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Commencement Addresses

A Voice of Experience: One Student's Success

  • Date: 05/13/2000
  • Author: Dr. Luis M. Proenza (President, The University of Akron)
  • Location: UA Commencement (a.m.), E. J. Thomas Performing Arts Hall
  • As many of you have heard me say, The University of Akron provides something special to students - and your success, the success of our students, is what we measure ourselves by.

    Earlier this year, the Sales and Marketing Executives of Akron honored University of Akron alumnus Philip Maynard as their Executive of the Year.

    Phil is a tremendously successful businessman in the Akron area .... and a great friend.

    Mr. Maynard shared with the sales and marketing group some of his points to success, and he agreed to let me pass them on to you.

    The challenge to be successful, according to Mr. Maynard, is to tackle "the fast-paced changes," while not forgetting the fundamentals.

    That is, you have to adapt to the demands of the new, while keeping yourself firmly grounded in what works.

    His first fundamental: "Use your imagination." Daydream!

    "Walt Disney spent hours daydreaming - looking out the window - taking long walks in the rain" - and with much success, as you know. Disneyland in California reportedly came about "as a result of one of those long daydreaming walks."

    "We all know of the accomplishments of Dr. Martin Luther King, Junior." "I have a dream." He said with great passion and conviction.

    But "can you imagine what the crowd's reaction would have been in Washington, D.C. had he proclaimed instead: 'I have a strategic plan?'"

    The pragmatic approach does not always work best. Dreams challenge and inspire!

    "Naturally you have to believe in your dreams and work hard at achieving them, but dreams can come true," if you dare to do the things that it takes to change the world.

    A second fundamental is goal setting. "Set goals daily and weekly - monthly and annually. Put goals in writing and review them often. It may sound simple, but it is important."

    Phil uses the acronym SMART as an approach to goal setting, to remind him of five key elements in goal setting:

    • S stands for "specific." Be specific in setting goals. Generalities are hard to benchmark and are harder yet to achieve.
    • M stands for "measurable." "Track progress" to ensure things stay on schedule, and if need be, "pick up the pace" to meet deadlines.
    • A, the third letter of the acronym SMART, stands for "attainable."

    When setting goals, make sure that they are reasonable and achievable, and put the proper plan in place to achieve those goals.

    • Which brings us to R - being "realistic" in setting goals. Never underestimate your ambitions, but try not to overestimate what can be reasonably accomplished.
    • And last but not least, T stands for "time." Set a specific date for attaining goals and work hard to stick to the deadline. So from now on, if you hear Phil Maynard or anyone refer to a "smart businessman," I hope you will remember the five elements that can make anyone smart - Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and on Time.

    A third important fundamental in achieving success is the development of a "positive mental attitude."

    Basically, "attitude is how we" approach and "look at things - Is the glass half-empty or half-full?" - for which Mr. Maynard recalled "one of his dad's favorite sayings: 'Attitude is contagious. Be sure yours is worth catching.'"

    In fact, make sure that your positive attitude becomes dangerously contagious.

    Being successful requires a fourth important fundamental - help ... "lots of help." And, let me add that help won't come to you, unless you are willing to go "ask for it."

    Indeed, if you do not ask, the answer is always NO!

    We learn early in life that we cannot go it alone, and that synergies are not achieved in isolation. We should never be afraid or too proud to seek assistance. The reciprocal of asking for help "is giving," which leads to the last fundamental, and probably the most important - helping others as you have been helped along the way.

    Author and well-known speaker "Zig Ziglar says that, 'The more people you help get what they want, the more assuredly you will get what you want.'"

    Today, you are defined by your networks of helping/giving relationships.

    The truly successful people, in many cases "started life with very little, but ended up with a lot," and a lot more than wealth.

    "People, such as J.C. Penny, W. Clement Stone, Ford, Carnegie, Rockefeller, and Firestone, all had something in common. They focused, first and foremost, on giving back to their families, to their friends, to their employees, and to their communities."

    They discovered long ago, that the more they gave, the more they received. Giving back should become a part of everyone's daily routine.

    And, "there are so many opportunities to give back, whether it is in helping the University of Akron achieve its vision for a new landscape for learning, or working in our schools, our hospitals" or non-profit local agencies.

    Marty Hauser, another University of Akron alumnus, recently put it this way: "Exponential synergy cannot occur within one's self." So reach out and touch someone!

    "There are literally thousands of places where you can 'plug in' and make a difference in your community and in yourself."

    The effect can be truly exponential!

    Call it selfish altruism, if you will, but it will pay you back in many ways.

    "Don't miss that opportunity." That's good advice from one of Akron's top business leaders - truly a voice of experience.

    Your education at The University of Akron has equipped you to face life's most stringent intellectual challenges.

    So, as you now open the doors of opportunity, treasure learning, nurture it, and continue to learn.

    Your continued learning will create a better future for yourself and for those around you.

    On behalf of the Trustees, the faculty, the staff and administration, your fellow students, and The University of Akron family everywhere - I salute you, the Spring 2000 graduates, together with your family and friends who have helped make your success possible.


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