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Thank you, Jay. Hello, everyone, and... congratulations, graduates! Well done, you!
As well, to your parents and families.
I also want to acknowledge some other amazing people here at SU:
- Jay and Marsha Lemons, on a fabulous leadership run.
- Jonathan Green and his wife, Lynn Buck, for enthusiastically taking the baton from Jay and Marsha.
- Signe Gates, who recently became the first woman to chair the Susquehanna Board.
- And both Hal and Nancy O'Connor, for their incredible support of SU, as well as Hal's steady hand as a Board member/Board Chair.
And last, but by no means least, I want to tip my hat to the faculty - you are the oxygen!
- Teach students to learn how to learn and find their voice.
- Enable them to experience new worlds in the Go Program.
- Create the environment that makes Susquehanna so special.
I am proud and excited to be here, both as an alum and a former Board Chair.
As I prepared for today, it rekindled a lot of memories and learnings from my early days at SU.
Let me start by saying that Jay's comments might lead you to believe that my life has been one long string of successes and my prospects were always obvious. It has actually been quite the contrary, particularly in the early days.
In fact, during my early days in the classrooms here at SU, it wasn't obvious at all.
Before I share a bit of my personal experience at SU with you, I'd like to pose three questions about choices you can make that I will come back to:
- Will you choose to be a doer or a spectator?
- Will you choose to be a green dot or red dot?
- What will you do when faced with challenges? Lean in, or fall back?
How I answered these questions has had a profound impact on my life. How you decide to answer them will undoubtedly have a significant impact on yours.
I can tell you that my life has been anything but linear, and I hope you take some encouragement from that.
- Arrived at SU
- Raised in Maryland and suburban New Jersey.
- During my high school years, I was industrious. (Jobs and small businesses)
- Frankly, most of my motivation was relatively short-term-to pay for gas (27 cents a gallon), cigarettes (50 cents a pack) and a social life (TMI on that).
- Academically, had no confidence; none.
- SAT scores okay; grades were, generally speaking, "B-ish".
I was pleased and flattered to be admitted into SU; someone in Admissions must have seen something. Thanks for that!
At SU, I came to realize that, academically speaking, I didn't know how to learn, much less excel.
Realization really hit me after getting 2.3 GPA in first semester.
2.3 first semester; undistinguished HS experience; where does this lead?
Didn't match up with my ambition to do something, be somebody.
Question was, did I accept this reality as my destiny, or did I try to change it?
Made a commitment to myself for the second semester; namely, to close the library (that library over there) Sunday night to Thursday.
When in library; read every reading; outline every reading; outline every outline. Hypothesis, if I couldn't outsmart it, maybe, just maybe, I could out work it.
To see if it made any difference, or if 2.3 was my rightful place in the academic world.
BTW, there is a cubicle in that library with a plaque that commemorates my struggle—Jay and Marsha arranged that.
It was hard.
But I didn't do it alone. Got support and encouragement from faculty.
The next semester, when the grades came out, boom, things changed; got grades never seen before. I was in a whole ‘nother zip code if you know what I mean.
Later realized what was happening was that I was learning how to learn.
And I saw how much I could accomplish if I created a discipline and system around learning, and was willing to work hard.
Those were the crucial lessons I learned at SU.
Looking back, I also realized that I was a spectator at SU—in the classroom and, frankly, everywhere else.
My single purpose was achieving the highest possible GPA, and use it as a currency to create options for the future; options that I would not otherwise have had.
To me, it was the right approach at the time, particularly given my starting point, but meant I focused on myself.
Postscript—I was recently approached by a fellow board member and highly successful alum. He heard me tell my story about my first semester GPA, then came up to me after my comments and said "1.8."
How about that!
To Really Make a Difference—Be a Doer
I believe that for most of us, a primary motivation in life is "we want to matter," we want to make a difference:
In the careers we choose to pursue.
In the communities where we live and work.
In our relationships with others.
To matter makes you relevant, impactful and a part of something; gives you purpose; ultimately, provides fulfillment.
To really "make a difference" in life means answering a very basic question regarding your own behavioral "instincts and reflexes."
"Who are you going to be?"
A doer, or a spectator?
Are you going to get involved and make a difference, or watch and critique from the sidelines?
It's your choice—doer, or spectator. And it's a huge decision ... it will define so much of what follows for you; your impact; your sense of fulfillment.
For some, being a doer comes naturally. But for many it doesn't. It didn't for me.
