Cathleen P. Black | Spring 2015

May 9, 2015

President Benson, Chancellor Di Stefano, members of the Board of Trustees, distinguished faculty, parents, families, friends… and… members of the Class of 2015… 

Thank you for the honor of being your commencement speaker. 
To you graduates: Congratulations! 
And to your parents… CONGRATULATIONS! This is the day you have been waiting for --- me, too! 
And that my daughter, Alison, could be on the stage with me, makes this very special. 

As we sit here -- surrounded by these beautiful foothills in the distance—(if only we could actually see them in this foggy weather!),  let’s reflect on our pioneer forefathers—and mothers—who first came to Boulder not in search of higher knowledge… let’s face it, it was gold and silver. Nonetheless, they created a new life and laid the groundwork for what would eventually become this great university, here, at the foot of the Flatirons. Could there be a more stunning campus?

Let me put it this way: Alison and I visited a zillion schools on the college tour.  When we got here, my New York City child stepped out of the rental car, looked around and said immediately: “Oh, this is exactly where I want to go.” 

That was even before the admissions speaker told us that Boulder has 300 days of sunshine a year. (not today, I might add!!). Oh well, graduates, you have had at least 1200 days of sunshine by now – enough for a lifetime!

And so, like those first miners, Alison came with high hopes and leaves with nuggets of unparalleled value. Unlike the first miners, she came with a laptop and luggage and is leaving with a truck and a dog named Charlie!!

The road of promise and possibility for all of you started here. 
And now, the world awaits you – ready and open to receive all the gifts you have to give. 

It awaits the fruits of your education and skills – thank you for that part CU… 

… It awaits your optimism… your enthusiasm… your wonder. 

Today, I want you to remember: not everyone can change the world – but every single one of you ---can change lives--- and change them for the better. 

In my career in media and publishing, I learned how to succeed in the workplace mostly from bosses, managers and mentors – all of whom had years of experience. I observed their style and decided what to emulate. 

Now, I work mainly with young start-ups companies as an advisor, investor, board member and mentor. 
These young, passionate, 24/7 entrepreneurs are incredibly driven. 
Working with them is stimulating and fun… and satisfying for me to see business through the eyes of a 26-year-old. I’ve learned business all over again, only this time from young people with big dreams. One thing I have learned though is that not everyone is cut out to do a start up.

The good news is that we don’t need a world that is filled only with entrepreneurs. We need diverse people pursuing diverse passions. 
We also need a world filled with kind, compassionate, good people who are agents of change simply by doing helpful, purposeful things that benefit others.
Yes, do dream big. But look around you. Where can you make an impact? Do the unexpected? 

Everyone can do that, every day. 

You will find meaningful work… exciting work… and people with whom to share that journey. But don’t forget to help people along the way. There is no stronger combination for 
a good life, a helpful life; a life that touches others. 

Think of it like a university degree with a minor in empathy. 

A few years ago, I wrote a book about success called Basic Black. It’s subtitle said it all: The Essential Guide for Getting Ahead at Work and in Life.

It was filled with simple, but useful themes and lessons. Be ambitious. Be bold. Bring your heart to work. Don’t be afraid. Follow your passions. Don’t hold grudges. Listen… really listen.

That’s the Twitter version. 

But those themes have universal application and value. 
You may wonder how – or why – to believe in simple themes when the world is so complicated?

It’s true that the “real world” seems pretty challenged now on nearly every count.

From the vicious political sparring that passes for a national dialogue… to frightful racism. For example, just last month in Parma, Missouri, five out of the town’s six police officers resigned when its citizens elected an African-American woman as mayor. 

Then there is the vast disparity of wealth, leading to vast disparities in power. The tragic events in Baltimore 10 days ago highlight that.
Natural disasters, the scope of which dwarf local resources. The earthquake in Nepal. The global terror that is ISIS.
Or, climate change… from the drought in California to receding icebergs in Alaska and Greenland.

Why do simple themes and lessons about living life even matter in the face of all this? What value do they have compared to the world’s gaping needs? 

I want to be clear in my answer:
My intention is not to gloss over any of these daunting, urgent world issues. It is to separate what requires a sea change from what needs only your sincere willingness and engagement.
Don’t wait for mass enlightenment or global co-operation to contribute what YOU can to make someone else’s world better. 

You are already empowered agents of change. Here’s what I mean:
Your generation is fully equipped to make a difference in the time it takes to open an app. Look at GoFundMe. In five years, the site raised $900 million dollars from 10 million donors. 
On Kickstarter, 7.8 million people have given more than $1.5 billion dollars to fund 200,000 creative projects. 
Instant support, in many cases from total strangers. 

You can find anything and anyone online, from how to start a company to finding a job or a date. You stream video the way that my generation thinks of network television channels. You have research skills that would have earned someone in my day a Ph.D. Your knowledge is impressive. Your social media connections are vast. So is your potential to do good. 

