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Commencement Addresses

Stretching to Success

  • Date: 05/13/2001
  • Author: Dr. Luis M. Proenza (President, The University of Akron)
  • Location: UA Commencement, E. J. Thomas Performing Arts Hall
  • As many of you have heard me say, The University of Akron provides something special to students, and how you measure up is what we measure ourselves by.

    That was certainly the case two weeks ago, when four distinguished University of Akron alumni from the College of Business Administration were honored with the Simonetti Award for their outstanding professional accomplishments.

    I am confident that someone sitting in this audience, someday soon, will be a new recipient of the Simonetti Award, or of an award in the College of Education or in the College of Nursing.

    One of this year's honorees was Ronald W. Ocasek (Class of '68), and we were privileged to hear Ron's acceptance speech, in which he so eloquently paid tribute to his alma mater.

    Let me share with you, in Ron's own words, some of his observations and reflections.

    And I quote: ". . .over the years I have had a fair number of University of Akron accounting graduates work with and directly for me. They have been outstanding, both as businessmen and women and as human beings."

    ". . .this is a truly outstanding testimony to the University. To students. . .I can say with confidence that you will certainly be well-received by the business community after being educated here."

    Ron Ocasek went on to say that his education came from experiences far beyond the covers of a textbook.

    "One thing I learned at (The) University of Akron," Ron said, is "To be honest with myself."

    "This was one of my most important lessons, yet as I remember, it wasn't part of any formal class. I don't even remember who gave me the advice, but it was - know yourself - (know) your strengths - (know) your weaknesses - Be honest."

    "Many people lie to themselves. It's easier. You don't have to change what you don't acknowledge."

    And the knowledge and experience gained from The University of Akron has paid off immeasurably, Ron said.

    "I left college with two rules to live by."

    "First: To know myself honestly. I always try to play off my strengths and continually improve my weaknesses."

    "Second: To continue to stretch. Reach for the best. Take the more difficult road. Very early in my career I said to myself: 'When I retire, I never want to look back and say, I should have done this or I wonder if I should have tried that. . .' I still live by these rules."

    Ron's point is well taken. If you expect more from yourself, if you stretch, you can accomplish more.

    Coincidentally, another of our Simonetti awardees, Peggy Maltarich, made the same point using rubber bands of different sizes and colors to illustrate the case as she spoke.

    Here is what she said:

    "Rubber bands come in different colors and different sizes and (have) different apparent limitations. But when a rubber band stretches, the differences disappear. And when you stretch - by taking every opportunity that presents itself to learn, both now and later in your lives."

    "When you stretch - by growing whenever and wherever you can - you can do things you never thought you could do. You can go places you never thought you could go."

    "When you stretch, you too can make your apparent limitations disappear."

    Now, I am quite confident that being the ingenious and observant students that I know you are, you are probably thinking that while these rubber bands now look equal, one of them is certainly under more stress than the other because of the conditions that I have placed on it.

    That is true my friends, but that is life. If you are not willing to push your limits, you are taking the easy road.

    Indeed, stretching our limits increases the chance for success. And, according to the laws of elastic materials, the one that stretches the furthest usually ends up going the farthest when its potential energy is released.

    As human beings, we too present ourselves in different variations.

    Yet education expands our horizons and becomes the great equalizer, as well as the great energizer.

    Ron Ocasek concluded his remarks with the following suggestions:

    As you head into the world, ". . .I would first recommend you use the next 10 years as an internship and residency program. Just like a doctor, you need to continue your learning and quite frankly, you need practice."

    "You come out of college well equipped, but with only a small portion of the knowledge you need and practically no practice."

    "So be grateful for your-on-the-job training - your med school, internship and residency. Soak it all up. Ask questions."

    "Observe more experienced people. Don't think you know it all."

    "The second piece of advice is that no matter how bright you are, how motivated, how driven, you can only do so much (by) yourself. Someday, (when) you reach management, you will rely on the people who work (with) you."

    "Not all may be. . .gifted with your intelligence, your drive, your ambition. However, your (organization) will only go as far as its people will take you."

    "It's people who make your (organization) successful. Don't forget them. Treat them with the respect they deserve."

    And that is certainly good advice from one of our best . . ..

    . . .who understands the power of experience;

    . . .who appreciates the leverage gained by stretching; and

    . . .who places a value on education.


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