President Miyares, Faculty and Staff, Students, Friends and Family …
My deep appreciation for your warm welcome. Thank you for your hospitality. It is wonderful to be with all of you today.
Congratulations to the graduating class of 2019.
Thank you President Miyares for that kind introduction and for inviting me to give this commencement address. It is truly an honor and a privilege to be speaking at this special event for this unique institution.
UMUC has been unique since its founding in 1947 when it was established to serve working adults and service members. It became more unique when it converted to being an on-line university in the 1990’s and even more-so when it began offering no-cost digital course materials in nearly every course about five years ago.
What makes UMUC most unique though is its students. If you graduate in this audience are representative of UMUC’s student population, your average age is 33. Nearly three quarters of you work full time. Almost 50 percent of you are working parents and minorities. And, world-wide 60 percent of you are in the military and its affiliates.
What incredible statistics. I dare say there is no student body like this in the world. And, I can confidently say that even though those of you graduating today have benefitted from a non-traditional education through digital learning you have gotten your degree the old-fashioned way – you have earned it.
You have worked hard, persisted, and sacrificed much to receive your diplomas. I applaud you for your accomplishments. (Clap your hands). I ask you to put your hands together and applaud yourself.
Now, I ask you to put your hands together for your family and friends who have helped you along the way. Finally, let’s hear it for UMUC’s faculty and staff. They deserve a round of applause as well. (Pause and look around.)
I must tell you that is inspiring to be in your company. Indeed, as I look out on you graduates, I see the American dream. I see the future of America. I see the future of the world.
I say I see the American dream because you represent what can be accomplished in this marvelous country. Each of you has your own story to tell. Let me tell you a little about mine.
Like your President Miyares who came here from Cuba at 14, I came here at a young age. I came to Boulder Colorado from India at the age of 15 to pursue a college education in the emerging field of computer science at the University of Colorado.
I had just a few hundred dollars in my pocket and knew no-one. I made a few friends and supported myself by working in fast food restaurants like McDonalds and Shaky’s pizza. I got my bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Colorado. I always wanted to pursue my life- long dream of owning a business.
I did not come from a family that owned a business. I had no personal experience or role model in business. So, I decided to do my apprenticeship and to learn the ropes by going to work in two large IT companies.
With that experience, I felt ready to go out on my own and I acquired the QSS Group, an IT company in Washington, DC, in 1994 for $45,000. My wife Debbie and I had to mortgage our home to do that.
With the help of a wonderful management team that I recruited over time, we built the QSS Group from 1 employee – me – to more than 3,000 employees and in excess of $300 million dollars in revenue.
The team of talented managers were central to everything. Success in business is a team sport. So, when you ask me how I became successful, it was not me but we who made it happen.
In 2007, after 13 years, I sold the QSS Group to Perot Systems. That sale allowed me to move on to the current stage of my career in philanthropy focused primarily on education, the arts and civic engagement. In many ways process of sharing and giving back is as – and even more rewarding- than any of the money that I earned throughout my business career.
That is my story. That is my journey. My story can only happen in America. I am beneficiary of America’s kindness and generosity. My journey was not a straight line. Indeed, there were numerous twists and turns. There were many dark and desperate days. And the final destination was not certain. What enabled me to prevail on the journey was the opportunity presented by the American Dream.
As I said, each of you has yours. They are stories of grit and determination.
But they are not just our stories. They are the American story.
That is why as I look at you, I see not only the American dream. I also see the future of America.
In the coming years you will write new chapters for the American story. I know how much you have done already. Because of your new degrees, I am confident that you are prepared and equipped to accomplish even more.
There are numerous different degrees being awarded today in fields ranging from accounting to information technology management to social sciences. No matter what your discipline or where you stand in your life’s journey, I have one piece of advice for you. That is make no little plans.
“Make no little plans; they have no magic to stir men’s blood and probably themselves will not be realized.” That is what Chicago city planner Daniel Burnham said in 1910 when Chicago was more of a town than a city.
America did not need little plans in Burnham’s times. America does not need them now.
America needs big plans. America needs bold plans. It needs dreamers who dare to do. It needs you. It needs those who understand too what Dwight D. Eisenhower said, “The plan is nothing. Planning is everything.”
What Eisenhower meant by that is that progress is not a straight line. There may be curves and detours. But, by recalibrating and changing course – altering the game plan, one can get to the desired destination.
For you graduates, that destination today is this commencement. I congratulate you on a job well done. I would ask, however, that you view this commencement as the starting line and not the finish line.
If you look up commencement in the dictionary, it has two definitions. The first is “a ceremony in which academic degrees are conferred.” The second is “a beginning.”
I would like you to focus your attention on the second – a beginning. This commencement constitutes a beginning for the next phase of your journey – a journey to contribute to creating America’s future and the future of the world.
Yes, I also see you as the future of the world. That is because I believe that as President Abraham Lincoln said many years ago the United States is the “world’s last best hope.” The world is much more contentious and complicated today than when President Lincoln spoke those words in 1862.
Democracy is in decline around the globe. Dictatorships are on the rise. Now more than ever, the world needs the pro-active and positive involvement of our American citizens and leaders.
Many of you have answered that call before in spots around the globe. I am asking you to answer that call again by doing what you can to make this country and the world a better place.
I ask that you do this by being a 21st century citizen and playing in the “3-I” League:
- Be Informed – do your homework, get all the facts
- Be Independent – exercise your personal judgment
- Be Involved – get engaged on the issues that matter to you
This is an important request because a nation is the sum of its citizens. How we assemble ourselves and what we accomplish together defines the fabric, psyche and soul of the country.
In conclusion, I am positive about the fabric, psyche and soul of America. I am positive about the future of the American Dream, America and the world because of what I see in you.
I am positive because of the courage, tenacity and indomitable spirit that you have displayed to get to this point. Because you understand the concepts of duty, honor and country, I am positive you will demonstrate those same traits going forward and become part of a 21st century brigade committed to fighting for a better, stronger, fairer, kinder, and inclusive America and world.
I say to all of you graduating today- all things are possible. No hope should be high enough for you to achieve and no dream should be large enough for you to achieve. If you conceive it, you believe it, you can achieve it. You can make impossible as possible. There are no limits. So, class of 2019— Congratulations again on your achievement which we are recognizing at this commencement today. Congratulations in advance on the many other achievements that I know you will have in the years ahead.
You inspire me and give me reason to believe. Thanks for letting me share my thoughts with you. I salute you. (Do a salute.).
God bless you. God bless your families. And, God bless the United States of America.