On Monday (8/30/10) at 6:45 p.m., I return to CCAD for the first of a dozen weekly lectures on consumer behavior.
Come. This is your invitation.
There are 100+ students registered for the class and it will be taught in a big, comfortable auditorium, so you can just blend in. Each class is only 75 minutes. You could come to this first Monday, any Monday, or every Monday.
Don't be shy. I would love to have you there.
(I opened last year's classes to folks like you and more than 30 attended. Nice!)
Let me know if you are coming, and I will send you a map to the specific location — and a syllabus with all the readings.
New and Improved
I have taught this course for years at CCAD. And I think it's a good course. As one student wrote:
“The course was high-energy, optimistic, full of humor and most importantly: informative. It was one of the few courses that just about everyone who took it not only looked forward to the next lesson, but recommended it to their colleagues as well.”
But I often recall the admonition of Noam Chomsky: If you are teaching the same thing the same way for more than five years, then you lack either ambition or imagination.
So, this semester, I am adding classes on ethics and creativity. So it was time to go away.
The Course Is Sound
Over time, I'd designed the course to help artists:
The legendary CCAD education — especially its intensive first year, "Foundation" — expertly develops each artist's technical skills.
But having hired dozens of CCAD graduates at Young Isaac, I have seen too many who are riding solely on their technical proficiency. They do have highly developed hands and eyes — but aren't always levering their minds.
That's where this class comes in.
Bridging The Gap
After years of helping CCAD artists win the favor of businesspeople in the workplace, I've been teaching MBA candidates about creativity. This has me building the same bridge — over the creative gap — from the other side.
Now, with my MBA experiences, I'm really enjoying re-meeting the artists at CCAD.
And you. Coming?
Here's where I'll be this week, yapping about this and that.
Just in case time weighs heavy on your hands.
Give Your TV A Rest
The Columbus Metropolitan Club presents a CMCpm program:
Break Free from TV: Real Things To Do in 2010
Tuesday, January 12th
social hour starts at 5:30 p.m.
one-hour program starts at 6:30 p.m.
at the Athletic Club of Columbus
I'm moderating a panel featuring Chuck Gehring of Lifecare Alliance, John Ross of alive!, Olivera Bratich of Whollycraft, and Ryan Ransom of SportsMonster. Information about tickets is here.
Lead With Passion
On this Friday, January 15th, at 9 a.m. (and repeated again at 1 p.m.), I'll be speaking to the first year M.B.A. class at the Fisher College of Business at The Ohio State University on leading with passion. It's this year's version of a two-hour talk that I've given the past four years.
There will probably be a few empty seats. If you want one, let me know which session you'd like to attend: 9 a.m. or 1 p.m. (I'll ask permission of the OSU folks and let you know.)
See you 'round town.
...at the Columbus Metropolitan Club. Here's the topic they gave me: The Demise of Polite Conversation: Is Communication on the Brink?
Happily, it's a yes or no question. So I can simply stand up and say "yes." Or "no." Problem is, I still haven't figured out which one. So, I'll probably hedge and mumble a lot.
They're serving salmon, so it's bound to be a nutritious event.
Want to go? You're probably too late, but here's the event information. (If they let you in, and there isn't any salmon left for you, you can have mine.)
...at the Columbus Performing Arts Center, for four shows, at 8 p.m. on Thursday-Saturday (12/10-12/12) and 2 p.m. on Sunday (12/13). Here is the show and ticket information.
"Retired" Dispatch metro columnist Mike Harden — read by more people in Columbus than anyone since James Thurber — was nice enough to write about the show in today's morning newspaper. (Thanks, Mike!)
When you read his article — "Adaptation Puts Relevant Spin On Dickens" — please know that I should have said "repelled" rather than "repulsed." They're both strong words, I know, but "repelled" is closer to my intention.
"Repelled" is the word that's in the script. But, when I talked to Mike Harden, I hadn't yet learned all my lines!
Your Cast Is Hard At Work
Speaking of learning lines, Jo Anne O'Carroll (who plays "Jo Anne") and I (uh, "Artie") are the first people to have to memorize this script. It's an original work.
And today is the "off book" deadline.
Memorization is such drudgery.
Back to it.
Here's a Sneak Preview.
Hopefully, I can maintain this level of energy and demonstrate such professional preparation throughout the show.
Such Professional Questions
I have to admit, I am not a trained platform speaker. I'm applying what I have learned on the theatrical stage over the years and in the classroom. So, I don't know much about these technical aspects.
