Speaking to Graduates


Tonight, for the first time, I was a guest speaker at a college graduation. The ITT graduation ceremony at the Century II Center in Wichita, Kansas.

It was a unique experience.

1. I’ve never spoke with the blinding stage lights before.
2. The whole event went much quicker than I expected.
3. The students seemed to stay awake when I spoke, and people laughed (mostly) when I expected it.
4. Be careful what you write for an introduction. They’ll gladly read it verbatim.

Unexpected lesson: I asked the audience (all told about 300) who was on Twitter, only a dozen raised their hands (maybe 5 of which were graduates). Facebook? Almost everyone. LinkedIn? Less that 10, and only one student. The LinkedIn response was expected (you’ll see below). But I was shocked that none of them were on Twitter. Weird.

Below is what was the planned text of my presentation. Of course the real thing had a few modifications. I’ve lined out the parts I didn’t say. 

“I cannot teach anybody anything, I can only make them think.”

This quote came from a great teacher, Socrates. I received it recently in an e-mail from Lois, here at ITT. It made me think, which is what I suppose Socrates was shooting for.

I’ve been a teacher, both in school and on-the-job. I always thought that I was teaching. Your instructors here may have felt that way as well. In fact, we have a whole system designed to make sure that we’re teaching. You’ve done homework, written papers, even taken tests, right?

And presumably, sitting here as graduates –<look to dean> – can I call them graduates? Ok. Sitting here as graduates you passed all, or at least most, of those tests. Right?

Was Socrates wrong? Maybe I’m thinking about it wrong. Maybe those tests weren’t proof that someone taught you something. Maybe they were simply proof that you had learned something.

Socrates was probably right. No one can make you learn.  You have to decide that you’re going to learn. Sitting here as the graduating class for June 2011, – <look to dean> – still okay, right? As graduates … you like hearing that? I’ll say it again… as graduates you’ve proven that you made that decision, that you wanted to learn, that you wanted to achieve what you’ve achieved, that you wanted to be in the graduating class this evening.


Afternote: someone decided to clap for them when I paused here, so I suggested that we go ahead and clap. I went on to say that we should plan to clap about every 4 minutes throughout the evening, which was surprisingly accepted as funny. After I said that someone tried to clap again. I said that it had not been 4 minutes, only about 18 seconds. Be patient. I heard some mild “good try” laughs for that one.

What is your next decision?


Of course, you’re going to make loads of decisions, “Where will I apply for a job?”, “Should I get a different apartment”, <hold cell phone> “Should I accept Stacie’s friend request?” You get the idea.

Afternote: I decided to simulate holding a cell phone – it was mildly funny

No, what I’m asking is, “what is your next decision for learning?”

I read a study recently from the National Endowment for the Arts. They found that in the last year nearly 60% of adults haven’t read a book that wasn’t’ required for work of school.

A good friend of mine, named Craig Valentine, likes to quote another statistic saying that the average adult reads just one book in their lifetime.

Now this friend of mine is a professional trainer. He showed me his reading list from the last 10 years. In that time, he’s read over 520 books. I use that number, to illustrate this: 520 divided by 10 years = 52 books a year, or…one book per week.

Books like The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Guerilla Marketing, and Talent is Overrated. Those are the three I’ve read.

Think how many adults are out there reading zero books per year to keep that average where it is?

Those zero book club members, as I like to call them, are your competition for employment.

But what I learned from Craig was more valuable than simply a reading list. What he taught me was this: You can’t wait to get ready, whether it’s to speak to a group, take final exams, or… answer the call for an interview.

You have to Stay Ready.


How do you do it? <count on fingers>

Continue to learn

Stay current


Because you didn’t come here to hear me speak for 90 minutes, let me just give you one quick story for each one.

I mentioned Craig’s almost alien pace of one book per week. But you don’t have to maintain that kind of pace. Pick a number, say, 30 or maybe 50 pages a week.

When I interviewed at Cessna in 2007, my second interview was with my future boss’ boss. During the course of the interview, he was talking about something “global…whatever”and he asked, “have you read The World is Flat?”

<move to the side> Pop quiz. You’re in an interview, and you’re asked a question you want to say “yes” to, but the answer is really “no”. What do you say?

Afternote: I did get a “Yes” from the crowd.

I said, “Not Yet.”

Of course, reading books will not only help you to Continue to Learn, they can also help you to Stay Current. There is a more timely way to keep up in your field as well – join up

There are groups, both virtual and local to help you stay current in your field. I won’t try to name them all, but I will tell you about two I’ve been a part of.

First, as a Project Manager, I belong to the Project Management Institute, or PMI. This is both a global organization and a local one with a chapter right here in Wichita. We meet once a month, and provide PMs here in Wichita a chance to get to know one another and hear topics in our field. We’ve heard from the Project Manager for the Arena project, PMs from Spirit, Cessna, Cargill, and other companies throughout town. All experiences to help us Stay Ready to be successful in our own projects.

Second, is a group called Toastmasters. Another global organization with 15 clubs here in Wichita. If public speaking is your weakness, then this group is for you. You learn a lot, get more comfortable speaking in front of others and learn some leadership skills as well.

The beauty of these organizations is they fit right in with the last point; network. But how do you network? Of course I already mentioned local and on-line organizations. Find the ones that fit your needs. But what about other ways to stay connected? Well, there’s Twitter. Show of hands, who has a Twitter account? Audience too…mom, uncle joe, Twitter accounts? How about Facebook? Look at that…LinkedIn? …Wow

What is LinkedIn? Imagine a business version of Facebook. Just one photo, and your business experience, education, and possibly some references. There are discussion boards for a variety of disciplines, and you make connections with other professionals.

I’m not advocating on-line networking as a replacement for face-to-face networking, but using those on-line tools can make it easier to get in touch and stay in touch.

Networking can be powerful, and it can help you to stay current and continue to learn. All three can work together.

It is time for you to make that decision. Are you going to wait and see, get ready when the time comes, and hope to keep up with your competition? Your competition hopes you do.

Or are you going to decide to Continue to Learn, Stay Current and Network so you can Stay Ready for what is to come?

Graduates, we cannot teach you anything, we can only make you think. The decision is yours.

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