I was very honored to deliver the faculty address at the Cap and Gown ceremony at Rhode Island College. Since my parents want to see it, here it is.
I love looking out at this room…It is brimming with excitement, joy, relief, and anticipation as you stand on the precipice of the unknown. Who knows what the future holds for this collective group? It’s an enthusiastic group, but as Ralph Waldo Emerson stated, “Nothing great was ever accomplished with enthusiasm.”
And today is a great day. This marks the culmination of all your academic successes to date. This will be one of the highlights that you will always remember; it will be included on every resume you write for the rest of your life. You can be proud of this and you will be the best ambassadors that Rhode Island College will ever have. And yet, dwelling on your successes isn’t going to guarantee future success. You did not get to this point in spite of your failures; you are here today because of how you have handled failure. I know that more than one of you bombed a midterm and maybe even procrastinated a term paper. But you persisted.
I’m not suggesting that you find more ways to fail; if you are anything like me, those opportunities will find you all on their own. But I do hope that within each mistake you find a lesson that will bring wisdom, and that when you reach a stumbling block, that you will discover how to make that stumbling block become your stepping stone.
I remember a friend who had a difficult choice to make, so fearing he’d make the wrong one, he simply did nothing. And amazingly, that’s what happened to his life; nothing changed, and life consequently passed him by. What he failed to realize was the inaction is just as permanent as action. Let’s not be frozen and let others make the choices that will shape our future. You were not destined to watch other people decide the course of your life; this is your world. Make it the world you want it to be.
Life demands that you take chances…things won’t always go your way. You may even doubt that you have the ability or the strength to continue. But if your Rhode Island College experience has taught you anything, it’s that you can get up when you fall, and you will be the stronger and wiser for it.
Undoubtedly, life will throw you a few curveballs. As Haruki Murakami said, “Pain in life is inevitable, but suffering is optional.” One term that comes up often when researching natural disasters is resilience. It is the ability to withstand, endure, fight through, carry on, and triumph in the face of great adversity. When you bombed that midterm, you stayed up late preparing for the final exam, and after procrastinating in your Sophomore year, you planned your time better as a Junior.
If you choose to frame your struggles for your benefit, the failures you face in life can strengthen your resiliency and fortify your grit. “Grit” as defined by Angela Duckworth, “is passion and perseverance for long-term goals.” Grit is essential, but so is direction. M. Russell Ballard stated that “those who accomplish the most in this world are those with 1. visions for their lives, with 2. goals to keep them focused on their vision and 3. tactical plans for how to achieve them.” People with vision, goals, and plans will still stumble, but that will strengthen their resolve to fight through the obstacles that they face. They will define their own success; being kind, helping others and being patient with other’s limitations.
I’ve talked far more about failure than any of you anticipated; but only with the intent to highlight that it is we succeed as we go from failure to failure without losing our enthusiasm and our direction.
And succeed you will. Go achieve all those fantastic goals you have. This is a great day, but the best is yet to come. Don’t look back; you’re not going that way. Class of 2018, congratulations on a job well done. Thank you.