Boston University

As commencement exercises are being conducted at institutions of higher education across the country, women’s voices are taking a prominent place in offering congratulations, advice and inspiration to the graduating classes of 2011. In a series of posts, Women’s Voices for Change is sharing excerpts from selected commencement addresses.

 

 

 

University of Maine

Susan Collins
United States senator from Maine
University of Maine
Orono, Maine
May 7, 2011

 

America has a maritime tradition of branding each ship with its own motto. One ship in our nation’s fleet bears this distinctive motto: “Find the Good and Praise It.” That ship is a U.S. Coast Guard Cutter named in honor of Alex Haley.

You may recall that Alex Haley wrote the historical novel Roots: The Saga of an American Family. It told the story of his ancestors who were kidnapped from The Gambia in Africa and brought to this country as slaves. His book was made into a landmark television mini-series that taught many of us much about the African-American struggle for freedom and equality.

“Find the Good and Praise It” was the personal motto Alex Haley, this grandson of slaves. My Senate colleague Lamar Alexander, who knew Alex Haley well, calls him the most positive person he’d ever known.

But you may ask: Was the guiding principle of Alex Haley’s life the notion that his only obligation was to recognize what is good and to say something nice about it?

Certainly not. Mr. Haley realized that recognizing what is good and praising it encourages others to join in “the good.” To Alex Haley, “the good” wasn’t simply what is pleasant. It is what is worthwhile, what makes us better people, better citizens, a better nation.

Alex Haley was not a bystander, a mere observer. He experienced life to its fullest. He exuded joy – that is how he lived his life.

Wake Forest University

Indra K. Nooyi
Chief executive of PepsiCo
Wake Forest University
Winston-Salem, N.C.
May 17, 2011

In 1986, I was hired from the Boston Consulting Group to be the head of strategy for the automotive electronics division of Motorola. It was the smallest division of the company, but run by a visionary leader. I was one of a handful of women in a senior position. I got to Motorola and attended my first senior executive staff meeting. And, I was lost. Everyone in the room spoke electronics and cars — two subjects that I was relatively clueless about. They all wore pocket protectors, walked around with scientific calculators — the ultimate techies of 1986!

As an ex-consultant, I could have asked a few pointed questions, drawn some framework and survived, but I wanted to do more. I wanted to meaningfully contribute to the company, shape its future, and in the process I wanted to be respected and mentored by the people there; all engineers, I should add.

So, I decided to go back to school. I hired two professors — one to teach me electronics, another – cars. Three days a week, from 7 to 9 a.m., the electronics professor gave me lessons using a reasonably daunting textbook. As a chemistry/physics/math undergraduate, I could grasp the concepts, but believe me, it was hard work! And once a week, someone from the local automotive technology training school came by and taught me the inner-workings of a car.

It was a full year of extremely hard work. But something incredible happened along the way… I began to contribute more meaningfully to my job and my peers began to respect me — not for my position, but my curiosity and tenacity. I was now surrounded by helping hands — all wanting to give me that little push, a little nudge.

So, never give up your passion for learning.

Boston University

Katie Couric
Former managing editor and anchor of the CBS Evening News
Boston University
Boston
May 22, 2011

 

I would love to be able to tell you that my career was kismet, that the moment I sprang onto the scene I rode a rocket to stardom with Katy Perry’s “Firework” playing in the background. That only happens in music videos.

In fact, my first on-air appearance was an unmitigated disaster.

It was 1980, and I was at CNN. I had stayed up all night practicing in front of the mirror with my hairbrush. It was very Jan Brady. My task was to preview the president’s schedule from the White House lawn. In the commercial break I could hear the two anchors talking about me. “Who is that?” One asked. “I don’t know but she looks like she’s 16.” I sounded even younger as a squeaked out, “President Reagan is beginning his day with a meeting in the Oval Office with his national security adviser, Zbigniew Brzezinski.

The president of CNN called the assignment desk and said he never wanted to see me on air again.

I was devastated.

As Linda Ellerbee once wrote, “Sometimes you’re the pigeon, and sometimes you’re the statue.” Sometimes being the statue provides you with a much needed dose of humility.

After what can only be described as a magical run on the Today show, I moved to CBS News in 2006. It seemed like every thing I did those first few months was put under a microscope. TV critics wrote about my clothes, my makeup, my hair and even the way I held my hands. Some said I lacked “gravitas,” which I’ve decided is Latin for “testicles.”

One common theme in my book is that setbacks are inevitable. Just ask any successful person. You will screw up … and you will be let down. It’s how you handle that adversity that will define who you are.

 

 

Other posts in the Collected Wisdom series:

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