Your choice will define you in the eyes of others; I'd suggest, it's going to be a big determinant of your personal happiness, too.
Red Dots vs. Green Dots—Be a Green Dot
This brings me to my next question—are you a green dot or a red dot? That one may sound less obvious; but it is a simple yet important concept.
To be a really successful doer, you have to have a certain mindset and attitude. (Take an example.)
Two people with comparable skill sets and credentials.
One is what I call a "green dot," one is a "red dot."
- Create energy.
- See a need and take action.
- Understand the power and wisdom of teamwork and diversity.
- Want others to succeed.
- Say what they think; yet do it constructively.
They create the multiplier effect. Meaning, they help enable outcomes to be far greater than what any single person could accomplish alone.
Have the technical skills. But, they look at most things through the lens of "self." Frankly, they can suck the energy out of the room.
Lower the bar and are destructive to team dynamics.
You probably never used the term "red dot", but you know what I mean; you know plenty of them, too—at work, in class, on the playing field, even in the family.
Spectators and red dots.
Don't achieve their full potential and they compromise others.
Unlikely to experience the joy and impact of collective accomplishment.
In my day job:
I nurture the green dots; they create superior outcomes; many become leaders.
I confront red dots; politely; but make it clear.
Absent swift and dramatic change; you're coming off the field.
My Mom is a Doer and a Green Dot
I know there are a lot of doers and green dots among the graduates here today.
For others, you may not be sure if people would describe you as a green dot or a red dot; you can change that.
And it's an attitude thing, not an age thing.
My Mom, Jane, who is 87, is proof of that. She is here today—and she is a doer and a green dot.
Together, she and my father raised four children.
As Jay mentioned, they also were parents to several foster children.
Hosted a refugee Vietnamese family in their home for a year after the fall of Saigon.
Later in life, raised Seeing Eye puppies; until recently, provided a home for Seeing Eye retirees.
To my Mom, "doing" is second nature.
One thing my Mom did for herself, was something she always wanted to do—earn a college degree. She graduated from Farleigh Dickinson University ... a month before her 78th birthday—Magna Cum Laude! She actually graduated from college the same month as our son!
I am sure that, like my mother, most parents in this room are doers and green dots:
So much of what parents do is not about self.
That is what it takes to be a green dot—thinking beyond yourself, helping others become their best selves.
What is remarkable about doers and green dots:
- They attract and engage others.
- Working together, they achieve far more than they could on their own.
- And they aren't discouraged at the first sign of trouble or when life doesn't go as planned.
That brings me to my next big challenge and the question, what will you do when things don't come easily to you? Do you lean in, or fall back? So let me continue my story.
Facing the Next Challenge—Business School
With a lot of hard work, I dragged my GPA at SU up to something quite respectable by my senior year. And then I came to a new crossroads, when I decided to go to graduate school. This decision brought to the forefront another challenge:
As I said, I really was a spectator at SU—I had no voice in the classroom; more than that, scared to death to raise my hand; to speak up; couldn't string many words together; I was grammatically challenged; and I didn't think I had anything of value to add anyway.
I must admit, I had concocted an unusual approach to academic success—sit in back of the classroom—with my long, uncontrollable hair—taking copious notes, saying nothing; working very hard, and acing the tests.
So back to the grad school selection. Two primary choices for business school:
One that had zero weighting on class participation; where I could use same technique that brought about success at SU;
One that placed 50% of grade on class participation; what a horrifying thought!
I had to decide—play to my strength—clearly the path of least resistance?
Or go after those demons of fear and lack of confidence?
I have faced similar questions many times since.
Do you stick with your strength?
Or, do you put your shoulder against the things that come less readily?
I chose to face my fears—and, eventually, it paid off.
It wasn't easy—reward wasn't instant.
Here I was at UVA.
An SU Business Major seeking an MBA.
Actually tutored classmates in accounting, finance and statistics because of the quality of my SU education.
Yet, I was constantly on the edge of failure because of my performance in the classroom.
Let me tell you one story that depicts how hard it was for me. Early on; I had to make a 10 minute class speech to, say, 75 people; couldn't eat or sleep for days before hand; just before my presentation, I dropped my note cards on the floor and they scrambled like a deck of cards.
Nearly passed out in the classroom with stage fright.
Some classmates, God bless them, willed me on.
