June 23rd, 2008

Cap and Gown

ucla-campus.jpg In case you haven’t noticed, it’s commencement season – and throughout the country, students at all levels are getting spruced up, throwing on their cap and gowns and setting their sights on the future.

Now I have to admit, I don’t remember a thing about my college graduation apart from the fact that I was sweating to death under my robes and that my grandmother kept moving champagne bottles out of camera shot – and I didn’t even attend a ceremony for my post grad program. But recently I was given a shot at reliving the “commencement experience.”

On June 13th, I was at UCLA’s Anderson School of Management as Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Bill Weldon gave this year’s commencement speech. Bill’s son was one of those earnest young graduates, and, listening to his address, I felt his words took on a special significance – that of a father giving advice to a son setting course on the seas of life.


You can catch it all on the UCLA Anderson site as a webcast – or as a print document. Much was said about what components make great leaders, but it was the following thoughts that resonated with me:

It starts with something that guides you every moment.
You could call it your own personal “North Star.”

Here’s what I mean.

We spend a lot of our time at work — it’s a third of any given day – and when yoconsider that another third is sleep… work is fully half of your conscious life. That’s a pretty big commitment. There’s got to be something else — something above and beyond the work itself — something important.

I believe you can only commit yourself fully to an organization when its aims, methods and philosophies are ones you truly believe in.

I like it. In closing, Bill called attention to the few words that grace the tombstone of UCLA grad and sports legend Jackie Robinson – words that once again underscored the importance of following that “North Star” – of doing something you truly believe in:

The value of a life is measured by its impact on other lives.

After the ceremony, I got to thinking about how commencement speeches shouldn’t just be for graduates — that there are some messages that even the most experienced and battled-hardened should hear. And — just as I’ve found that some of the books I read while in my 20s have an entirely new meaning to me now — perhaps I should also see if the speakers at my own graduation had some useful nuggets worth hearing again now that I’m a bit more worldly wise and no longer baking in the springtime sun in my cap and gown.

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