If it's not too pompous to claim, I'm more of a "Method Speaker" like a method actor, I guess. I get into character and go. And, I find, the truer the character — the more me I can be — the better off I am.
What Do You Think?
If you have some perspective on this, please don't leave a comment here on this post.
Please visit SpeakerSite's "LITTLE GEMS: Advice For New Speakers" (where I have posted this as advice for new speakers) to add your comment there.
What do they mean?
(And should they avoid ending a sentence with a preposition?)
They Think Your Wish Just Might Come True.
And then, boy oh boy — then you will be sorry, pal.
Like the dog chasing the car, snapping at the tires of the car, thinking "I want to bite this tire." (I suddenly know what dogs think. I am a latter day Dr. Dolittle.)
But the dog should be careful for what he wishes. For a mouth of tire on a moving car is a bloody and certain death. Or at least a powerful dog whuppin'.
Suddenly, I Find My Mouth Full Of Tire.
A few years ago, I decided that I should be a public speaker. That was my wish.
Now, I wake up today and look at the next week and see this:
This morning (10/17/09) — four hours on "Unleashing Creativity" — with top-achieving college students convened at the Fisher College of Business at The Ohio State University for the KeyBank Leadership and Creativity Symposium.
Monday evening (10/19/09) — my weekly class at CCAD with 135 talented artists and designers. And you, too, if you want.
Tuesday morning (10/20/09) — again I'm early on the day's agenda for some reason (perhaps I'm supposed to be the barking dog that wakes everyone up? — an hour on creativity at SummitUp, a daylong gathering of social media folks. (You can come to this, if you want. Just click on the link here — at SummitUp — and go to the right sidebar.)
- P.S. (10/20/09): Here are my slides from SummitUp (for what they're worth) and photos on the right added later.
Wednesday noon (10/21/09) — I'm the lunchtime speaker for the Columbus Chapter of the Association of Legal Administrators. Topic: Rainmaking, how professional development is done by the best networking lawyers.
Wednesday evening (10/21/09) — back to beautiful Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio, for a community wide (students, faculty, neighbors) workshop on creativity called "Creativity+You" in Olin Auditorium at 7 p.m. You can come to this. I think you don't even have to register. Just come. And be nice. (Let me know if you want a ride from Columbus. I could use some help navigating on the return trip.)
Saturday noon (10/24/09) — you can come to this, too, though I won't be "speaking." It's a casual indoor picnic for the 4,000 members of SpeakerSite. We'll meet at Dirty Franks Hot Dog Palace for a Buy Your Own Weenie lunch. Since the vast majority of members of SpeakerSite are not going to be in Columbus (and the 200 who are in Columbus will probably be watching the Ohio State game of the week), this might be lunch with me, Rob Emrich (the creator and co-founder of SpeakerSite), and Catherine White (a celebrated speaker who has come from Sydney, Australia for this weenie). Here's the official invitation.
And prepared. (That's what I keep telling myself.)
So Why Be Careful What You Wish For?
Because your dream might just come true.
And you want to make sure the tire in your mouth suits you.
What Else Am I Wishing For?
For a few more donations to the Net Cotton Content/Kiva Portfolio.
More than $200 came in this past week from charitable donors. You can send as little as you like, and your name will appear on the Big List o' Donors.
More details here.
The chef prepares her mise en place.
The t'ai chi master bows.
The batter touches the corners of the plate with the bat, spits and adjusts his privates.
It is ritual.
Before something important, we do that thing, that little dance.
It's more than a physical tic, more than a superstition, more than practical preparation.
It is a form of worship. It is a dance with fate, with the potential of the moment to come.It is The Creative's Prayer.
How do we prepare when — at last, after months of formal preparation — we are out of time and the preparation is now limited to its final moments?
For me, the ritual has come down to this.
Immediately before teaching a class, or giving a speech, or stepping onto the stage, I embrace this routine.
I am filled with dread, the respect for the situation and the potential for transforming myself and others — and the contrary potential for missing the opportunity at hand.
The ritual begins:
For the Laurel School Class of 2009
on the joyous occasion of their commencement
on June 11, 2009, 10 a.m.,
at Severance Hall in Cleveland, Ohio.
