I had the pleasure of connecting with some incredible people from the UWGB Admissions Team. We discussed communication best practices, played some games to help drive the concepts home, and had some amazing discussions. If you or your children are looking to enroll in a school that is dedicated to the success of their students, look no further than UW- Green Bay, Marinette, Sheboygan, and Manitowoc <3
Good evening. Esteemed guests. Faculty. Parents. Family. Friends. And graduates.
Before I begin my PEP Talk tonight, I want you to know this might be a little different than other commencement keynotes you may have seen or heard before. There’s going to be a little bit of audience participation and a little bit of soul searching… but, it’s gonna be good.
I trust that our graduates will have no problem following my lead tonight because I gave them a test run a couple of weeks ago.
Ya… I got a chance to connect with them and ask a few questions about their experiences here at UWGB-Marinette and they were awesome in sharing out.
It was interesting to hear about how their classmates and instructors felt like family, how the smaller classroom sizes and affordable tuition made it a comfortable transition for them.
But many still felt that it was overwhelming at first. When I asked them to elaborate, Woody, a graduate candidate, raised his hand and replied by asking, “How do you eat a whale?”
Yup, you guessed it, “One bite at a time.”
I got a chance to speak with Woody afterward and he told me that he was in the Army for almost 12 years, but decided to come back to school and invest in a new career so he could be here for his family. Wood… thanks for staying after to share some of your story with me.
I also met Seong-Hyeon after I heard about a “spicy noodle” group he started here on campus. His passion and excitement for learning and just “trying new things” was contagious. Hey Noodle… Good luck at UW-Stout man.
So, ya… I met with many of them and asked them a few questions to help me prepare my keynote tonight. I just didn’t want to stand up here and talk at you… sharing my own folksy kinda’ wisdom.
Instead, I wanted to share a message that would speak to them… but also deliver a message that would speak to those of you who are here to support them… and I wanted to use their words to do so. I’ll get to that in a little bit.
Having said that, let’s get started.
I want to share a quote I read recently by David Viscott, a popular psychiatrist back in the 1980s and ’90s. Here’s what he said:
The purpose of life is to discover our gifts.
The work of life is to develop our gifts.
The meaning of life is to give our gifts away.
This quote echoes many of the same sentiments I’ve learned elsewhere… from Think & Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill, Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl, to the Secret by Rhonda Byrne and even Jesus’ Great Commandment & Great Commission found in scripture.
Tonight, I want to unpack this quote and hopefully, we’ll all find some wisdom we can take home with us.
Let’s start with the first line, “The purpose of life is to discover our gifts.”
In order to understand this line, we need to understand what a gift is.
So, let’s start by closing our eyes for a moment… and I want you to consider your gifts. These are your talents, your passions, and your interests. These are things you take some pride in knowing how to do well or you simply know a lot about.
Okay… are you thinking about your gifts?
Now, when I say, “turn and talk” I want you to turn to the person next to you and share what your gifts are.
Now, here’s a tip: If you’re unsure of what your gifts are, just quickly be the first person to ask the other what their gifts are… and they’ll have to go first. Seriously… it’s okay. This is a safe place.
Okay, ready, set… Turn and talk.
Now, I know that for some… that was a really uncomfortable request. People don’t typically ask me about my gifts and I don’t usually beat my chest talking about my gifts either.
Still, for some, it was awkward for an entirely different reason… ‘cause, you know… what if I don’t have any gifts?
I remember a story where we did this activity in a high school setting… and one student shared that they didn’t think they had any gifts. What happened next was amazing because as soon as he said that, those who knew him poured out all of the gifts they could easily recognize he had, including being a peacemaker. I saw this student recently and he told me how meaningful that moment was for him… and now, he sees himself as a peacemaker in all sorts of situations.
Okay, so that’s one way to look at gifts… as talents, passions, and interests. Now let’s explore another dimension of this word, gift.
Go ahead and close your eyes again. This time, I want you to think of someone in your life that has poured into you… someone who has helped you become the person you are today. It could be someone from your past, it could be someone from your present. Somewhere, there’s a memory of that person pouring into you.
Now, with that person’s name in your head, I want you to think of a word that describes them, why you thought of them, and what makes them so special. Put another way, what did they give you that others didn’t?
Here, words like love, support, trust, loyalty, wisdom, etc. come to mind. Whatever that word is for you… I want you to reflect on it for a moment. Again, think back and find a word that captures what they’ve given you.
Got your word?
Excellent… because it’s time for another “Turn and Talk”. Go ahead and turn to your neighbor and share your word.
Good stuff, right?
These types of gifts are special because they have been given to us by those who care about us.
Alright, let’s try one more dimension of this word, gift. This time, I want you to think of all the things you are grateful for… your health, your youth (or your experience) your possessions, your relationships, etc.
I also want you to think of the things we sometimes take for granted. From that breath we just took… to the next breath, we’re gonna’ take. For some, all around the world, they are in the throws of taking their last breaths.
So here’s another audience participation invitation.
I want you to take in a nice deep breath. Breath in everything that is good about this celebration tonight… now exhale all of the worries you had wondering if this day would ever come. Try it one more time… and this time, I want you to inhale all the things you have to be thankful for… and exhale all the things that try to rob you of those things… let go of the anxiety, the stress, the frustration… let go of the fear of the unknown.
