Under the circumstances, here’s good advice without the pomp

Phil Castle

I don’t know about you, but I’m tired of the C word. If I had my way, I wouldn’t have to write another story about it or ever again utter the 11-letter word that’s become a four-letter word. Unfortunately,  coronavirus isn’t likely to disappear from our lives or vocabularies anytime soon.

In the meantime, I’ll write instead about another C word — commencement.

Nothing, it seems, has been spared the effects of the pandemic. That includes high school and college commencements that have been canceled, postponed or turned into virtual events or other sorts of celebrations. It’s necessary, but disappointing for graduates and their families. Count me among the parents who won’t watch their children cross stages, pick up diplomas or bask in the well-deserved recognition of achievement.

My oldest son, Zach, was scheduled to receive his MBA in June from the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College. I’d already bought the plane tickets for the trip to New Hampshire.

Actually, Zach will still receive his degree. He remains safe and healthy. That’s the main thing. But there’ll be no investiture or commencement. Zach won’t share in those experiences with his classmates, and I won’t watch Zach graduate.

It’s disheartening because I’ve always believed commencements are a big deal, as are the accomplishments they honor.  Less important — but no less frustrating — it’s tough to pay an Ivy League tuition for two years and not personally witness the payoff. I’m not complaining. Thanks to the legacy of my beloved wife, I was blessed to be able to do so. Zach put in the work. I just wrote the checks. Still, it’s a bit like buying a Ferrari, then never getting to drive.

It’s all the more upsetting because I enjoy commencements and the pomp that goes with the circumstances. I especially enjoy commencement addresses and the words of wisdom speakers share with graduates. Call me a freak, but I watch commencement speeches on YouTube.
I dare you to watch the speech by now retired Admiral William McRaven at the University of Texas in 2014 and pretend to remain unaffected. If nothing else, I guarantee you’ll want to make your bed.

Allow me another confession, one I’ve mentioned before. I’d like to one day deliver a commencement address myself. Each graduation season renews my yearning to hear the raucous laughter that follows a deftly delivered punch line and watch tears wiped from eyes moistened by a poignant anecdote.

Of course, an invitation to deliver a commencement address would probably come with the presumption I have something worthwhile to say. Oops. I’m neither famous nor infamous enough to be a commencement speaker. I’ve never been elected to office, managed a corporation or starred in a movie. I haven’t even written a book, for heaven’s sake, although I’m trying to rectify that situation. By the way, if there’s a literary agent reading this who’s interested in representing an up and coming mystery novelist, call me.

Nonetheless, I’ve obviously devoted considerable thought to commencement addresses as if there were a possibility I might one day be called upon to deliver one. What advice would I share? Find your passion? Dance like nobody’s watching? Wear sunscreen? Nope. I’d share the collective wisdom of the entrepreneurs I’ve interviewed over the past two decades.

Here then, graduates, are four points worth considering. If business owners and managers also draw some inspiration or affirmation, so much the better.

Make sacrifices. What drives entrepreneurs is the steadfast belief they can not only provide better products and services, but also do so faster and cheaper. They’re willing to assume incredible risks. But they’re also willing to work harder and sacrifice more. Think long about what you want to accomplish. Think even longer about what you’re willing to do achieve your goals.

Learn from mistakes. Strive to do your best and resist the temptation to settle for less. Then prepare to fail miserably anyway — at least at first. Most entrepreneurs describe their most instructive experiences as those involving not successes, but failures.

Treat others the way you want to be treated. Entrepreneurs cite the golden rule as the basis for everything from customer service to employee loyalty to productive networking. It’s an idealistic, but also practical, principle in fostering good relationships. Moreover, it fosters personal satisfaction. You’ll feel better about yourself and more secure in the kind of person you’ve become.

Give back. Nearly without exception, entrepreneurs who do well do good. Just think of all the businesses that support fund-raisers in the Grand Valley. The cynical might assert entrepreneurs remain more motivated by profits than altruism and deem benevolence as nothing more than another marketing opportunity. I’ve never found that to be the case.

God willing, we’ll soon get past the coronavirus pandemic and look forward to the return of commencements. Until then, the not-so-secret concomitants of success remain applicable not only to business, but also life. I wish everyone continued success in both endeavors.