Thank you, Anne Juster, chair of the Board of Trustees, members of the board of trustees, esteemed faculty, the venerable abbott, Miss Orlando, proud parents, loving siblings, grandparents, aunts and uncles. Thank you, Ann Klotz, my college classmate, my teacher, my friend.
And to the class of 2009, in all your wonderful fabulousness, thank you.
Thank you for inviting me to speak today. I am very grateful.
Thank you, also — to everyone in this hall — for bringing these girls to this moment, this recognition of achievement, this launching into the bright and challenging future. That is an accomplishment. You have created active learners who — in the school's rallying cry — Dare. Dream. Do.
So let me start by thanking all of you here, especially the parents, the faculty and the girls. The world needs more educated people, more educated women. Thank you all for rising to this challenge.
No one here in this magnificent hall knows these girls less than I do. That's not fair. I want to know them better, and yet here I am, speaking to them, but not really facing them. So I'm going to set up this little mirror. [Arrange mirror on downstage podium to see girls upstage.] There you are!
I feel like a speed bump.
You all are moving very fast. I can imagine your homes this morning. A frenzy of hustle-bustle. Getting ready for a big day. Families are in town. Our girl is growing up. You must have a proper breakfast. This is the day we've known was coming for many years. Where's Uncle Louie? Where are my white shoes?
Well, anyway, back in your homes this morning, things were moving so fast. C'mon, find your shoes, we have to get going. We're going to be late. We don't want to be late. We can't be late for graduation. C'mon. C'mon. C'mon. We don’t want to miss the graduation speaker.
"We don't want to miss the graduation speaker?"
I know that none of you said that at breakfast today.
You have been looking forward to everything about this day — everything except this speech. You are on a fast-paced journey and are forced to pause for this speech. The very idea of a graduation speech: it's designed to slow everything down.
So, here I am, the speed bump on your race for diplomas. I'm going to play the role to its fullest. Let's slow down.
Let us ponder the lowly speed bump.
According to Wikipedia:
Say, is anyone here a transportation engineer? Yes! Isn't this the best graduation speech you have ever heard?
Speed bumps are also known as a "traffic calming device." I like that phrase: traffic calming.
Our lives are spent driving through traffic. Especially since you all got your driver's licenses.
But our lives are spent driving more than cars. We drive ourselves. We are ambitious, so we are driven to achieve. We drive hard through our to-do lists. We drive hard in every aspect of our lives. We are driven.
Some days are so fast-paced that it isn't until night, as you rest your head on your pillow, when you finally think, "What did I do today? Did I do all that today?"
We spend our days as highly functional people, doing many things — doing doing doing — we are humans doing. Dare. Dream. Do!
How do we balance our lives as humans doing with the simple but elusive joy of being human beings? That is, how do we engage in the simple act of being human?
I study creative people. And I find that the most creative, healthiest people understand how to find a moment of calm amid the madness and frenzy of the day.
They Dare. Dream. Do. Be.
We could all stand for a little traffic calming.
So, as today's ceremonial speed bump, I am going to teach you a lesson in calming.
To be calm, one must catch one's breath.
Today, that's a challenge.
This moment is breathtaking. And you are all so breathtaking.
We are all trying to capture this moment as it speeds past. Modern, affluent people try to capture the moment with video cameras. Whenever I see someone holding one, I see a person trying to hold onto time.
Let me offer another way to capture the moment.
It comes from the writings of Thich Nhat Hanh. He's a Buddhist monk, an exile from Vietnam. He now lives in a community he created in France called "Plum Village." He travels the world to teach people — among other things — how to capture time by living in the present.
I know what you're thinking: it's not even noon and you've already come across two Buddhists. What is it? Are they suddenly everywhere? [Look all around, the podium, as if looking for yet another Buddhist.] Here's one! Here's one!
Let me clarify that I am not a Buddhist. (I think, technically, I am a "Jew-bu.") But I do think the Buddhists are very smart and I would like to teach you one small thing that I do know about the tradition.
Before I do, let me add that I'm not recruiting Buddhists. I think of Buddhism like I think of Topeka, Kansas. You want to live there? Go. I don't think it will conflict with your current religion, or your current lack of religion. Unless you are Amish, which might make Topeka the wrong place to settle down. I don't know.
Anyway, here is most of what I know about Buddhism.
First of all, let's recognize that you are distracted. Yes, you are sitting here in this fancy hall on this important day and there is this goofy guy in a bow tie talking to you. That's what's happening now.
But you are also thinking about another moment — in the very near future, just minutes away — when diplomas will be granted.
