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June 4, 2012 / compassioninpolitics

What lessons can be learned from graduation speeches?

Education = freedom:

The technology revolution that is re-shaping our understanding of the world, and the freedom that you enjoy to pursue your dreams, are complementary. They reinforce each other. The more we learn, the freer we will be. And the freer we are, the more we will learn.

Lux Libertas. Light and Liberty. That is the motto of your university. And that, I believe, will be the defining spirit of the 21st Century. The more light we shed on the nature of the world, the more we advance knowledge in science and technology, the more liberty we will spread.

Life Lessons from Basketball:

You don’t need a grand plan. Whatever plan you do have is probably going to change 100 times before you’re 30. And you don’t need to be an expert in something to try it. So what, then, do you need? I’m going to tell you, but really, all I’m going to do is remind you of a few things you’ve already learned here – just by watching Carolina basketball.

First – Make career decisions the same way you fill out your tournament brackets: Follow your heart, and go with your gut. Do what you love, find a way to get paid for it and if you ever have the luxury of multiple job offers, don’t make the decision based on salary alone.

When I was starting out, I turned down a job with a higher salary because I had a good feeling about the people at another firm. It was one of the best decisions I ever made. Your gut won’t always be right. Who knew NC State would make the Sweet 16? But you’ll sleep better at night if you go with it.

Second: Out-hustle the competition. When I started my first job out of college, I made sure I was the first one into the office every morning and the last one to leave. Not only did it save me the price of the Wall Street Journal – I grabbed the office copy; it allowed me to get to know the firm’s partners. Woody Allen once said that 80 percent of success is showing up. I think he got it half-right; 80 percent of success is showing up early and staying late.

Third: You occasionally have to throw some elbows. It’s true, it’s rough out there, no matter what profession you’re in. Of course, in most professions, you don’t break your wrist driving to the basket – thankfully.

The world is competitive. I’ve been in the business world and I’ve been in government, and people ask me all the time what the difference is. I always tell them: The business world is dog-eat-dog. And in government, it’s exactly the reverse. So don’t be afraid to assert yourself. Have confidence in your abilities. And don’t let the bastards get you down.

Fourth: Teamwork is everything. I could never have built my company without the three brilliant guys I started it with. And whatever success I’ve achieved as mayor results from surrounding myself with the most talented people I could find.

The innovations that are coming out of the Research Triangle Park and Silicon Valley and New York City are built on teamwork. The person who works the hardest, and works with others the best – who says ‘we’ and ‘us,’ not ‘I’ and ‘me’ – is the person who wins.

Fifth: Don’t be afraid to shoot the long ball. Take the risk. Life is too short to spend your time avoiding failure. If I had worried about failure – or listened to those who do – I would never have started my company, and never run for mayor. I can’t imagine my life if I hadn’t taken those risks. Not every risk will work out, but that’s ok. Failure is the world’s best teacher.

Sixth: Never stop studying what the competition is doing – and never stop learning. Education is a lifetime journey. When you leave these walls, keep asking questions. Keep acquiring knowledge. Keep seeking truth.

And don’t let party labels blind you. No party has a monopoly on truth, or God on its side. And I should know: I was a Democrat before I was a Republican before I became an independent – and I never changed my principles. I have enormous respect for your former President, and my friend, Erskine Bowles, because he puts pragmatism ahead of partisanship. I hope all of you will do that too. Think for yourself – and decide for yourself, even if it’s not popular, or if it runs counter to the party line. If everyone in Washington did that, our country would be a whole lot better off.

Now, the seventh and final piece of advice I have is: In the game of life, when the final buzzer sounds, the only stat you carry with you is the number of assists you made. So help other people put some points on the board. Or as Dickie V might say: don’t be slow to dish the rock.

There’s nothing more rewarding than making a difference in the lives of others. I’ve learned that first hand, both through philanthropy and public service. Give what you can – your time, your talents, your money. And I promise you, you’ll never regret it.

Now, I know you remembered every word of that, but just in case, here’s a summary of the seven, in no particular order: Teamwork is everything. Assist others. Risks are necessary. Hmmmm, the first three letters of those words are T-A-R – I wonder where this is going. Hustle, always. Elbows occasionally have to be used. Education is a lifelong journey. Love what you do. And if you put that list together, it of course spells Tar – Heel.


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