COCC Commencement Speech (as given)

Thank you Dr. Metcalf.  And to the COCC Board, Leadership, Faculty, Staff, Family, and Friends–thank you for the high honor of speaking to you today on this happy occasion.

And to the Graduates:  Congratulations to you for this life accomplishment. You have had great times, you have had tough times, and you got it done…… You are finishers.

To quote one of our greatest presidents, Theodore Roosevelt:  “It is better to try great things, even at the risk of failure, than to know neither victory nor defeat.”

While you may have had a few defeats along the way, today you know Victory.  Not long after a I sit down, you will receive your diploma, and that Victory will be complete.

I’m guessing that along with savoring this victory and this accomplishment, there is also a strong feeling of relief.   There are so many ways you could’ve stumbled—many obstacles to Victory.  To me, you are heroes for adding this difficult endeavor to your already full lives.  Many of you must have added this on top of a “day job,” family pressures, and bills to pay.  You saw all of your free time and much of your sleep, disappear for several years.  This sets you apart, and I very much admire this sacrifice.

I know that you are well aware there are others here that feel pride in your Victory, and yes relief too.  I’m talking about your stakeholders—parents, kids, other family, friends, and the rest of your support system.   Congratulations to all of them as well:  in fact, let’s give them a hand together.

All of you, Graduates and your Stakeholders, might even be feeling lucky that this is over, and that you succeeded.  Trust me, this isn’t about luck, it’s about hard work, focus, and finishing something very worthwhile—a life accomplishment.

Perhaps our most clever President, Thomas Jefferson put this in perspective for us when he said:  “I am a great believer in luck, and I find the harder I work, the more I have of it.”

And now let’s talk a little about what you have learned……..

Many of you, have pursued degrees in Career and Technical Education, and in this ceremony today receive acknowledgement of the skill set that represents your new career.   My own roots lie in this key part of the Community College mission—as you heard from Dr. Metcalf, my parents each worked at COCC, and I spent a lot of time around these programs as a kid.   I have a deep appreciation for what it means to learn a trade in a high-quality institution like COCC.  Those of you earning technical degrees and certifications today will go forth and make our community work–you will keep us safe and healthy; you will keep things running; you will organize our efforts; and hopefully will even make our computers and our information technology work for us, rather than against us as it sometimes seems.

Others of you are earning acknowledgement of your preparation for further formal education—often in four year colleges or in Universities.  I’ve been down that road too, as you can see from all this costume I am wearing.   Starting my college experience here at COCC was one of the best moves I ever made.  The faculty had me ready for the large University environment, and I was able to go forward with a strong base-of-knowledge to finish my Engineering degree at OSU.  The Associate Degree from COCC you receive today gives you an unfair advantage, in my opinion, because you are better prepared than most to succeed at the next level of higher-education.

One of the great things about COCC is the eclectic mix of students (and faculty for that matter), that are present on this campus every day.   Like most good institutions, COCC has a Culture—it is a Community in itself.  At the essence of this Community are the relationships you have formed with other students, and the folks that operate and teach at COCC.   I know many of your staff, faculty, and Leadership.  They care deeply about you, your new knowledge, and your experiences while you were privileged to be a student here.  You, in turn, have added to the essence of this culture and Community during your time here, and I know you will find ways in the future to support and strengthen Central Oregon Community College.

And as you transition away from COCC, you will, of course, continue to learn more.  I’ll give you an example….

I have a ranch–with cows on it. Cows are teachers too.  They are good at finding the weaknesses in a ranch—they are devious and masters at escape.  I’ve learned a lot from cows, have gained experience from cows, and now have better judgement as a rancher.  And it’s hard to take yourself too seriously when you are learning from cows.

Will Rogers thought about the inherent value in being willing to make mistakes, and then learn from them.  Here’s how he put it:  “Good judgement comes from experience, and a lot of that comes from bad judgement.”

All of you then have added knowledge. You have also been given perspective, and the tools needed to enable you to learn more.  To learn more out in the real world, you must be willing to take risk and make mistakes.  And what goes with learning from mistakes is not taking yourself too seriously.

One of my jobs as Commencement Speaker is to Charge you with a higher-mission—something greater than just furthering your own self……..Today, I charge you, armed with your new capabilities, to increase your personal engagement in shaping the future of our country.

What makes America the greatest country in the world?  I would argue that most fundamentally, it is the founding principles, and how we continue to live those principles today.

These Principles include:  Justice, Equality, Bringing About Good, Doing No Harm, and Respect for Human Dignity and Autonomy.   It is up to all of us to uphold and strengthen these Principles by following our Conscience.

As has been the case in other periods of our history, many of us are uneasy about how business and governance is sometimes done.  This being America, we can each have our own perception of all of this.  We can respectfully disagree, and then use our different points-of-view to work together to make the world a better place—this is how America was founded, and how she can be at her best.

What most of us can agree on is that things can always be improved.  The most powerful forces for improving and changing our society for the better are not laws, rules, or believe it or not, even speeches like this one.  Rather, it’s through what’s done on the ground, where the day-to-day living, commerce, and governing of the world is done.  That’s where you come in.

Now that you have more knowledge, better perspective, and new relationships, I challenge you

to establish a Vision for your personal and family lives; and for your community, and country for the future.  To do this, I urge you all to debate and learn from each other while considering key issues and key decisions—try to get to Truth and what your Conscience tells you is Right.    Respectful and open discourse, like you had here during your time at COCC, is essential to continuous improvement of our country.  Use your Vision as a basis for debate so as to determine, to the best of your collective ability, “what is the right thing.”

And then actively engage to achieve this “Right Thing.”

Doing the right thing, day in and day out, will result over the long haul in you leaving your family, your business, your community, and your country better than you found them—this is the essence of Stewardship.

One final thought……….doing the right thing can sometimes require asking for forgiveness, not permission.  A favorite quote, attributed to the Dalai Llama, goes like this: “ Know the rules, so you can break them effectively.”  Imparting change on the world in a balanced, civilized way will require following the rules—especially the Rule of Law.   However, rules need to be constantly improved. Remember that you have the fundamental right, and the RESPONSIBILITY, to Question…………

Thank you, Congratulations, and Godspeed

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