And you are also thinking about another moment — a little later — when we will process out of here into this fine day — and then there are luncheons and then parties and then summer — and then packing for college and moving on.
There is much to distract you.
Even I am distracted by this moment in your lives.
But this is the summer of moving on.
The prospect of freedom and opportunity both elates and intimidates. When Ms. Klotz and I arrived at college, the then new president of Yale, Bart Giamatti, greeted us with a speech describing the summer before college. He said this, which I remember vividly: "The worm of apprehension bit deep in the bud of anticipation." (He was a scholar of Dante, so he was allowed to talk that way.)
As you sit here today, all of you are filled with apprehension and anticipation. They distract you from my words, from this very moment. The future calls, and you are tempted to live in the future — When will we move the tassels on these silly hats? When will we throw them in the air? Will I dance all night tonight? Will I like college?
Capturing the moment is a challenge for more than right now. It will be a challenge all summer. How can I keep the summer from simply flying by? How can I leap into it? How can I remember this swim in cold water, this icy glass of lemonade, this moment with my friends?
But a person cannot live in the present, the past and the future all at once.
And our very happiness may be at stake.
Daniel Gilbert, a Harvard professor, teaches on happiness. (Imagine that: he teaches happiness at Harvard. I do hope he is happy.) In Gilbert's book, Stumbling On Happiness, he says that much happiness is lost because we are always deferring it. We eat broccoli now, so we might be healthy later. Then, it finally is later, and we again defer our happiness yet farther into the future.
It's important to plan ahead. Laurel has prepared you for the future. At Laurel, your achievements have been celebrated. But it has also always been critical that you be living good lives, in the here and now, day by day.
The strategy for happy living is to constantly return ourselves to the present moment, so that even this one, right now, is a happy one.
The Buddhists are very good at living in the present.
They teach: Rather than being distracted by anything and everything, choose a single distraction: choose your breath.
That is, all the time, even as I am speaking now, think about your breath. You might think, silently, "inhale… exhale… inhale… exhale…" with your breath. Or "in, out, in, out."
This sounds odd, almost like a medical exam. And it seems like I am suggesting you become distracted by your breath.
But it makes sense.
Because, after all, we already agreed that we are distracted by the clamor of the day. It's hard to concentrate on the present when the worm of apprehension is biting deep in the bud of anticipation.
So, since we are all to be distracted by one thing or another, we can choose our breath to be the distraction. As a distraction, it's not all that fascinating really, so it remains secondary in our minds. Primary in our mind is whatever we are doing right now. In the present. Like enjoying this moment.
Focusing on my breath to live in the present. It seems very simple, but it is also the most difficult thing I do all day.
Do you want to play the home version of today's game?
Let me teach you a little poem by Thich Nhat Hahn. It works especially well when you are driving.
And, frankly, tuition was expensive. Why not take one more lesson in this last moment of school? It's nice that your final lesson comes as a poem on breathing.
Here it is. (It doesn't rhyme. It's not that kind of poem.) Four short lines:
Like much poetry, it is deceptively simple. Let's break it down.
That's easy enough. Let's do it together.
It's not one of those broad smiles. It's a smile like Mona Lisa's. A smile that is enough to make your body think you are happy about something.
Let's try. Smile.
The last two lines are more conceptual:
This just states that life is lived in the present. And this moment is a wonderful moment.
That's easy to agree with right now, during a grand ceremony. But it is also true when washing dishes or sitting with a friend.
As you learn to find simple meaning and enjoyment in mundane moments, like washing dishes, then you become a lot less likely to use drugs and alcohol to spice up your life or — as we see nationally among college students — to use Ritalin or Adderall off label to increase your cognitive alertness.
Oh, I'm all for more cognitive alertness. I've seen how you all drive here in Cleveland. You could stand to turn down the radio and be more mindful about your breath.
Two more thoughts about our breath.
The air around us is the same air that has always been around. We have certainly thrown up some ash and soot, but it is the same air.
Here's the second thought: You might be the first generation in your family to breathe. (Your parent's generation didn't even inhale.) Truly, I sometimes feel that it's Friday dinner before I take what seems like the first full breath of the week.
Do your parents breathe? Or do they seem like they are constantly holding their breaths? I don't raise this in order to criticize anyone's parents. I raise this to remind you that — as you receive your diploma — you are also expected to choose which attributes you will inherit from your parents.
