May 7, 2010
Thank you, Dr. Carter for a flattering introduction, and thank all of you for taking a night out of your busy lives to celebrate the achievement of these graduates. I am honored to be your commencement speaker this evening and honored to be in the company of such dedicated scholars, those sitting behind me and those in the audience.
I begin my time this evening by sharing one of my favorite short stories written by Valerie Cox:
A woman was waiting at an airport one night,
With several long hours before her flight.
She hunted for a book in the airport shops.
Bought a bag of cookies and found a place to drop.
She was engrossed in her book but happened to see,
That the man sitting beside her, as bold as could be.
Grabbed a cookie or two from the bag in between,
Which she tried to ignore to avoid a scene.
So she munched the cookies and watched the clock,
As the gutsy cookie thief diminished her stock.
She was getting more irritated as the minutes ticked by,
Thinking, ‘If I wasn’t so nice, I would blacken his eye.’
With each cookie she took, he took one too,
When only one was left, she wondered what he would do.
With a smile on his face, and a nervous laugh,
He took the last cookie and broke it in half.
He offered her half, as he ate the other,
She snatched it from him and thought . . . oh, brother.
This guy has some nerve and he’s also rude,
Why he didn’t even show any gratitude!
She had never known when she had been so galled,
And sighed with relief when her flight was called.
She gathered her belongings and headed to the gate,
Refusing to look back at the thieving ingrate.
She boarded the plane, and sank in her seat,
Then she sought her book, which was almost complete.
As she reached in her baggage, she gasped with surprise,
There was her bag of cookies, in front of her eyes.
If mine are here, she moaned in despair,
The others were his, and he tried to share.
Too late to apologize, she realized with grief,
That she was the rude one, the ingrate, the thief.1
Things are not always what they seem. What we assume to be so, isn’t always so and our perspective of what we think is so influences our attitude and actions, just as that told in the story of the cookie thief.
Graduates, you are stepping into a new place tonight. A place where people have a perspective about college graduates and what they think about your abilities. You know it happens. We watch it in the movies as the girl struggles to choose between the rowdy rebel amidst the slurs he cast toward his “college boy” opponent, or the film industry’s portrayal of the uppity sorority sister who regards the not so popular girl as trite.
Most of us here have held a biased perspective at one time or another. But now, a portion of you graduates may experience, for the first time in your life, being perceived as “overqualified,” or told you no longer fit the profile sought by an employer. The competition is tough. But, don’t panic, there are great opportunities in your future and if you meet rejection, use that experience as a catalyst to propel you into a new direction and a career you never before considered. Hold on to the perspective that no matter what comes my way, I can achieve my goal! There are doubters in the world, but their doubt is the product of a weakened perspective. YOU CAN ACCOMPLISH YOUR GOAL once you define your goal and put effort toward that outcome.
Bear with me while I conduct a little exercise and share the following scenario. Using your own world view think about your life as a teenager. How much did you really know about the world? Probably not near what you thought you knew. Now, here is the scene. A fifteen-year old girl runs away from home to marry a nineteen-year old high school drop-out at the end of her sophomore year of high school because her parents think she is too young to date. At sixteen, no longer attending school, she has their first child. Her husband begins to drink excessively and shortly after the child is born, he loses his first of many jobs. Here she is, sixteen years old, in a dysfunctional relationship, has a child less than a year old, and no high school diploma. You know the odds of success . . . what’s your perspective? Hold on to it and we will revisit this scene later.
My intent this evening is to prepare everyone in this chapel, not only graduates, but all of you present to use perspective and passion as a means to make a difference in the world. Now, you may ask, how is it that Darlene is an expert on perspective? Good question because I am not an expert! However, I do understand perspective and I have achieved a great number of my life goals. I believe God loves me unconditionally. I have a job that fulfills my drive to do more for humanity, a husband that nurtures my spirit, parents and children who support me in every endeavor I attempt, from flying airplanes to learning golf. I’ve repelled out of buildings, have over twenty hours of flight training, driven my motorcycle from state to state and camped at the base of Mt. McKinley in a tent. I understand that “it cannot be done” is an attitude and not a fact. I admit it, I am a dreamer. I still hope for the day when I’ll sit at the wheel of a George Jetsen-like hover car or live in a country where people try to out-do one another in acts of kindness instead of ownership of possessions.
I understand perspective because I have lived my life with purposeful intent that one day, when I am gone from this earth, something I did will continue. I realize my children and my children’s children will live on and that in itself is a legacy. But I want more: something that I put my mind and education toward. I had often thought it would be a book or a training manual, but recently I realized it may be neither publication, but rather the academic programs I administer or a student I’ve influenced: Just as those who influenced me made an impact in my world and the world of those I have touched.
