Amy Leonard's Commencement Address
Thoughts on graduation
Thank you President Fuller.
Good morning faculty, alumni, parents, family, friends and most importantly, Class of 2012.
I'm honored to be here and to have the opportunity to address you this morning.
When I was asked to speak today I started looking for inspiration by watching YouTube videos of commencement speeches that had been given by noted and respected business leaders, actors, musicians and literary figures.
There was one particular speech that inspired me greatly. It was a speech given at the University of Pennsylvania in 2004 and I kept trying to find a way to work the opening line into my speech this morning but it didn't quite work. So I've decided, what the heck, let's just do it anyway so here goes:
My name is Bono and I'm a rock star.
Ok so maybe next year. This year you're stuck with me.
Twenty-six years ago I was sitting in your seat. I never dreamed that one day I would be standing up here, searching for the words that will inspire all of you to greatness.
Without hesitation or having met any of you I know that you are much more technologically savvy than I am, and can probably find a job right here in the state by the end of the weekend which is something that is not true for many other graduates in this country, not just today but in the past five years.
When I was your age things were a bit different. I'm making some assumptions about your age presuming most of you are about twenty-five years younger than me however I do know that there are also those graduating that are what we use to call the "older than average" students.
I had first hand experience with the OTA's because my mother was attending MSU at the same time I was. While this might sound awkward to many of you, it was actually quite beneficial. For one thing I was guaranteed a free lunch at least once a week when we met up in the student center with my sister for Taco Tuesday. Secondly she had taken very detailed notes in Floyd Fairweather's Humanities class and was kind enough to share them with me although I don't think it helped my grades at all.
The truth is when I was sitting in my cap and gown I was still trying to figure out where I was going, not just for the rest of my life but the rest of my summer. I wasn't afraid, I was just uncertain.
But I knew I'd figure it out. I had parents and family that believed in me, faculty that had guided and pushed me, and friends encouraging me to feed the one thing that I could not ignore.
That was a curiosity that kept me awake at night; nagging at me asking "Is there more? What is out there?"
I listened to that voice and headed to New York just to see what was east of Minneapolis. I was only going to be gone for a year, or so I promised. That was twenty-six years ago.
I tried my hand at grad school for a year where I was very pleased that my MSU education allowed me to hold my own with students from all over the globe in economics and management classes. It was through this exchange of ideas and stories in the classroom that I realized how much there was that I didn't know; after all going to school makes you educated but it does not necessarily make you smart. My curiosity again pushed me to keep looking for the thing I was passionate about.
For more than 20 years I've been heading up Sourcing organizations in the apparel industry which has given me the opportunity to travel all over the world. Through growth opportunities in my early career I discovered that I wanted to understand and dissect how things were made, how did all the parts come together through a process and end up on a shelf. It's called a supply chain and every product has one.
There was a lot I had to learn about the world and how it works just to do the day-to-day work. I didn't know where Lesotho was on the map or have any idea that when I found myself in India that I had to know about it's relationship with Pakistan.
India and Pakistan are kind of like North and South Dakota. They may seem like the same place to an outsider but there's a huge difference and it has nothing to do with who has the better hockey team.
I consider myself lucky to have interesting and exciting work that I love
And while today I manage large numbers of people, balance multi-million dollar budgets and strive to keep the globe clothed in Levi's jeans it is through the experiences I have while traveling and working with the global cultures from Pakistan to Haiti and from China to Nicaragua that I have found the most fulfilling aspects of my work.
In many countries I visit it is not unusual for communities to have experienced a major natural disaster; floods, not unlike what Minot experienced last June, wash out roads, and droughts wipe out entire cotton crops.
It is through my contact with individuals in these communities - many of who my only means of communicating is with a smile, a hug or a handshake - that I began to understand the importance of community.
You can define community in many ways. It is, in fact typically a place where you are comfortable, feel welcome and are among those that know you or have common interests. Family, friends, co-workers, neighbors. These are the people you turn to in time of need quite readily but also those that will celebrate and be happy for you when you are happy.
But a community can mean many things to any number of people. How individuals contribute and what they ask of their community members also varies widely.
The challenge for you as you leave the safety of the community you shared at Minot State is not to just to become a part of another community but to be a community builder. Many of you are about to go into unfamiliar territory and there is no better way to integrate then to lead community efforts. There is an African proverb that says, "If you want to go quickly, go alone. If you want to go far, go with others".
And those others are not only the individuals that you are comfortable with or share common interests. The faces do not look the same as the community you know today. These are individuals that need the support of a community but may not have one. They may be facing a new challenge and are looking for someone to champion a cause. Look around you and see who does not have a seat at the table and help them find one so their voice may be heard.
Everyone can learn from another's adversities and experiences if we allow ourselves to be exposed to them and express empathy. Do not shy away from the opportunity to be the person who can make an impact on someone else's life. It is the greatest thing you can do for yourself and for another individual.
And so my best advice and only request of you today is this.
Be curious enough to stretch the boundaries beyond the prerequisite that are asked of every individual of respecting others for differences in race, creed and color.
Seek out people who come from a different economic or educational background. Don't judge them by their sexual orientation, how they dress, the car that they drive or what they eat. . In fact the best way to start building your new community is to share a meal with someone who is not like you; especially someone who has less than you.
Be curious enough to be interested in someone you know nothing about. The people you need to talk to are the ones that you are most uncomfortable with. The ones you're comfortable with already know what you're about, Life begins at the end of your comfort zone and you need to get comfortable with being uncomfortable.
And when I say talk, I mean talk. . Not "connecting" or communicating through a device but by sitting across from one another, looking them square in the eye and saying "tell me more".
Be curious not in a snoopy, gossip, "what is my neighbor doing now sort of way". Rather in a "tell me your personal story" way. As the great Yogi Berra once said, "You can learn a lot by listening".
Be curious enough to build a community. You are leaving the community of Minot State, one that no doubt has left you with at least a handful of close friends that you'll remain in touch with for years to come.
It may also include a few teachers, coaches or facilities personnel that have made a difference in your life and you may not even know that they did until you leave. It's now your turn to make a difference in someone else's life.
Be curious enough to figure out how to leave the world better than you found it. We have a moral obligation to take care of the planet. We're not doing a very good job at it and we cannot afford to ignore how each one of us can make a difference in contributing to making our environments healthier, cleaner and sustainable. This is an easy, easy way to support any community, anywhere in the world starting in your own home.
Be curious enough to find your passion. Figure out what makes you alive and not just because it pays well. Always stay true to yourself. Act with integrity and insure you are always minding your personal brand. Ask yourself at the end of each day "what did I do to earn my job today". If you can't answer that honestly than maybe you're still looking for that passion.
Lastly, take time to daydream. Put down your phone, your laptop, your remote control and let your current status just be unknown. You still have a lot to learn and daydreaming is a great place to start figuring out what you haven't discovered yet.
And just maybe, hopefully, you'll dream big.
Class of 2012...be curious. Please, be curious.