So, you might pause right now to take a good look at them: and commit yourself to adopting their best attributes. And avoiding the attributes you do not want.
Even if they don't breathe, you can.
You can breathe to become more creative.
To regain your childlike grasp on the present.
Laurel has taught you so many ways to strengthen your creativity. I've added one more. I believe the single greatest thing you can do to increase your creativity and your quality of life is to breathe more mindfully. It's like a creativity workout.
Which reminds me of one more thought.
We understand working out. To be more fit, we must work out. To be more creative, we must breathe — to live in the present. It's funny to me how people will work out to be fit, but do nothing to make themselves more creative — and just say, "Oh, I'm not creative."
Doing nothing to consciously strengthen your creativity, yet waiting for a spontaneous moment of creativity, is like not working out, but hoping for a spontaneous moment of fitness.
All right. You've passed the final speed bump.
Bring on the diplomas.
[Deliver as a blessing to the girls with arms gently raised:] May you have a life of beauty, love, satisfaction, peace, health, and happiness.
As my friend Nancy points out in a message this morning, this is a particularly hard week of the year for commencement speakers. This is the week that they are all writing their speeches.
These speakers know:
Yesterday, I visited with some of the wonderful girls — and their beloved head of school, Ann Klotz — at Laurel School in Shaker Heights, Ohio.
My purpose: to hear from the girls what's going on, so I can better prepare for next week's commencement ceremony, where I am to address the graduating students, and the faculty, families, friends and other students.
Ten o'clock at Severance Hall. If you want to come, you need tickets. They're free, but you still need a ticket, because it is a fancy place,worthy of security. (Let me know if you want a ticket.)
Can't Deliver What Ain't Cooked
As any pizzeria knows, if next week is the delivery, I have to write the darn thing this week. (Note: I don't really know how long it takes to make pizza.)
What do great commencement speeches have?
So, I'm reflecting on speeches I've given to graduating students.
I spoke at my high school graduation (a poorly conceived, forgettable speech), at my business school graduation (the speech was OK, but none of us really wanted to hear it), and at the graduation at my high school about a decade after I graduated.
Of all the speeches I've given, that last speech — at the 74th Commencement of The Columbus Academy 22 years ago — remains among the speeches for which I most prepared. I wrote draft after draft, really sweating everything, running each draft past Duncan McCurrach, the most expensive lawyer I could never afford. (It was cheaper to name our own son Duncan.)
Afterward, I received only one complaint, which I'll recount below.
Now that I've visited the girls of Laurel, I have to get cracking. So I dug out the old Columbus Academy 1987. You can decide whether it's aged like a fine wine. It seems dated to me — but it also seems to predict who I would become as well as some self-imposed limitations.
Here it is. You can use it.
I remember that the entire ceremony — traditionally in the sunshine of the schools central courtyard ("The Quadrangle") — was pushed inside the gymnasium at the last minute because of rain. I was disappointed, the audience was uncomfortable, and one older fellow collapsed and was carried away just before I spoke. I don't remember who he was or if he recovered.
(Oh, and it was a boys' school, so all the pronouns are masculine.)
If the speech gets boring (it does for me), skip to the phrase "In college you will encounter remarkable freedom." I put it in big red letters, so you can find it easily.
To this day, I remain grateful for Headmaster Bo Dixon, who got me into college and then invited me back to speak a decade later.
Two months ago the phone rang. It was Bo Dixon. We got to chatting about things. He told me that it was The Academy's 75th year. I already knew that; I had been celebrating all year. So I told him that it was the 200th Anniversary of The Constitution.
After a moment of silence, he asked me which amendment in the Bill of Rights was -- in my opinion -- the most important. I wracked my brain -- I drifted back to Rainey Taylor's course in American History. Sorry, Mr. Taylor, but I could only remember three of those amendments. So I told Bo that the most important liberty was Free Speech.
Bo said, "Great! See you at The Academy on June 12th."
Graduates, this summer adults will meet you, will listen to your description of your plans for the Fall, and will tell you, "Oh what a great time of life. I wish I were you. So carefree. So happy-go-lucky."
I beg of you, don't resort to violence. Often I think the same well-intentioned thoughts that those forgetful oldsters think.
Often I remember my years at The Academy, and my years at college, even my first years in the workplace and I say to myself, "Artie, those were the days. Things were much easier then. So carefree. So happy-go-lucky." The Academy in my faulty memory is a hilltop of pleasure, always lush in springtime. There I am with all my friends. We laugh and sing and play dodgeball all day.
