why things won’t work – even though they’ve never had the courage to try. They can find a million problems for any solution.

But, to build a better world, we have to keep moving forward and we can no longer afford to be afraid to fail – we can all expect to fail from time to time – that’s just part of the game, but – the key to the future is that we can never be afraid to try. Scrapes, scratches and skinned knees are all part of the process. Being brave means working to find things that are more important than your fears. You learn to focus your time and your energies on your desires (and the things that need to be changed) and not on your fears. Your faith – especially, but not exclusively, in yourself - needs to be stronger than your fears. And one day – not too distant from now – all those doubters will be bragging that they knew you when.

          Today you and your grand achievements are the very best answer and testimony to all those doubters and a convincing demonstration as well of exactly what each of us can achieve if we set our hearts and minds to it. We never know how much weight we can carry until we try or what burdens we can bear until we are really tested. And this day you showed us all. You met the tests and the challenges and you overcame them to reach this special moment.

Finally, I want to assure you that the investment you’ve made in your education is a wise one. Education today may be costly, but ignorance is far more expensive. A great education changes the way you look at the world – mostly in a good way – and the rigor, the arguments, the grit and the perseverance that it takes to excel have prepared you, have distinguished you, and will set you apart as you enter the working world and in whatever you choose to do with your lives. This is a special privilege and a sacred trust and your most important responsibility as well as your first job will be to choose wisely.

You’ve gained powerful new skills – these are not to be wasted – not to be withheld for fear of failing - and, most importantly, not to be frittered away. Every one of you is better than that – you shouldn’t settle for anything less. Your careers will be very different from ours – not a linear path or a single employer – you’ll move as you choose from job to job – gathering experiences – gaining additional skills – learning from good and bad role models – and ever-expanding outward as you grow toward what makes your life most complete.

And, as you move forward on the journey, please keep one thing firmly in mind. There’s always a best seat in the house – a best row at the show – and, while you may not always get it – shame on you if you don’t go for it. It pays to aim high.

The world is full of new and different opportunities everywhere you look. The rate of change in your lives will never be slower than it is right now – so hang on to something solid - and be prepared for the ride of your life. Entrepreneurs learn early on that – just like in racing – the world doesn’t wait for you. The future isn’t something that you wait and hope for – it’s something that you grab hold of and make your own. You don’t get what you wish for, you get what you work for.

Now I want to leave you with 3 more quick rules.

(1)     Focus is Everything. You can do anything you want, but you can’t do everything. Do a few important things in your life very well. The future will be all about difficult choices and constant triage. Too many opportunities and too little time. And be honest. Commit wholly to your choices. Don’t say “maybe” when you mean “no”. And remember that the hardest choices are those we make with our hearts, not our heads.

(2)     There is No Finish Line. We all need to be lifelong learners if we want to make a difference and a contribution. Your education just started here. Iteration – constantly examining, adjusting and improving every part of your lives – is the way that we will all remain competitive, valuable and relevant in the global economy. It’s easy to say. But it’s a hard way to live. We get better by getting just a little bit better each and every day.

(3)     There’s Always More Work. Work is like rabbits. If you let it, it can multiply to fill all the hours in the day. This is called Parkinson’s Law. And it’s easy – especially when you’re starting out – to confuse your work with who you are. But it’s not your identity – it’s just what you do. And, even more importantly, while there’s always more work, you only have one family and it’s critical, but not easy, to remember to make time and room for them in your soon-to-be very busy life. Creating, supporting and nurturing your family will always be your most important work. 

So that’s my story. My hopes for you are simple.  I want the rest of your life to be the best of your life.

We often act as though comfort and luxury were the chief requirements of life, when all that we really need to make us happy is something to be enthusiastic and proud about.

I’ve been lucky enough for many years to go to work each day surrounded by excited, energetic and enthusiastic people who are setting out to change the world in important ways.

My fondest hope for each of you is that you can find a similar path, a similar place and similar challenges. There’s no better way to spend your days.

          So now it’s up to you – go forth – go always forward – and go make us and your parents proud. God bless each and every one of you.

May 12, 2018

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