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College of Business > 2014 Spring Commencement Address
2014 Spring Commencement Address

Thank you! Members of the class of 2014, parents and families, President Glenn, trustees, honored guests, faculty, and friends, thank you very much for inviting me to this great and historical university! I’m honored to be with you today and deliver commencement remarks. I’m also proud to have with me today my wife of 30 years Mrs. America (Lesa)!

First, I want to share with you a couple key points about my life journey that enabled me to graduate from Auburn University School of Engineering and pursue a career in business and manufacturing. Both of my parents never finished high school. They were married at the age of 16 years old and had six (6) children. They both believed in going to church, hard work and disciple. My dad passed away three years ago, but he was intensely involved in the Civil Rights Movement in Alabama in 50’s, 60’s, and early 70’s. Like all American parents, My parents wanted more opportunity for their children than they were afforded. They both were firm believers that education was the key to establishing an individual’s self-worth and improving ones position in life. That statement is still true today! My dad instilled in all his children the aspect of never giving-up on your dreams and that your life is not by chance, but you are here on planet earth for a purpose and a call. You must first “dream-the-dream” and know that you can achieve it to start your journey in life. What’s your dream? Getting a job, raising a family, moving on to graduate school, etc…As you consider what to do now, you shouldn’t necessarily feel that your next step is the most important one you’ll ever take. It’s not. You will go down many paths or roads that go nowhere, but you will gain insight and wisdom by going down that path. Remember, the best teacher in life is experience! The late Steve Jobs, Co-founder of Apple Computers, say it this way….”Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma—which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition….Stay hungry, stay foolish.”

Now, how do we deal with the uncertainty of life? The poet Robert Burns once said something about the best-laid plans of mice and men. A more contemporary philosopher, Forrest Gump, said something similar about life and a box of chocolate and not knowing what you are going to get. They were both right. Life is amazingly unpredictable. I started out my career as an engineer and now I’m working in Human Resource and business management. Be flexible and open to change in your life. Remember, change is only constant in the universe. Those that fail to change and adapt will not survive. Be open to different types of opportunities in your life. I know many of you graduating today are worried about the economy, about job prospects. The one thing I can tell you however, is that this has happened before, and we have recovered. The currents of history only move in one direction – and that’s forward. “This too shall pass!”

Does the fact that our lives are so influenced by chance and seemingly small decisions and actions mean that there is not any point to planning, to striving for achievement? Not at all. Whatever life may have in store for you, each of you has a grand, lifelong project, and that is the development of yourself as a human being. Your family and friends and your time at Athens State University have given you a good start. As the Gospel of Luke says: “From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required; and from the one to whom much has been entrusted, even more will be demanded” – (Luke 12:48 - New Revised Standard Version Bible). Kind of grading on the curve, you might say.

So, what do you do with a great start in life? Will you keep learning and thinking hard and critically about the most important questions? Will you become an emotionally stronger person, more generous, more loving, more ethical? Will you involve yourself actively and constructively in the world? Many things will happen in your lives, pleasant and not so pleasant, but if you are not happy with yourself, even the loftiest achievements won’t bring you much satisfaction.

I’m not going to tell you that money doesn’t matter, because it does. In fact, for too many people around the world, money is literally a life-or-death proposition. But if you are part of the lucky minority with the ability to choose, remember that money is a means, not an end. A career decision based only on money and not on love of the work or a desire to make a difference is a recipe for unhappiness. Remember; choose your own definition of personal success. The world is an unpredictable place.

I would like to leave you with quote from the great American novelist, poet and writer …Herman Melville, who said….”We cannot live only for ourselves. A thousand fibers connect us with our fellow men; and among those fibers, as sympathetic threads, our actions run as causes, and they come back to us as effects.”

So members of the class of 2014 at Athens State University. As you leave this great university………..as you face new choices………..new challenges……….new successes and setbacks you don’t need to remember my speech, but remember what you have learned at this great institution………hard work, perseverance, striving, reaching, and achieving a goal! I cannot wait to see what you choose to do next. Thank you, God Bless, and congratulations class of 2014.

J. E. America – 5/3/14

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