Upon further reflection, however, I remember the true context of all those dodgeball games. There were also those building blocks of character: trauma and turmoil. There was the Junior Speech. There were girls that would not go out with me, especially when I was too nervous to ask them in the first place. There was the Dress Code. There were faculty who would catch me in some mortal crime, point at me and say: "That's Time!"
And there was Latin and there was History -- The Bill of Rights and its, oh, three or four amendments. "What that April, with here shires sote/The draught of March hath pierced to the rote."
Yet, as dramatic as those moments were, I now remember that they paled before the summer spent wondering what college would be like. As our college president put it, during that summer "the worm of apprehension bit deep in the bud of anticipation!" Roughly translated: the prospect of freedom and opportunity both elates and intimidates.
But most people you meet in passing will seem to have forgotten. It's not just when they say, "Oh how I wish I could be in your shoes." They mean, "Oh, how I wish I could be in your shoes knowing what I know now."
Hearing such a glowing appraisal of your predicament can be frustrating. You might think these people knew at your age what they wanted to do with their lives. While it is true that some people know when they are Freshmen in college that they want to be poets or doctors or captains of business, and they actually go on to pursue that goal, that is the exception and hardly the rule.
Indeed, I remember when I first met the president of the company I joined after college. He immediately asked me what my Five Year Plan was. I wasn't thinking five years; I was thinking tomorrow: How could I make my only two suits look different on the third and fourth days of my new job? The only Five Year Plans I had ever heard of were those I vaguely remembered from Russian History, and I wasn't too impressed with the results. I told him that my Five Year Plan was to have a Five Year Plan in, say, five years. Now it's five years later and I'm still working on it.
Having given his question much more thought since then, I think that it's better not to have a Five Year Plan which targets a particular result for your life. As an example, many of my peers have defined Five Year Plans, especially at the Columbia Business School where sixty percent of my class is studying finance and hoping to be swept into investment banking. Their Five Year Plan is to pursue money.
Everybody's talking about money these days. From Bryant Gumble at dawn to Ted Koppel at midnight. That's probably not a surprise. People have always rushed to maturing gold mines. On Wall Street they rush for money just like they rushed for it in Silicon Valley three years ago, or in Texas five years ago.
[Note (2009): Why was I expressing such contempt for money? I think it was a blend of jealousy and my lack of courage to chase such opportunities. -- Artie]
Before that it seems that people all over America aimed for more worthwhile, more substantial goals -- productivity, family, community, quality. And, quite often, money followed their success.
Now people talk about making money as the end in and of itself, as the goal in the new Profession of Making Money.
Don't get me wrong. I like money. But once I had worked for a year and found myself able to afford New York City's criminally expensive slum living, I was no longer captivated by the money my career was offering. Again, not because I don't enjoy what money can buy. Rather, because money is an anti-climactic and narrow goal for your life.
Why am I against any Five Year Plan which dictates specific results for your life? Because having such results-oriented goals while in college or a first job is not critical to your growth and productivity. It is not necessary for happy, responsible living. In fact, it may be a crutch which prevents you from realizing your potential.
I have no regrets for my years in college and in my first job, because those years were by no means wasted. Instead of targeting a particular result for my life, I decided to adopt a two-part code of conduct and let the results follow as they may.
First, I would be confident of my abilities. I jumped from the Central Buckeye League to a national league, a much larger fish bowl. I knew very quickly that The Academy had prepared me well for carving out my own identity in college. Once I saw this, I decided to remain confident. In the end, I proved that the campus community should not be feared as a Goliath. It was a collection of my equals (more or less), challenging the limits of their own abilities and wondering what the future would bring.
Second, I took responsibility for my performance. Because my confidence was -- and is -- not always enough, I had to be willing to make, and learn from, my mistakes. (I've made some good ones that we don't need to go into right now.) But I knew that I had made my own decisions -- so I always knew that I must take final responsibility for my performance -- good or bad.
By being confident, once can best use his abilities. By taking responsibility, one gains self-respect, builds even more confidence, and earns a reputation for honesty. With this code, I continued to pursue a liberal education and experiences that would make me able to do many things, without shutting too many doors of opportunity.
