01 May 2002

Honors Convocation Speech

This is the text of a speech I gave at the MSSC Honors Convocation on May 1, 2002. I was the chair of the Honors Convocation Committee, and as such had the privilege of addressing the honorees and their guests.
All of us here on stage—and your peers, instructors, families and friends in the audience—have gathered here for the same reason: to honor you, our outstanding graduates. We are here to recognize you and your success at Missouri Southern.

Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “Self-trust is the first secret of success.” On the other hand, he also said, “Another success is the post-office, with its educating energy augmented by cheapness and guarded by a certain religious sentiment in mankind.” Perhaps the post office has changed.

Barbra Streisand once said, “Success to me is having ten honeydew melons, and eating only the top half of each one.”

As I talk to you this morning, I would like you to keep in the back of your mind two concepts: success, and change—two perhaps seemingly unrelated concepts. I believe that both are relevant to this audience.

Twenty-five years ago, the first annual Missouri Southern Honors Convocation was held. It was instituted by the faculty to honor our outstanding students and to encourage underclassmen to aspire to excellence.

Sixteen years ago, an anxious seventeen-year-old started school here at Missouri Southern. His mother bought him sheets for the dormitory-sized beds and helped him move into a room in Richard M. Webster Hall.

Fifteen years ago, a busy young student was often found carrying his 5 ¼” floppy disk to the Learning Center on the third floor of Spiva Library, where he would use that disk to boot up an IBM PC, write an English paper or laboratory report, and print it out on a 9-pin dot-matrix printer. Or he might even use a typewriter.

Thirteen years ago, an anxious young man sat in the audience in this auditorium, participating in the Missouri Southern Honors Covocation, just as you are today, and planning to attend graduate school. He was uncertain about his future, but happy that the school he had chosen for his graduate work was close enough to his girlfriend to allow him to see her on a regular basis.

Eleven years ago, an anxious young man walked down the aisle and married his college sweetheart.

Six years ago, a young college teacher changed jobs, happy to take a new position at Missouri Southern State College.

A few minutes ago, a thirty-something college teacher began his remarks, while anxiously awaiting the imminent birth of his and his wife’s first child.

I would call each step in this story one of change, and of success. Since it is my story, I am free to do that. I am not sure how much of that success is due to my own choices, fate, or gifts from God. But I am free to decide for myself my own definition of success. So is Barbra Streisand. And so are you.

At Missouri Southern State College, many things have changed in the last twenty-five years. Our freshmen have never seen a 5 ¼” floppy disk. We have a new Webster Hall, and the dormitory has a new name.

Many things have not changed. We are here today to honor our outstanding graduates, just as was done twenty-five years ago. You can be proud of the successes that you have achieved so far. And perhaps you are not sure where your future will lead you.

So students, as your lives move on to the next stage—and as I congratulate you on your success at Missouri Southern—I encourage you to trust in yourself. Keep striving for success. And as you do, each line in your story will be a story of change.

What will you be doing ten years from now? Will you have succeeded in your current goals? Perhaps you will … or perhaps you will have decided upon an entirely different path. Choose wisely, and again, trust in yourself. No matter where your choices take you, remember that it is all right to change your definition of success. As long as you are happy with your choices, you will succeed.