Fall 2018 Commencement Address




Welcome and congratulations, Class of 2018. And welcome to your family and friends.

In the late 1980s, I moved to Washington, D.C., and the Redskins won the Super Bowl.

In the ’90s, I moved to New Orleans and the Saints in fairly short order won the Super Bowl – and they have only won one.

About two-and-a-half years ago, I moved to Philadelphia and the Eagles win the Super Bowl – and they have never won before.

And I just moved to Cleveland.

I told this story when I first arrived to the editor of The Plain Dealer, who listened very intently, never cracked a smile, looked straight at me and said, “If the Browns win four games, you are the mayor!”

Well, the Browns have won six. When do I get keys to City Hall?

Today we celebrate you, students who are achieving your dreams and goals by earning your college degree – undergraduate, graduate or doctoral.

It is a day of promise and potential; a day in which we reflect on where we have been and where we are going. Most of all, it is a day to be very proud and to celebrate your accomplishments. Congratulations to you all.

Commencements are great days for us up here on the stage – and for our faculty and staff out there – as we get to see the fruits of our labor. It is a particularly meaningful moment for me, as it is the first time I can share in this special day. It is wonderful to look out and see more than 1,000 graduates and thousands more of your families, friends and supporters filling the Wolstein Center.

I remember attending graduation ceremonies for my bachelor, master and law degrees. But I do not recall anything specific about the speakers, except that they talked forever. I will not do that here today. What I will do in the next few minutes is tell you a little bit about how I got here, in the hope that you will find some connection that will motivate you, something that will keep you driving toward your respective goals.

I grew up in the small town of Wantagh, on Long Island, New York. Dad worked the night shift as a weatherman for the National Weather Service, and was a substitute high school teacher during the days he was called in. Once the four kids got older, Mom, with only a high school education, built a business selling our old clothes – and the neighbors’ kids clothes – in the basement of our house. She did well enough to open a neighborhood store. All of us kids helped with her business and learned about hard work very early in life. As many of you have.

When I started thinking about college, I knew I had to find a way to pay for it. Like many of you. For me, it was the Navy ROTC program. I owed the Navy four years after graduation; I served almost 11. Why? Because every assignment was more and more interesting and exciting.

When the Navy sent me to Washington, D.C., I decided to go back to school to get an M.B.A. and a law degree – both at night, while I worked full-time in the Pentagon. Took me six years. Like many of you.

When I left the military, I became a public defender. You couldn’t pick two more different careers – or jobs – than being a military officer and representing indigent clients. Both experiences help shape who I am today.

After practicing law for a few years, I started teaching criminal justice courses at Florida International University in Miami. One day, I received a call from the dean of the school. I have to confess, the only dean I knew at that point was Dean Wormer from “Animal House.” Nonetheless, we went to lunch and he said he needed someone who understood something about management, as he was putting a couple of programs together in a new college. That dean was Ron Berkman, our last president at CSU.

I became an assistant dean shortly thereafter and began my near-20-year journey through higher education. I have been an assistant dean, associate dean, associate vice president of research, a director of an environmental research center, an associate provost, a vice provost, a chief financial officer, chief operating officer (two times each) and a chief administrative officer.

Why am I telling you this? Because a dream doesn’t always hinge on one penultimate goal. I never set out to do all of these things. You can take many paths to find your calling. It is ok to let the journey itself help forge the path. The many twists and turns along the road can provide the spice, the variety and sense of purpose that make life enjoyable. Your current and future mentors, colleagues, family and friends will help guide you.

And yes, there will be obstacles and failures along the way – believe me, I have had many stumbles – but resilience and perseverance are the secret sauce that will pull you through and build the stairway to that next great thing you will do. It is the sum total of these experiences I just shared – not one or two stops, but the path itself – that helped me get here before you today.

Your journey is just beginning!

Now I would like to recognize some of you who have had an incredible journey just to get here today. As part of our ceremony this afternoon, we will be awarding one very special honorary degree – more on this in a few minutes.

Some of you are veterans, like Christian Pallens. Chris is an Air Force veteran who transferred to CSU with 86 credit hours from his military service. He is graduating with a bachelor’s degree in sociology after only two years here, and has been admitted to our graduate program in information systems. He has a 3.9 GPA, and the lowest grade he has earned is an A-.

Chris, and all veterans who are graduating today, please stand and be recognized.