Of course, I could not keep every opportunity available. Some doors of opportunity are genetically shut: I am too small to play N-F-L football; I am too tall to be a jockey. Some doors of opportunity are shut automatically: By taking my time to decide what I want to do with my life, I am too late to be a ballet star. But still I've managed to keep a surprising large number of doors open.
I believe that today, this is the best position I can be in. People of our generation -- you and I -- are expected to have an average of six to ten different careers. Not jobs, careers. We must be generalists ready for the changing world around us.
The Academy prepares you for college, supplying you with the tools you will need. The tools are math and reading and history. They are also sportsmanship and ethics. But the greatest tool is the special relationship that you hold with members of the faculty, staff and student body. Stay in touch with this wealth. To this day, my best friends include classmates from The Academy, some of whom I've gotten to know since graduation. And having known a teacher as a master, coach and friend will forever urge you to meet experts in strange fields.
A liberal arts education aims to make you a generalist. You take the tools from The Academy and then you learn how to learn, how to make mistakes, how to establish your own identity in an ocean of talented people and bozos.
In college you will encounter remarkable freedom.
New thoughts will challenge all you know. Many times, what you hear and see will surprise you with such information that you will have to change your mind. That's O.K. You can change your mind as often as you like. More than ever before, you will be on your own to choose your friends, your course of study, your entertainment, your bedtime.
Will you fight racism? Will you be a vegetarian? Will you support a covert war in Central America? Will you stay up all night? Decisions should be made on the basis of your experience when and as the questions arise. Don't make up your mind before it's necessary, before you are equipped to make the decision. It may seem simpler to face life with clear-cut rules and beliefs, but the costs of being wrong outweigh the benefits of that simplicity.
Ask for advice from family, faculty and friends. Your best advisers will explain how they arrived at their own lifestyles, and leave you to choose for yourself. No one, no one, no one can tell you what method of living is right for you. When someone or something tries to usurp your right to choose, question authority. Many times, the powers that be are right. But not always. Adopt a way of life that will allow you to use your freedom. Question authority. Relish your freedom. And make choices of which you are proud, for which you will take responsibility.
It is nine years since I sat in your seat in the sun and listened to some other self-proclaimed expert-on-life tell me how he wished he were in my shoes, how I must be so happy-go-lucky, and only now am I able to begin to see the outlines of the direction of want my life to take. Maybe I'm a late bloomer, but because I remained confident and took responsibility for my delay, I would have it no other way. Everything I have heard in the last nine years has reshaped the context in which I live -- and has demanded that I redirect or finetune my life. And the world continues changing. So, while I pursue a specific career, I will have to remain a generalist who specializes in anticipating what the world may demand of me tomorrow.
You should do the same. After you move from the Central Buckeye League, and then from the N-C-double-A, you will find yourself in a World Series. The world is smaller than ever before, and we must anticipate other economies. Do not believe, as I did, that we can relax and wait for the world to learn English and adapt to our customs. We are a newcomer in the world, and our competition hints that our day in first place might be over for now.
A recent lesson of the costs of deciding too early, closing your mind too early, is offered by a successful Japanese business leader who says, "I have the advantage when I meet an American. He does not know my language; I know his and have come to love his literature and theatre. He does not know my country's history; I know his from its very beginning and have read the U.S. Constitution. I know his culture and can anticipate many of his expectations. He does not know how I think." I was startled when I heard this because I recognized myself as a complacent American who is at a disadvantage to this man, and to the one-in-four students at Columbia Business School who are foreign-born and have fought much harder to go there.
That advice -- learn another language, learn another culture -- is too specific for today's purpose. You will be told that at college. Today, as most days, Conrad's Marlow gives us the best advice. He says, regarding life, adventure, college, "The most you can hope is some knowledge of yourself." And -- I will add -- a little fun.
So relax if you don't know what you will do with your life. College can, and hopefully will, teach you how to learn about yourself. And also how to tell the difference between knowing facts and knowing when to use them. That's the true value of all your knowledge.
Which reminds me of a friend of mine who is an actor. He's not a great actor but he is diligent. Every morning he makes the rounds of all the talent scouts in Times Square, knocking on doors asking if there is a role for him.
During another long morning of rejection, he knocked on another door and opened it and asked the talent scout, "Do you know of any parts for me?"
The scout shushed him. He was on the phone. "Uh, huh. Uh, huh," the scout was saying. He covered the mouthpiece and barked at the actor, "You an actor?"
"Yes, sir, I am."