So, as far as our purpose in life goes, maybe it’s just about discovering how many gifts we have already been blessed with. All the things we’re good at… all the things others have given us… all the things we are thankful for.
Suffice it to say, there are gifts all around us. The real question is… are our eyes and ears, hearts and minds open to receive them as the gifts that they are?
Now, let’s move onto the second part of that quote… “The work of life is to develop our gifts.”
Now, with a better understanding of the many gifts we have been given, let’s talk about how to develop them.
Clearly, our graduates understand how to develop their gifts… they’ve invested years of schooling pursuing them. They followed their interests and their passions in the hopes that someday they might share what they’ve learned in a rewarding career.
Not to be outdone, one could argue that our faculty members are even more astute at developing gifts… because not only have they developed their own, they’re jobs are to teach others how to develop their gifts.
But when it comes to mastering this principle of developing one’s gifts… parents stand alone.
Graduates, allow me to put it plainly.
You are a gift to your parents.
You are the work of their lives.
You are the gift a parent gives to the world.
And tonight is a celebration of that.
Now, although they have been working hard for many years in an effort to help you, guide you, develop you, and love you the best way they know how… their work is not finished.
And neither is yours.
Whether you are continuing your education or entering the workforce, there’s lots of work ahead of you… and let’s be honest, work can be stressful.
So, here’s a tip on how to deal with that stress as you work thru life developing your gifts.
First, understand that there are two types of stress. There’s eustress, which is good stress, and then there’s distress, which is bad stress.
With that understanding, imagine you’re over at Planet Fitness… you’re working on your bench press and you’re looking good… right? You’ve got a bunch of plates on the bar (doesn’t matter if they’re the 45 lb plates or the 2.5 pounders)… but anyway, you’ve got this. One. Two. Three. This is eustress… good stress… you know… because it’s good for you.
But what happens when you get to reps Eight. Nine….. And Ten. Your eustress just turned to distress. Your arms are heavy, your breathing is labored, and fatigue set in fast. This is when you need a spotter… an accountability person. Someone who sees you’re in trouble and is there to help at a moment’s notice.
Actually, the truth is this… you need a spotter from the very beginning. During the first few reps, they’re there to cheer you on… but on the last few reps, they’re there to keep you alive.
They’ll help you see your blind spots, continue to provide you with emotional fuel, they’ll be there to celebrate your successes and they’ll be there to help you get back up when you get knocked down.
In short, recognize the gift of those who are here to support you. They are your spotters. Follow their example and become a spotter for someone else. You’ll quickly realize, it’s one of the greatest gifts worth developing.
Finally, let’s explore… “The meaning of life is to give our gifts away.”
This is actually my favorite part of tonight’s keynote because it’s been my approach to life for the past 10 years. It is simply this… Share Truth, Love Others and Offer Hope. For me, it’s the foundation for any kind of work a person can go into.
No matter whether we’re talking about becoming a doctor, a lawyer, a teacher, an engineer, an Uber driver or a cashier. Share your truth… good, bad, and ugly. Just be sure to do it in a loving way so that it offers people hope. Never do one at the expense of the other.
So, allow me to restate that.
Sharing Truth is really about being fully present, honest about who you are… whole. When we learn to recognize that our strengths outweigh our weaknesses, it becomes easier to share our truths without fearing the judgment of others.
Loving Others is like giving your gifts away… your good gifts. Gifts like your trust, your patience, and your forgiveness. These are some of the most beautiful gifts you can give a person.
And Offering Hope is really just a byproduct of the first two. But when we are intentional about reminding others that their strengths outweigh their weaknesses too… and that you love them, trust them, will be patient with them and forgive them… because that’s what hope looks like.
So remember the purpose of life is to give your gifts away… so share your truth, love others, and offer hope.
Now, before I go, I have one more thing I want to share with you.
I told you I had a message for you and I wanted to use their words.
Here’s what I meant by that:
When I met with our graduates, I asked them one question in particular… and I set it up like this:
First, I handed each graduate an index card and then I said,
“Graduates, I want you to think back over the time you’ve spent here at UWGB-Marinette, and I want you to consider a moment when someone poured into you and taught you something about yourself. I want you to think of a time when someone… maybe a parent or family member… an instructor or faculty member… or a classmate or friend… invested in you. At that moment, you learned a valuable lesson about the person you are becoming.”
Then I asked them to think of a word that summed up what they learned from that “someone” who poured into them.
NOTE: If you’re in this room tonight, chances are, you were the person they were thinking of. Here are the words they used, to sum up, what they learned from you over the course of their time enrolled here at UWGB-Marinette:
Folks, those words are gifts you’ve given to these graduates.
Graduates… those gifts I just read off… the most effective way to develop them is to follow in the footsteps of those who taught them to you in the first place… because the second you do, their meaning and power multiply exponentially.
So that’s it.
The purpose of life is to discover our gifts.
The work of life is to develop our gifts.
The meaning of life is to give our gifts away.
I’d like to say, “Thank you” to the faculty and staff for inviting me to share a few words at tonight’s commencement celebration.
I’d like to say, “well done” to the parents of our graduates… you do great work.
And most importantly, I’d like to congratulate the 2019 Class of UWGB-Marinette…
“May you recognize that you have been blessed with many gifts… that developing those gifts is always better with a spotter… and the best way to give those gifts away is to simply share your truth, love others, and offer hope.“
Good night everyone.