As you may know, I work for the world’s leading peer advisory membership organization for business leaders. During my “off hours,” I lead learning teams as an adjunct professor for Seton Hall University’s Master of Arts in Strategic Communication & Leadership (MASCL) program. The program model serves as the academic equivalent to leading a peer advisory group, where I facilitate dialogue and skilled discussion with exceptional students, from different backgrounds, industries and disciplines, who share common challenges and a mutual goal. Keep in mind of course, that the goal isn’t simply to “get the degree.” It’s to learn from one another and acquire the knowledge and skills to make a difference.
Today, I enjoyed the great honor of addressing MASCL’s 29th Learning Team, an exceptional graduating class, as the keynote speaker at graduation. I’d like to share with you what I shared with them because at the end of the day, it’s all about making a difference!
Good afternoon everyone! I see LOTS of smiling faces in the front row. I would imagine you are either smiling out of joy, exhaustion, or a little bit of both. (After 18 months and about 1,500 hours of hard work, it’s certainly to be expected). I also see a number of delighted family members and friends, who will be very grateful to have you back in their lives full-time.
As our MASCL graduates have learned during this program, life is a team sport. So congratulations to everyone in this room, as well as to those who couldn’t join us here today, for all you’ve done to make this celebration possible.
Graduation ceremonies tend to focus on the achievement – on getting the degree – as they should. And when you leave here, you’ll add your newfound master’s credential to every resume, job application, LinkedIn profile, and personal bio for the rest of your life.
So as you spruce up your resume and prepare for your next great opportunity, whether it’s in your current organization or somewhere else entirely, keep in mind that in today’s economy, employers aren’t hiring or promoting people to fill spots; they’re looking for people who will make a difference.
Gone are the days when employers simply assessed your qualifications and your ability to do the work. Today you’re asked, “Why can’t our organization live without you? That’s a pretty daunting question if you happen to be interviewing with a fifty or hundred year-old company!
So rather than talk about your degree, I’d like to spend the next few minutes talking about why, as MASCL graduates, you are uniquely positioned to convince any organization that they’ll be much better off WITH you than without you.
If you’ve ever spent any time in the mountains, you know that on a clear night at high altitude, away from all the ambient light from the city, you’ll see more stars in the sky than you ever imagined existed. The most amazing part, is the longer you look, the more stars you see. For me, this weekend has been a bit like gazing into a Colorado night sky. The more time I spend with you all, talk to you, and really get to know you, the more clearly your integrity, determination, and intellect come into full view. No employer that you’d find attractive is going to miss that either.
When Peter Senge writes of personal mastery as a journey, he acknowledges that not everyone is willing to take the trip – at least not one that any of you would find very fulfilling.
Seton Hall may not have told you this when they recruited you, but there are MUCH EASIER WAYS to get your Master’s degree!
And you didn’t just accept this challenge; you sought it out. You’re the one who booked this trip! Now, consider how far you’ve come between orientation residency and this weekend – how much more confident you are today than when you first arrived on campus in September 2010.
Half the battle of making a difference in this world is having the self-confidence to do so and possessing the ability to inspire that confidence in others. You have that. And when you leave here today, people will see who you see when you look in the mirror – a person who makes a difference.
Let me also suggest that it’s not just about WHO YOU ARE as a person, it’s how your MASCL education informs the way you engage the world.
- When you meet new people, you don’t judge them on their differences; you celebrate what makes them special.
- You don’t lead others to help YOU succeed; you provide resources and guidance to help THEM succeed.
- You don’t look at a problem and address the symptoms at the expense of dealing with the root cause.
- And most of all, you understand how to make others around you better through the sheer power of your example.
You will apply your countless learnings to everything you do for the rest of your personal and professional lives. And everywhere you go and every person you touch, will be all the better for it.
Finally, since you’re so clearly equipped with both the confidence and the knowledge to make a difference in any environment, let me turn our attention from the mountains to the beach and share what should be a familiar story for our graduates – the story of the old man and the starfish:
One day there was an old man standing on the beach among thousands of starfish that had been stranded by the outgoing tide. When the old man picked up one of the starfish and threw it back into the ocean, an onlooker yelled, “What difference will THAT make old man? It’s just ONE starfish.” The old man replied, “It made a difference for THAT starfish!”
Leadership, as lofty as the term may be, doesn’t always have to be about changing the world; most often, it means changing ONE PERSON’S WORLD for the better. If anyone understands that, it’s you.
So what now?
For starters, enjoy your day. Bask in the glow of your accomplishment. You deserve that. But after you leave the stage today, be sure to continue what you’ve started. Ask yourself what you will do with your new degree, your newfound confidence, and the many lessons you’ve learned during this program. How will you approach your work and your life differently tomorrow? Whose world will you influence and inspire next?
On behalf of all of us at Seton Hall University, I invite you to join the old man on the beach, pick up a starfish, and go out there and make a difference. Congratulations and enjoy your journey!