"Yeah, I got an actor...Uh, huh...Uh, huh...(turning to the actor) Can you say, 'Hark! Is that a cannon's roar I hear?'"
"Hark! Is that a cannon's roar I hear?" said the actor, his chest puffing, his brow furrowed.
"Have I got the perfect guy for you," the scout says, and then hangs up the phone. "O.K., kid. This is your lucky day. But you gotta go to Grand Central Station now. Catch the next train to Stamford. A regular actor fell sick at the dinner theater there. Remember, 'Hark! Is that a cannon's roar I hear?'"
My friend rushed out the door and down the elevator. "Hark! Is that a cannon's roar I hear?" He jumped into a taxicab. "Grand Central," he ordered. "Hark! Is that a cannon's roar I hear?" They screeched into Grand Central. He jumped on the train as it lurched out of the station. "Hark! Is that a cannon's roar I hear?... Hark! Is that a cannon's roar I hear?"
"Next stop: Stamford Station!"
As the train arrives at the station, a car skids to a halt and the stage manager jumps out. "Are you the actor?"
"Hark! Is that a cannon's roar I hear?"
"Get in! We don't have a moment to lose!" They speed away as the actor puts on his costume in the back seat. "Hark! Is that a cannon's roar I hear?" They spin to a stop on the gravel driveway of the theater.
The stage manager drags him into the back door of the theatre. "Hark! Is that a cannon's roar I hear?... Hark! Is that a cannon's roar I hear?" They feels their way backstage in the pitch darkness. Al of the sudden, the stage manage pushes him through the small opening in the stage curtain and -- FLASH! BOOM!
"What the hell was that?"
Most of us can't play a specific role until we know what kind of characters we are. Until then, be confident and take responsibility.
I sat down, top students received awards, the diplomae were distributed amid much joy, and Greg Jacobs spoke beautifully for the class of '87.
As the attendees filed out, several said nice words to me. As a relatively unseasoned speaker, I didn't hear the kind words. I heard only the complaint. It was something like this:
"Of course, you overstated the freedom of choice that faces these young people."
I looked quizzically at the man. He explained:
"You neglected to recognize that there aren't as many choices, because God has a plan for us."
Having had my say, I think I said, simply, "Oh."
Well, That Killed An Hour
Now I'd better get writing.
But First This...
Here's the very kind introduction, offered by David Carlin:
When Mr. Dixon asked me to introduce Artie Isaac, I asked him to tell me some pertinent biographical information. I watched a smile grow to a laugh, and I know Bo well enough to realize that I was in for an interesting answer.
He said that Artie was the valedictorian in his class, was the editor of The Academy Life, and was clearly a major spokesperson for his class. Reportedly, his first words to the new headmaster in July, 1977 were, "Hey, Coach, when are you going to remove those ridiculous speed bumps [from the country day school's long driveway]?" I am told that Bart Giamatti at Yale also earned the title and answered to "Hey, Coach."
Mr. Dixon went on to recall that Artie was the school's head cheerleader and took pride in experimenting with the outrageous to incite the Vikes -- including crowning one of his classmates Homecoming King. During basketball game time outs, he would simulate an Olympic sculler -- rowing from the baseline to the midcourt to the delight of our fans. What was particularly educational was observing the various reactions of fans from such places as West Jefferson and Grandview. It was worth the price of admission, and more than once opposing coaches and players would prematurely stop plotting their timeout strategies to gape at this figure gliding across the floor to the rhythmic chant of "Stroke! Stroke!"
Artie graduated from The Academy in 1978, because as he says "growing up was much easier then." After graduating from Yale with honors [Note: This is not true. I think I said, "It was an honor to graduate."-- Artie] in 1982, he joined a small New York based public relations firm and became director of the firm's investor relations division. In 1986, he retired to drive 9,000 miles across 15 countries in Europe. Artie admits that he may not have found himself, but he did manage to deplete his savings and learn how to shrug his shoulders in five languages. He entered Columbia Business School last fall and expects to receive his M.B.A. in May 1988. He calls this summer his last summer vacation and is working in consumer marketing for AT&T International Long Distance, encouraging U.S. citizens to run up large phone bills.
It is an honor for me to welcome back one of our own. Artie's father graduated from The Academy in 1935; his mother, Jackie, has served as President of the Mothers' Association. Mort Isaac '29, Fred Isaac and Tom Isaac, both class of '66 are all distinguished alumni. Please welcome Arthur J. Isaac III '78.
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