Chancellor’s Address to Spring 2015 Gordon State College Graduates
Remarks by University System Chancellor Henry "Hank" Huckaby
Gordon State College Spring 2015 Commencement,
May 8, 2015
Thank you, President Burns. It is a great pleasure to be back on the campus of Gordon State College again.
Walking across campus in the wake of the bagpiper took me back some 40 years to my days as the director of admissions here. And I was reminded of British historian J. M. Roberts, who wrote a massive thousand-page history of the world. When he finally finished it, he had drawn two conclusions: First, things change more quickly than you might expect. And second, things change more slowly than you might expect.
When I was here, this Institution already had a long history of amazing change. And it has continued to change in remarkable ways since then – growing from a little junior college to a four-year institution with more than 4,000 students, and adding wonderful new facilities like the new Student Activity and Recreation Center, which I helped to dedicate in March.
And yet, some things are still the same – Lambdin Hall was considered old even when I was here. And many great traditions continue to make this campus distinctive – like that special sense of a close community that has stayed with Gordon State, even as it has grown.
So it is an honor to be back and to feel a sense of kinship with all of you who love this place. And I am especially pleased to join you in celebrating commencement with this group of graduates and their families and friends.
I know from personal experience how exciting this day is for all of you – a time of great joy and happiness, and also a time of pure, unadulterated relief. I have been both a graduating student and the parent of a graduating student, and I think the relief is even greater for parents than for their sons and daughters.
Arriving at this day takes a significant investment of hard work and money from students and parents. And I’d like to think about that investment with you for a few minutes.
Of course, our most frequent use of the word “investment” is in reference to money. And the man widely recognized as the best investor of money over the past century is Warren Buffet, whose self-made personal fortune now stands at about $70 billion.
He started his investment career at the age of 11, when he bought a few shares of stock for $38 a share, using money he had earned selling chewing gum, Coca Colas, and magazines door-to-door. Not long afterward, his stock lost almost 30 percent of its value, dropping to $27 a share. But he patiently waited until the price of a share rose to $40, before he sold the stock for a modest profit of $2 a share.
Then he learned an important lesson in investing. Because after he sold his shares, he watched with growing dismay as the price of the stock continued to climb until it reached nearly $200 a share.
The importance of taking the long view is an instructive lesson for our graduates and their parents today. That search for your first job is sometimes tough and can sometimes take a while. And when you land your first job, it might not be quite what you imagined. It might be just a sort of place-holder that occupies your time and energy and pays the bills until an opportunity in your chosen field opens up.
But last year about this time, the Federal Reserve Board released a study indicating that over the course of their careers, college graduates earn an average of $830,000 more than those with just a high school diploma.
And just last month, the Georgetown University Center for Education and the Workforce published a report called “The Economy Goes to College.” It points out that while college graduates now make up about a third of the nation’s workforce, they earn more than half of its wages. Clearly, a college education is a good financial investment.
You graduates together with your parents are not the only ones who have made an investment in your college education. The citizens of Georgia have also invested their money in you. Through their taxes, they have paid about half of the actual cost of your college education.
And they are hoping for a return on their investment as well, because the college graduates of this state represent the future of Georgia. Even as low-skill, repetitive work has been taken over by automation, technology has been creating new jobs that require skilled workers. And over the past several decades, college-intensive businesses have gradually replaced manufacturing as the largest industry cluster in the U.S. economy.
Brains have surpassed brawn as the driver of economic prosperity. So, there are many opportunities for college graduates in Georgia. And even as you invest your time and energy in building your careers, you will be building our economy and helping our state and its communities to thrive.
But it is important to understand that “earning” by itself is not “living.” Your degree is more than just an item of currency to be traded on the job market. To view it solely as a means for personal gain is to devalue it, so that it is no longer “education” but merely “vocational training.”
The largest investment of your life – the grand challenge, if you will – should be to develop yourself as a person. Your family and Gordon State have given you a good start on that challenge, and today that effort is handed over to you. So take your courage in both hands and set out on the journey of “living” as well as “earning.”
Of course, your education does not end today. You will need to keep learning the whole way through your life. And we believe Gordon State has helped you prepare for that by teaching you how to learn.
What that means is that instead of merely memorizing, you have learned to think critically and creatively. Beyond merely completing assignments and taking tests, you have learned to solve problems. In addition to coming up with the right answers, you have learned to ask the right questions. Besides working hard, you have learned to work smart. You have learned to be flexible in adapting to change, but you have also have learned to anticipate and even, sometimes, provoke that change.
These skills are not only valued by employers, but they will shape and influence your lives more broadly in ways that you cannot yet begin to imagine. Beyond helping you earn a living, these skills can help you discern and invest in broader things that will give your life meaning.
Using your college education to serve a worthwhile cause that is greater than yourself is one of the most fulfilling investments you can make. Winston Churchill once said that “we make a living by what we get. We make a life by what we give.”
Some of you are familiar with Blake Mycoskie, who started forming new companies at the age of 19. They ranged from dry cleaning to bill boards, from driver’s education courses to marketing.
However, those investments were about “earning” rather than “living.” So, at the age of 29, he founded TOMS Shoes, based on what he calls the “one-for-one model.” Tom is not a person but a concept – it stands for “tomorrow.” For every pair of TOMS Shoes that is purchased, the company donates a pair of shoes to a needy child. Blake started TOMS Shoes in 2006, and by 2013 – seven years later – he had given away 10 million pairs of shoes around the world.
In 2011, he expanded TOMS to include sunglasses, and, following his “one-for-one model,” he began donating eyeglasses to needy people in Nepal, Tibet, and Cambodia. Last year, he expanded again, creating TOMS Roasting Company, which sources coffee from around the world and supplies clean water to those places in return.
Why does Blake Mycoskie do it? He says, “Giving may be the best investment you ever made.” Giving helps you grow as a person. Ralph Waldo Emerson noted that one of the most beautiful compensations of life is that when you sincerely help someone else, you are actually helping yourself.
There are many ways to give. Blake Mycoskie invites his customers to be participants in the gift of shoes, eyeglasses and water. The same year that Blake Mycoskie founded TOMS Shoes, Warren Buffett announced he would give away the bulk of his fortune in the largest charitable contribution in history. And he has been giving away large chunks of money every year since then.
Few of us are entrepreneurs, and even fewer are billionaires. But investing your time and talent in the act of giving can be as rewarding as giving money. In many cases, it is even more rewarding and does more to nurture you as a person.
So, as you leave this campus and use your college education to invest in building a life for yourself, don’t forget to also invest in making your community, your state, and the world a better place. The return on that investment will be one of the best parts of your life.
I look forward to following your careers and celebrating the achievements that lie ahead of you as you invest in building your careers and your lives. Congratulations!