Some of you have overcome serious obstacles, like Carol Range. Carol is a nontraditional student with two young sons. Facing many significant hardships outside of the classroom, Carol had to withdraw from her classes in the spring of 2017, but that didn’t stop her. She returned to CSU in the fall of 2017 and is graduating today with a bachelor of science degree in health sciences and a 3.4 GPA. Carol, please stand and be recognized.

Some of you postponed college until your families were grown, like Michael Williams. Mike will be 69 years old in March. He earned an associate’s degree from Tri-C in 1983 and then attended CSU for just one semester. He worked in a factory for 30 years. At the urging of his daughter, a two-time CSU alum, he came back and is graduating with a bachelor’s degree in social work and a 3.4 GPA. Mike, please stand and be recognized.

Now I would like to salute all our students graduating with over a 4.0 GPA. Please stand and be recognized.

All of you have arrived here through hard work and persistence. You have been guided along the way by our distinguished faculty. Please join me in thanking our faculty for their dedication, talent and excellence in the classroom, and in their research and scholarly activities. Faculty, please stand.

I would also like to acknowledge our staff members who make this University run and are dedicated to student success. Many are here today, volunteering their time to assist with these Commencement exercises. Let us applaud our staff.

Graduates, now reflect on your own inner circle of supporters – parents, grandparents, spouses, children, brothers, sisters, friends – those who helped out by providing emotional support, maybe driving you to class, or babysitting, or providing a place to live, or helping with – dare I say – cold, hard cash ?

Graduates, please stand and wave and clap for those important people in your lives.

This journey will soon culminate as you walk across the stage and accept your diploma. The journey has involved sacrifice – lots of it.

Trust me: All the hard work, the hours spent in classrooms, labs, and the library, the all-nighters spent studying – the investment you have made in yourself and in your future – will pay both personal and professional dividends.

College graduates earn $1 million more over their lifetimes than high school graduates. (Now don’t go spending it all tonight – you haven’t earned it yet!)

One thing I have learned about our city and CSU is that you are passionate about your love for both. I have seen up close how hard many in our city are working to keep you here with more higher-paying jobs and career opportunities. Many of you, I know, will stay here, build your career here and be part of the continuing renaissance of Cleveland and Northeast Ohio.

Your CSU degree already has great value. Hiring managers tell us time and time again that CSU graduates are their first choice because you bring real-world experience from a university where the city serves as a learning laboratory. Many of you had internships and paid co-ops with local employers, something we will be expanding in the coming years here at CSU. The city is already our campus and our classroom, as you well know.

With your diploma, you join a family of more than 126,000 CSU alumni who are making a difference in our city, throughout our region, across the country and around the world.

Our Viking network is one of CSU’s greatest assets, and the foundation upon which this University will continue to grow and thrive.

I urge you to stay connected with us – through campus visits, taking part in Alumni Association activities and encouraging your family and friends to attend CSU. And after you’ve had some time to relax, perhaps more classes or additional degrees.

I also strongly urge you to savor your accomplishment and have some fun.

Maybe you want to travel before you start your career. Do it.

Maybe you want to climb mountains or backpack across China or live in the Amazon, studying rainforests. Do it.

Maybe you want to join Teach for America, be a Big Brother or Big Sister, serve meals in a shelter or even share a few dollars with those in need. Every little thing matters. Do it.

Maybe you simply want to strengthen your relationships with friends and family. Or just get more rest. Do it.

Now is the time to take a deep breath and follow your star.

Don’t be afraid to take a chance. Through failure, we learn and grow.

If you fail, you will pick yourself up, dust yourself off and start all over again.

Your CSU journey proves you are determined to succeed. Never lose that drive, grittiness and ambition. Never give up.

Let your voice be heard as you participate in thoughtful and constructive dialogue about vital issues, dialogue that has never been more necessary.

Let your talents shine and illuminate the brighter future we dare to envision.

Today’s Commencement represents the beginning of your journey, not the end.

CSU has given you the tools to succeed. So go out there, be the best you can be and do Cleveland State proud. I know you will.

So when you think back on your graduation speaker, who probably talked too much, I am going to make it simple for you: only three things to remember, three things that helped me get to where I am today, standing here in front of you:

1. Be a lifelong learner – question everything.

2. Remember that every day is a new day – leave the past behind.

3. And always remember where you came from.

I am so proud to call you CSU graduates! Go Vikings! Congratulations!