So, I guess I am somewhat of a perspective expert, because mine has led me successfully for 53 years and my regrets are few.
My perspective was influenced by many people. My parents, family and friends have had a great impact on my perspective. Dr. Kenneth Winters, while we waited for a meeting in Florida one afternoon, further reinforced the idea that I needed to complete my doctorate. He assured me I was capable of completing the degree.
Some of you may not realize that in addition to the conscious efforts of Dr. Kenneth Winters and Dr. Robert Clark, the Carver School of Social Work and Counseling is a part of Campbellsville University because of Bobby Himes’s enthusiasm and excitement. Mr. Himes was a long-time faculty member of Campbellsville University having retired nearly a decade ago. Some could even say social work came to Campbellsville as a result of Mr. Himes’s efforts. He never taught social work and he never taught me, at least not in a formal classroom setting. But while taking breaks in between classes and hanging out in the basement of Alumni Chapel, Mr. Himes influenced my Perspective. No matter the conditions of the weather, economy or state of the nation, he was always present with a “Great day out today . . . gonna be a great day!”
After I graduated from Campbellsville College, I worked in the social work field for numerous years. With the encouragement of a good friend and later colleague, I began to explore the idea of teaching. I was hired at a neighboring college in 1990, but even though I was at a different college, I never lost my friendship with Mr. Himes. We would occasionally eat lunch at a local restaurant and he never gave up on the idea that I would someday return to my roots at Campbellsville. It was due to his encouragement and arranging that I presented a benefit analysis, complete with handouts and pie-charts, to Dr. Winters and other administrators showing how an accredited social work program would benefit the community and the institution. I was promised employment and asked to move forward in developing the first phase of what you now know as the Carver School of Social Work & Counseling.
It is an honor I hold dear to consider Dr. Winters and Mr. Himes among my mentors and influential in my broadened perspective.
Tonight, I am hoping that you too will broaden your perspective, identify your passion, select what you want to change and realize your potential for improving the world. You may not invent the cure for cancer or confirm that aliens really do exist, but hopefully you can identify where your passion lies and start a plan to make a difference in the world.
So if you’re interested in having a job that fills you with joy or you want to be involved in improving the world give me your attention, I’ll share with you what I know and we’ll get started.
I use the word perspective as a noun . . . a thing we possess and all have. It’s tangible and real. The dictionary defines it as “a mental view or prospect.” It’s the part of our mind we use to sum up A PERSON WE MEET within the first ten seconds OF OUR ENCOUNTER. Perspective is what students wrestle with when an instructor asks a question that requires an answer influenced by our personal values or beliefs, such as “what do you think” or “do you believe dot dot dot questions.”
The second contributor to making an impact in the world is our passion. Passion is a feeling or an emotion that drives our actions and it may, at times, co-exist with determination. Passion spawns determination. It’s an emotion that evokes love, fear, or desire to finish the job. It may be simple like when you need a tissue and you begin searching in every pocket you have handy, and if that fails you head to the nearest bathroom to grab some toilet paper out of the first stall in sight. Or it may be more complex and dramatic such as a passion to start your own business, knowing that failure means losing all your possessions, not to mention your pride. Passion exists in different strengths, just as our attitude conjures various perspectives.
What evokes your emotions and stimulates your passion?
Regardless of our educational background WE ALL have an ability to make a difference in our world. Not just a little difference either, in Andy Andrews’ book The Noticer, he states “there’s no such thing as a tiny difference. While it is true that most people never see or understand the difference they make, or sometimes only imagine their actions having a tiny effect, every single action a person makes has far reaching consequences.”2 Making a change, whether big or small, regardless of how you view it, will impact others.
To begin this process, decide what it is that you want to change in your own life. Remember, your existence ripples into other areas of life (family, friends, and job). What do you want different in your life? Maybe you want nothing different . . . maybe you are 100% perfectly satisfied with your family time, job, recreation, finances, or spirit. For those of you who are at this point, hang in here with me and follow along until I get to my next point where your expertise will be most valuable. For those who do want a change in your life, but not even sure what it is you want, begin looking at where you focus your time and finances to see where your energy is spent. I once heard my pastor say, if you want to know what gets the focus of your attention, look at your checkbook. Where is your money going? Where is your financial focus . . . find it, and you’ll find where you spend a significant portion of your energy.
Next, look at your datebook. What does your calendar look like? How much time is spent with the family, in recreation, driving to and from appointments, or exercising and self-care. If you don’t know how you spend your time, buy a datebook and keep a record for a week. A’nt (that’s what I say to my dog to get her attention) . . . stay with me now, I know logging your activities is a hassle but, you only need to do this for a week . . . just one typical week. Write in it while you eat your lunch, dinner and just before bed. You don’t need to do anything different than you do in an average week of your life. But if you don’t know what you’re doing with your time, how can you determine what you want different.
