Oh, The Places You’ll Go!

This past Sunday, I was honored for the second time to serve as the keynote speaker at the hooding ceremony for the graduates of Seton Hall University’s Master of Arts in Strategic Communication and Leadership (MASCL) program.   I’ve posted my remarks to showcase the quality of the students who graduate from MASCL and to illustrate the value of the online learning team experience (peer-to-peer learning).  Congratulations to Learning Team (LT) 30!

Good afternoon everyone!  I see some smiling faces in the front row.  I would imagine you’re smiling out of either joy, exhaustion, or a little bit of both.   (After 18 months and about 1,500 hours of hard work, it’s certainly understandable).

I also see a number of delighted family members and friends (many of whom I enjoyed the pleasure of meeting last night) who will be extremely grateful to have you back in their lives full-time. 

As our MASCL graduates have learned during this program, life is a team sport.  None of us does it alone. So congratulations to everyone in this room, as well as to those who couldn’t join us here today, for all you’ve done to make this celebration possible.

In the coming months, you’ll receive your diploma, and you’ll add your newfound master’s credential to every resume, job application, LinkedIn profile, and personal bio you update for the rest of your life.  

So as you prepare to APPREHEND that next great opportunity, whether it’s in your current organization or somewhere else entirely, let me spend a few minutes to make the case for why there’s not an organization on the planet that wouldn’t benefit from your leadership.

If you’ve ever spent any time in the mountains, you know that on a clear night at high altitude, away from all the ambient light from the city, you’ll see more stars in the sky than you ever imagined existed.   The most amazing part is the longer you look, the more stars you see.

It’s a fitting metaphor for my experience with you all this weekend.  The more the time I spent with you – talking to you and getting to know you, the more clearly your integrity, determination, and intellect came into full view.  Anyone worth his salt will see you for more than just what you’ve done or what you know, they’ll see you for WHO YOU’VE BECOME.     

Now in fairness, we at Seton Hall can hardly take all the credit for that.  You knew when you were looking at master’s programs that there are much easier ways to obtain a master’s degree than through MASCL.  You didn’t just accept the challenge; you sought it out.  That alone says a great deal about who you were when you began this journey. And now that you’ve completed the program, think about just how far you’ve come between orientation residency and this weekend – how much more confident you are today than when you first started back in March of 2011.   

Speaking of confidence, and this is not exactly a scholarly reference, but every time I work with students at final residency and attend graduation, I can’t help but think of the Scarecrow in the Wizard of Oz.  Right?   Remember, early in the movie, watching Ray Bolger’s character skip through the forest singing, “If I only had a brain.”

Well, Scarecrow obviously had a brain all along, but his journey through Oz and his receiving a diploma gave him a confidence he never had.

And that’s not a small thing.

Half the battle of making a difference in this world is having the self-confidence to do it and possessing the ability to inspire that confidence in others.  You all have that now.  And when you leave here today, people will see what you see when you look in the mirror – a person with the will and the ability to make a difference.

Of course Scarecrow’s journey not only served to inform how he saw himself, but how he viewed the world.   The same is true of your MASCL experience:

  • When you meet new people, you don’t judge them on their differences; you celebrate what makes them special.
  • You don’t lead others to help YOU succeed; you provide resources and guidance to help THEM succeed.
  • You don’t look at a problem and address the symptoms at the expense of dealing with the root cause.
  • And most of all, you understand how to make others around you better through the sheer power of your example.

Interestingly enough, your lens on life is more rare than you realize.   Now the reason it’s harder to see it this weekend is because you’re among like-minded colleagues.   It’s not much different than when I ran marathons years ago, and I know there are several of you graduates who have shared this experience.   You’re at the race and everyone around you are all capable of running 26 miles.  Go back home of course, and that’s hardly the case.  In the same manner, not everyone shares your capacity for leadership or your skills in communication.  

By applying your countless learnings to everything you do for the rest of your personal and professional lives, you’ll most certainly stand out.   And trust me when I say that everywhere you go and every person you touch, will be all the better for it.  

Leadership, as lofty as the term may be, doesn’t always have to be about changing the world; most often, it’s about changing ONE PERSON’S WORLD for the better.  

Now to underscore the point, consider that in less than two months, the polls will open all across America and people will stand in line to cast their vote for whom they believe should lead our nation for the next four years.   Tens of thousands of volunteer hours and hundreds of millions of dollars will have been invested to elect a president, who while arguably is the most powerful leader in the world, will actually have less of an impact on the daily lives of most of us here today than the more unheralded leaders who touch our lives each and every day – the ones who teach our children, champion causes in our communities, or run businesses in our local cities and towns.  If there’s anyone who understands the power of this brand of leadership, it’s you.

Finally, since you’re so clearly equipped with the character, the confidence and the knowledge to make a difference in any environment, let me turn our attention from the mountains to the beach and share what should be a familiar story for our graduates – the story of the old man and the starfish:

One day there was an old man standing on the beach among thousands of starfish that had been stranded by the outgoing tide.  When the old man picked up one of the starfish and threw it back into the ocean, an onlooker yelled, “What difference will THAT make old man?  It’s just ONE starfish.”  The old man replied, “It made a difference for THAT starfish!”

So what now? 

For starters, enjoy your day.  Bask in the glow of your accomplishment.  You, your family and your friends have earned that.

But be sure to continue what you’ve started.  Ask yourself what you will do with your new degree, your newfound confidence, and the many lessons you’ve learned during this program.   How will you approach your work and your life differently tomorrow?  Whose world will you influence and inspire next?

On behalf of all of us at Seton Hall University, I invite you to join the old man on the beach, pick up a starfish, and go out there and make a difference.

*And oh, the places you’ll go!  Congratulations!   

*At their graduation dinner on Saturday evening, the LT performed a skit that included this familiar Dr. Suess theme.  It was brilliant!

Category: Leadership

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Avatar About the Author: Leo Bottary

Leo J. Bottary is an adjunct professor for two of Seton Hall University's graduate level programs in strategic communication and leadership.  Leo has enjoyed a 25-year career counseling leaders in the areas of strategic comm…

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  1. Leo!!!
    Thanks for sharing your MASCL ceremony speech! Wish I could have been there to share in the joy of LT30.
    I heard you didn’t have your coin with you when Diane challenged you! LOL
    Joey Iske

    • I bring it with me to every residency, but I left it in my office and didn’t have time to stop back in before I caught my plane! Of course, that would be the one time I was asked for it!

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