One of the best things about serving as president of our great university is commencement. For graduates, it is both the culmination of years of hard work and the beginning of the next chapter of their lives. It’s fun to be there when students become alumni to share the excitement of accomplishment and the anticipation of things to come.
I am asked to give brief comments at each ceremony. Understanding that “brief” is the most important part of my charge, I carefully considered what I could say to help send graduates into the world.
In December I reflected on common threads in the lives and careers of successful CU alumni I have known, people who have made a difference in lives and communities and in our state and nation. I also thought about my own journey since graduating from CU in 1964.
Those collective experiences form the basis of my advice, which I hope is simple and straightforward. I urge graduates to be good listeners, to hear all sides of an issue and to consider that their ideas may not always be the best. I tell them they will accomplish more if they are not worried about who gets credit.
I talk about the importance of staying focused and finishing what you start. Along the way, if you make a mistake or a bad decision, admit it, apologize if necessary, fix it as fast as possible and move on.
I ask them to be flexible and to seize opportunities. It’s important to have a plan in life, but don’t miss chances that may not fit that plan.
One of the common threads I have found about CU alumni is that they often take on leadership roles. People want leaders, so I urge graduates to seize opportunities. I share leadership lessons I have learned in my own experiences and those of others. Leaders should be open and inclusive. They should listen more than talk. They should surround themselves with great people who are trustworthy and work as a team. They should lead by example and do the right thing — no matter how tough. We all should treat everyone with respect.
Another characteristic of CU alumni is that they are generous with their time and, when possible, with their money. Contributing to communities and volunteering not only allow us to make a difference but are personally rewarding.
Perhaps the best advice I can offer our graduates is that their honesty, their word, their reputation and their integrity are their most important assets. Each must be thoughtfully nurtured and carefully guarded. They are the foundation for success in life.
I hope some of this advice sticks with our graduates after they leave campus. In my long experience with my fellow CU alumni, I have found they often embody many of these qualities, and I am proud to count myself among their number.