At the end of the week, look over your log. How was your time spent? What gets the majority of your attention? Are you chatting on Facebook for hours at a time? How much time is spent at the job, doing chores, talking on the phone or email, in meetings, watching TV, running kids here and there, surfing the web OR was a significant amount of time spent in self care of your mind, body, spirit? Somehow I doubt the latter gets the attention we wish it did but regardless, the first step in changing your situations is to figure out what your situation is.
Now, take inventory of your perspective. Do you see yourself as a person who has it all? You’ve done everything in life you have wanted to do and your purpose has been fulfilled OR do you want changes? You want a stronger spiritual relationship with Christ, you want more time with your children or spouse, you want a job that fully utilizes your skills and satisfies your purpose, or maybe you want to create and influence your circle of friends, family or community so everyone has a happier and healthier life. Whatever it is you want to do with your life, check your perspective. So often we see ourselves as minuet in the grand scheme of the world. We tell ourselves, I am only one person, what difference can I make in the world.
Yet, if you think about it, all change comes from the actions of one person, in the beginning. If you use excuses like I’m too young to make a difference or, at the other extreme, I’m too old to make a difference, you need to Google people like Leanna Archer (founder of Hair, Inc. at age eight), Paul Nipkow (twenty-three-year-old German student who patented the first crude television), Cornel Harlan Sanders (who began franchising Kentucky Fried Chicken at the age of 65) or Ernest Coulter (founder of Big Brothers). If you’re old enough to interpret my words tonight and you remember nothing else, remember that you are never too young or too old to make a difference.
The most important point I can convey about perspective is gratitude. In the book I mentioned earlier, Vienna sausages and sardines were referred to as surf and turf. It’s not what you have, it’s how you look at what you have. If you look at your situation with gratitude, then abundance will work its way into your life. People love being around a grateful person. You’ll find you have more friends, more job opportunities, better recommendations from references and just plain enjoy life more if you look at life with a perspective of gratitude.
My final point is whatever you do in life, do it with passion. If you’re answering the phone, answer it with passion. Be joyful for the opportunity. Think about the benefit of a voice, a common language, the means we have to communicate (thank goodness we don’t have to use smoke signals). Now we have satellites that give us 4-G coverage.
If you’re transporting the kids, be grateful you don’t have to hitch-up the horses every time we run an errand, we have mechanical transportation, we have schools, homes and healthcare in our community. If you’re punching the time-clock, do it with a sense of gratitude that you have a place to work and use your skills. When I was in China several years ago a young lady told me she paid $100.00 to her employer for a job and worked ten-hour-days five days a week for two months (without pay) to have the opportunity for employment.
Begin to appreciate what you have and find a passion within yourself for doing what you are good at. Remember what I said earlier about passion being an emotion. Find what it is that touches your insides and makes you giddy, excited, and wanting more. If you cannot find the passion, perhaps it’s time you found something else to do with your life, an alternative. Try different things: are you a good cook, perhaps a restaurant; are you good with penny pinching and budgeting, perhaps a bookkeeper or accountant; do you have a way about you that makes people laugh when you tell stories, try a night of amateur comedy or volunteer at the public library to do story hour with children. If you don’t have the passion for what you’re doing, it’s possible you’ve lost your joy.
It’s not easy finding what works best in your life. Much of the time we are reacting to life’s events and not proactively charting a course for our future. But when we’re aware of our perspective and acting with passion, life reciprocates. We find gratitude, we find joy!
Perspective helps us chart that course. The fifteen-year old girl I spoke of earlier took a part-time job working in the evenings and with the help of her parents and in-laws went back to high school, and finished her junior and senior year, graduating a year late, but graduating. She made the choice to end her marriage and remarried a man who supported her emotionally and financially so she could go on with her education and ultimately earn two Master’s degrees and a doctorate. She now stands before you this evening conveying the commencement address for the first Master of Social Work graduates in the history of Campbellsville University.
Perspective is important. Had I not held the perspective that I can make a difference, this night may never have happened: something we will never know for sure? But just like the lady who ate the man’s cookies thinking they were her own, without perspective, we may lose an opportunity to show gratitude OR make the impact in our world that we were intended to make. Thank you for this opportunity to share my perspectives, and I wish you a good life and God’s blessings.
1Valerie Cox, “The Cookie Thief,” in Chicken Soup for the Soul by Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen (Deerfield Beach, Florida: Health Communications, 1996).
2Andy Andrews, The Noticer: Sometimes, All a Person Needs is a Little Perspective (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2009).