At the conclusion of my speech, faculty member, in the back, critiqued me by expressing in front of the entire class: "Mr. Strangfeld, that was ghastly!"
Now, he was technically correct, but I have never in my years used such a term in a performance review.
Took me 25 years of cogitating to figure out how I should have responded.
"Excuse me, sir, that's why I am here!"
"Who do you want to teach; those who already mastered it, or those who are trying?"
Linda McMillin, your SU Provost, and I have talked about this concept—the wonderful impact a teacher can have on lifting up the struggling, but determined student. It's magical.
Postscript on that story—thirty years later when I became CEO at Prudential:
I got an email from fellow grad school classmate who I hadn't seen since graduation.
The email simply said, "Not bad for ghastly."
So, what did I learn from this assignment?
Where you start and where you end is not necessarily a linear experience.
Sometimes it's waves.
Occasionally it's zig zag.
You got to own it, and keep working it.
Over time, you create more optionality in life; more opportunity; more choices.
So, Graduates—I'll leave you with the questions I started with, ones that I have grappled with myself:
Who are you going to be—a doer or a spectator?
How would people describe you—as a green dot or a red dot?
Where will you find purpose—and how will you make a difference?
Will you shy away from change and challenges—or take them on and learn from them?
These aren't easy questions—and you may have to ask yourself these same questions on multiple occasions, as you face new situations and new challenges.
I know I did—and I always found that when I pushed myself to grow and get out of my comfort zone, it paid off, more than I imagined possible. Maybe not right away, but over time.
I also learned that my SU education prepared me well for the journey ... as it has you.
Just the fact that we are all here today, celebrating your graduation, tells me that you aren't afraid of hard work and that you are up for a challenge.
I am really excited for you—about your futures and the future of SU.
I firmly believe that the best is yet to come.
Thank you all. And once again, congratulations graduates.
Good afternoon and welcome to Susquehanna University on this beautiful day of celebration.
Thank you, Sarah Stine, for leading us in America the Beautiful and in the singing of the alma mater later in the ceremony. Special thanks to Kevin Henry and the Brass Quintet for their contributions to the ceremony and to the many musicians who participated in Baccalaureate last night.
University Theme - Passion
Graduates, the first time we gathered was at opening Convocation in August 2013.
As you may recall, the University theme that year was "Technology in our Lives"—and our common reading, speakers, and events focused around the opportunities and challenges technology presents. In the intervening years, we've seen even more clearly the power that technology and social media have to both degrade and strengthen our lives and our communities. Immediately after that convocation, I shared a photo of the Class of 2017 I took during Convocation in my very first tweet. That was fun. Frankly even before presidential tweets gained extraordinary visibility, my appetite for tweeting had waned and I last posted a tweet in December 2015. Besides all of you who know me, understand that I was never going to be comfortable being constrained to 140 characters! But before the Twitter Account PrezLemz is closed down, there should be one last tweet that bookends my Susquehanna University Twitter career. (Pull out iphone and take a photo)
In this, our final year together, I find it especially fitting that you are now leaving Susquehanna in the year of "Passion." As I shared with you at Senior Convocation in January, my personal theme for the year has been passionately embracing gratitude! My heartfelt thanks to each of you who participated in our Baccalaureate ceremony last night. Thank you Chaplain Kershner for organizing a beautiful program last night and special thanks to Holly, India, Rob, Amir, Torie, Alethea, Hanna and Dylan for the eloquent contributions you made to baccalaureate. It was so meaningful and gratifying to see and hear the expressions of gratitude you shared with family members, faculty and staff, and with one another.
I hope that what we experienced last night—with both our largest ever baccalaureate and our first ever post-baccalaureate gala celebration—become cherished Susquehanna traditions like Thanksgiving Dinner, Candlelight Service, Senior Convocation, SU Serve, and the hike up Mount Mahanoy. The great value of these rituals is that they remind us of our connectedness to one another and to this place. Even though you are about to leave this place you have called home for the past four years, please know that those connections and lessons persist, no matter how far you travel or how long you are away from this place.
On behalf of the Class of 2017, I want to offer a final special word of thanks to the faculty and staff who dedicate their lives to our students' learning. Each week, I hear that these relationships are the most cherished part of the educational experience for our students. On this day, I also want to thank and acknowledge all of the staff of the University and the many "invisible persons" who work so hard to make events like last night and today possible. It takes our entire village! Thank you faculty and staff colleagues for your love of learning and of these students.