This is not to say that my generation was totally clueless. Change came more slowly, for sure – technology has removed constraints of time and distance for you. But we did awaken to climate change and environmental degradation. We are NOT oblivious to poverty and wealth disparity. We have grappled with gender, ethnic, racial and religious strife. 
I have personally been at the front lines for women’s advancement. And we have advanced – now we have two women: Hillary Clinton and Carly Fiorina--- running for President!  
But we’ve also managed enormous technological change without falling off the edge of the Earth. We’ve adapted to difficult structural changes in periods of global economic turmoil.
I am not going to discourage you from going after the grand vision, the cure for the disease, or the end of hunger. 
I simply want you to know what you can do in the meantime, and do with sincerity. 

Sincerity drives kindness forward. It’s at the heart of all meaningful acts on others’ behalf. It forces you to put aside self-interest, a sense of entitlement,. It makes you feel things. It makes you whole. It demands honesty. You cannot fake it. 
Unless you are House of Cards’, Frank Underwood. Anybody want to be him?  No?  Good. 

Here, then, are my sincerities for survival and success. 

Be sincerely helpful. 
I speak from the heart of a corporate executive who has a heart. My work has always energized me. I loved what I did and why I did it. Being surrounded by interesting, smart, creative people was always the draw.
Now I find reward in helping younger people succeed, but this time, it is on their terms. And they seem genuinely appreciative.
It still holds true: when you give to others, others give back to you.

Be sincerely available. 
I’ve had many cool jobs… but what counts most is my one cool family I dearly love. My husband of almost thirty three years, Tom, Alison, and her brother, Duffy, plus our extended family. I have friends I cherish, and causes I passionately believe in. Even in your very busy lives, you need to create the time to be available to those who love you and need you. 
You will learn that you can rock someone’s world by simply being present. 

Sincerely care.
The most successful and accomplished people I know are the ones who sincerely care about their loved ones and their associates’ well-being. The people whose caring makes news are Bill and Melinda Gates and Angelina Jolie. But most of this nation’s real contributors are not famous. They are people like your neighbors, the always ready-to-help-ers, your parents and professors who are at your side every step of the way. 

Care about people the way they do. Anticipate their needs. Think of their well-being. Can you make someone’s struggle easier? You can’t find a cure for Ebola on a Friday night but you can bring flowers and make dinner for a friend who has the flu.  

Be sincerely appreciative. 
Look up. Look around you. Look from one side of the stadium to the other. Pretty awesome, yes?

Your loved ones are here. 
They have shared their hearts…their love… … their knowledge… in some cases, nearly all their financial resources… to put you in these seats. 

You will encounter many more generous people along your way…I did.  I learned that when you share everything you have, you lose nothing… and someone gains a lot. Be appreciative for what they have done for you. Make sure they know it.

Be sincerely open to life. 
Don’t be afraid of making decisions, taking calculated risks or changing your mind. There are many paths you can travel. Confound expectations, including your own. You are about to set out on an exciting journey. Maybe a new city or country. The journey may seem like a scary one. You know what? It’s okay. That’s how you learn, by trying.  Follow your heart and your passions. 

Always stay open to other people, other points of view. When you leave this campus, you’ll meet so many new and diverse people. Co-workers… neighbors… friends… loves. 

Meet them all with enthusiasm. 

Don’t ignore them because they’re old… or young…or different. Or because they don’t match up to your idea of who might be useful to you.  

I promise you this: when you welcome new experiences… new ideas… and new people into your life, magic can happen. 

There are just a few more things I want to say.
Laugh a lot. Like the Nike ad says: Just do it.
Over-deliver. Especially in your first job. Make that every job. That’s how you get recognized and promoted. Be ambitious, but don’t wear wear ambition on your sleeve. 
And bring your best positive attitude forward. Be a problem solver; come up with solutions. 

Lastly, accept that you will make mistakes. You might even fail. From that experience, you will learn so much. And there is just no perfect job. But make it seem like a perfect job. Keep trying new things. After all, it’s your time to experiment as you get to know your adult self better.

Your years in Boulder are to be treasured. They have made you who you are and who you will be. Your friends… your teams… your clubs… your classmates… your roommates. Your professors who are now friends. Cherish all of it.

You have much to be proud of! You earned this degree. It took hard work and long hours. 
It also took small acts by kind people every day of these four – or more (smile) – years.

Let empathy empower you. It makes you a more helpful, available, caring, forgiving, grateful person. That is how you transform lives -- and change the world. 

Today, the people who are so proud of you have filled an entire stadium!!!
IT is your day.
(and don’t forget that tomorrow is Mother’s Day.) 

You are, at last, graduates of the University of Colorado! 

Members of the Class of 2015, including Alison Harvey, 

I wish all of you the very best of luck!

Thank you. Smile and look up and around!