I also want to thank all the family members and friends who have helped light the way for these graduates. Thank you to all the moms, dads, grandparents, siblings, aunts and uncles, cousins and other loved ones who have worked hard to support these students.
Today is more than graduation for some of you members of the Class of 2017. Happy Birthdays Diane Isaacs and Nina Ngo! And there is one last birthday that I want to mention that involves a member of the Class of 2017. His name is Harold O'Connor and today is his 88th birthday. He was to receive an honorary degree along with his wife, Nancy, with you today. Unfortunately, circumstances did not permit the O'Connors to be present with us today but very soon Hal and Nancy will be receiving their well-earned degrees just like each of you members of the Class of 2017.
As I have oft reflected, the campus is always changing, just as surely as is the river from which our name is drawn. The water that flows through the Susquehanna River is constantly new and different and the force of its flow perpetually changes the channel and the landscape of the second oldest river in North America.
The change ahead for the members of the Class of 2017 is both near and clear. Each of you is headed on a new adventure. Your presence on our campus will have forever changed this place as surely as each of you has been changed. The campus will never be what it was before you arrived and it will never be the same again after you leave. We are grateful for the contributions each of you have made here on campus, in our community and across the globe. Even as it changes, we hope this place like the riverbanks of the Susquehanna while ever changing, will always have the familiar feel of home for you.
Please know we are proud of all of you and look forward to hearing about your next adventures and destinations. Speaking of destinations, we are excited and proud that members of the class are headed to some of the best-known organizations and universities in the world.
Members of the class of 2017 have accepted jobs at KPMG, Deloitte, PriceWaterhouseCooper, Bloomberg LP, PNC, StambaughNess, National Geographic, Beth Shalom Congregation, school districts near and far and Prudential (thanks John!). Several are completing long term service opportunities such as City Year and Peace Corps and thus far, one among you will be serving as a Fulbright Scholar.
Many of you are continuing your education through certificate programs, masters degrees, PhD's, and professional degrees in fields such as Medicine, Law, Social Work, Dentistry, Optometry, Publishing, Oceanography, Library Science, International Business and Voice and Orchestral performance at schools including: Columbia, Boston University, Vanderbilt, Penn, Rutgers, University of Florida, Catholic, Fordham, Villanova, Northeastern, Ohio State, Temple, University of South Carolina, Pitt, Pace, University of Louisville, University of Maryland, the Peabody Institute and the University of Innsbruck.
Whether you know already or whether you are still discerning your initial destination, leave this place with confidence knowing that you are equipped for the adventure that is ahead and are prepared to become citizen leaders who will achieve, lead and serve.
I want to leave you with two short anecdotes from two legendary Susquehanna presidents that I hope you will savor and remember. The first is from President Gustav Weber, who served from 1959 to 1977. President Weber once told the story of the night before he went off to college nervously checking, double checking and even triple checking his trunk to be sure he had it all together for his move in at Wagner College. At some point, his mother interrupted him and said "Son, relax you have everything you need." Graduates, President Weber's wise mother was not commenting on whether he had enough socks, underwear, shirts and ties. She was imparting an incredibly valuable message that should resonate powerfully for you at this commencement time, when you are preparing for a new adventure. Members of the Class of 2017, the faculty and I believe you have everything you need to begin your journey and to be successful.
Which brings me to the wisdom of another of our emeritus presidents, Dr. Joel Cunningham, who served as president from 1984 to 2000 when he became the vice chancellor and president of the University of the South. I am thrilled that President Cunningham and his wife, Trudy, are with us today and I ask that you join me in welcoming them home.
To paraphrase one of my mentors, "We have no more control of who are predecessors are than we do about the people who are our parents. All I know is that I was twice blessed." That sums up how I feel about President Cunningham. His work here and his impact is enormous. Much of how the campus looks and feels is a consequence of his leadership. His legacy is celebrated daily through the work that takes place in the Cunningham Center for Music and Art. His wisdom as an administrator is something that is dear to many of us and is called forth on a regular basis nearly 20 years after he left Susquehanna. I did not know President Cunningham when I was called to service here. But Joel Cunningham quickly became one of those closest people I knew I could call upon when I found myself in times of trouble. I deeply value his counsel. While there are many nuggets I could pass along to you, let me share just one. President Cunningham once calmed me down in the midst of a struggle by simply saying "You know Jay, the older I get, the more I realize it will all work out."
Let me draw upon my extraordinary predecessors' wisdom and say to you that I am confident "you have everything you need" to find your way forward in life; you are prepared in ways that you won't fully understand or appreciate until much further down the road, perhaps even decades. And, when you find yourself vexed and consumed by worry, call a friend, do your best and just know that "it will all work out."
Like each of you members of the Class of 2017, there is a new adventure ahead for Marsha and me as we see our time in the presidency at Susquehanna come to a close. For 25 years, I have preached that bittersweet is the perfect emotion for graduating seniors. Now, I am having to walk the talk. Bittersweet is how we all feel.
We love this place and we are grateful and honored to be part of the Susquehanna family. We have loved sharing the journey with our faculty and staff colleagues, so many of whom have become our dear friends. We have loved watching generations of Susquehannans grow, bloom and prosper. We have loved those who have shared in our leadership here . . . especially the Susquehanna Board of Trustees and the Senior Leadership Team. We are deeply grateful for their confidence, enduring support, generous grace and deep trust through these many years. It truly has been an extraordinary privilege to lead and serve Susquehanna and to have watched her grow through all these years. It has been better, richer and more fulfilling than I could have ever dreamed.
And finally, I want to thank my incredible partner, Marsha, and our four wonderful children for sharing so selflessly in this journey. It is impossible for me to imagine having answered this call without you. Indeed, as our beloved friend, Padre—the Reverend Raymond Shaheen of the Class of 1937—would have said, "Surely it was the hand of Providence that called all six of us to this special place we now call home. Thank you, dear family and on behalf of all the Lemons, our heartfelt thanks to the whole of the Susquehanna family here and all across the globe.
Finally, members of the Class of 2017, I am proud to have shared this valedictory year with you. It is indeed a bittersweet time. I am confident that for the both of us that the memories of these years will become sweeter and sweeter across time. Remember you have everything you need to leave this place and know that when you hit those inevitable bumps along the road, I hope you will remember President Cunningham's wisdom that it will all work out.
Good luck to all of you and please do find your own way to raise the orange and maroon wherever you are living and do come home to Susquehanna whenever you possible!
God Speed Class of 2017!
It is now my duty to share with you some comments about some hallowed Susquehanna traditions. Traditions create a sense of connectedness to one another and also with the experiences of those from previous generations. The best of them help us cope with the relentlessness of change, sustain us as individuals and define our distinctive identities as institutions.
Susquehanna Traditions are similarly those shared experiences that bridge time and distance to connect generations of Susquehannans to each other and this special place. About half of you participated in the climb up Mount Mahanoy yesterday, taking part in a Susquehanna tradition that dates to 1880.
Many of you are also wearing "traditions cords" that reflect your engagement throughout the year in activities that strengthen our sense of community and enrich the experiences of all who come here to study and learn. Thank you for being exemplars of tradition and keepers of the Susquehanna flame.
The Gingko has come to symbolize tradition here. As you know, the Gingko brings with it the odiferous seeds which some alumni joke make the campus "smell like home." That scent connects countless generations of Susquehannans. But there is far more to this tree than meets the nose.
This tree has endured for nearly a millennium and was nurtured by Buddhist monks. Its longevity and resilience mirrors the strength of the Susquehanna community. The Ginkgo represents the potential for growth, which you have each experienced in your time at Susquehanna and with its spectacular golden leaves it was chosen many years ago to serve as a symbol for the positive traditions that unite Susquehannans.
Today, as you leave the stage, each of you will receive a reminder of these traditions in the form of a pin. These pins will be presented by Kristen Clark Ritzman, Class of 1997 and Meagan Lebreton Dresser, Class of 2002. Both are current Susquehanna University employees. Kristen is Assistant Director of Advancement Services and Meagan is Senior Advancement Researcher—both in our Development Office.
We hope you will wear your pin with pride as you go forth as new members of the alumni body knowing you are part of a community that has its roots in the middle part of the 19th century, which from the beginning has been a place where students gathered to learn so that they might in their own way make the world a better place. Indeed, that it is our most hallowed, glorious and oldest tradition.
It is my happy privilege now to acknowledge and say two words about those among you who while here have demonstrated excellence at the highest levels. Congratulations to your valedictorians, Amy Kaschak, Courtney Radel and Meagan Wright and also to those selected as Outstanding Seniors:
- Noah Diaz-Portalatin
- Ashley Machamer
- Rachel Baer