Northern State University Commencement Address 2012

The next four years and your unfolding future opportunities.

Thank you Doctor Smith, faculty, students and families.  It’s a glorious day in South Dakota and I’m honored to be here with you.  And to you — special greetings to each of you.  I would like to talk with you today about the next four years of your life.  The last four for many of you has been on this campus.  The next four will disperse you around the planet.  Four years can happen quickly.  Before you know it opportunities seized or missed – and as you will see in these next few  minutes I believe you must choose to seize them.  It is your choice.  Success does not happen by chance.  You are now ready to launch into a future of your own design, fueled by a degree from Northern and your own intensity and energy flow.  This is what I want to talk about with you today — the next four years and your unfolding future opportunities.

You can seize this future for the better.  The next four years can be your success story and can set the tone for the rest of your life.  If you choose to do this you will never regret it. 

However, you will face many obstacles that will bring to a halt the forward progress of so many.  You however, can see these obstacles as normal puzzles that you can solve.  It is within each of you to do this.

Achievement is not as difficult as we sometimes imagine.  It takes high energy and discipline.  We already know that you have the intelligence required.  And your Northern degree will serve you well in the future.  You already know that there are massive changes ahead.  However, you need not fear these changes.  In fact, you should expect these inevitable surprises and stay resilient.  It is in each of you to do this.

All this change will provide new threats and opportunity.  I am here to talk about both.   I will emphasize opportunity.  These opportunities are very real, not science fiction – but will not materialize to their “good potential” unless you are “future ready” and willing to become navigators of your future.

The big idea of this short presentation is for you to overcome fear of the future.  By this, I mean that you begin to see obstacles as tools you can use.  You will see challenges as opportunities; you will see the potential to every problem you encounter, knowing that each will actually make you stronger and more creative.  This is possible and it is inside each of you.

Each of you can make this happen.  It is possible. Let me explain.

Last week I was out walking around the new Martin Luther King Memorial in Washington DC and in front of me was a much younger fellow who was most likely in his early to mid-twenties.  Maybe four years older than many of you graduates here today.  On the back of his t-shirt was this quote: “Pain is temporary, Quitting is final.  He was walking and jogging faster than I was but I decided to keep up with him.  I couldn’t get his t-shirt message out of my mind.  It was a message of simple truth.  Pain is temporary, quitting is final.

The message hit home.  Most people don’t think about perseverance very often.  But it’s true.  Pain is temporary.  What this says to me is that failure too is temporary.  A class that doesn’t work out.  A relationship that goes sour.  A job opporltunity that turns out to be a disappointment.  A teaching career that is nothing like you had dreamed.  A coaching career that fizzles.  A friend who passes away.  Life is tough.  But the pain can be viewed as temporary.

But when it hurts, and when it takes us emotionally into dark places, we are often unprepared.  What does it take to be prepared?  I have learned that it is your attitudes that underpin your success.  You can have an attitude that remembers key lessons in life.  And you can always remember that pain is temporary and that quitting is final.  You need not quit.  You can adapt.  You can change the pathway you are on.  This will be your choice.

When I was a freshman here at NSU I was shy and uncertain of the future.  I can remember walking from the student union building – where I had been in the Wolves Den – walking toward Spafford Hall.  One of the seniors on campus, a well-known athlete, was headed my way and I would soon be meeting him midway at the center of campus on a crisp early fall day.  I instinctively decided to lower my head and to quickly pass by without saying a word.  But this senior slowed down, said good morning to me, wished me to “have a great day”, and exhibited sincere warmth in his regards for me.  It uplifted me and taught me to be less shy, less passive, and to extend the same greetings to others on campus.  This is just a small thing right?  No, this was one of the Northern experiences that I will never forget.  Warm regards and a smile for other people.  This kind of attitude is not unimportant to our future success.  Why?  Because this behavior translates into an ongoing attitude of inclusiveness and genuine respect for the diversity of people, whether we know them or not.  Whether they are freshman or juniors.  Whether they are black or white.  Whether they are from Korea or Sweden.  The example set by this senior student at Northern taught me not to be intimidated.  Moreover, to me its meaning was that I could change my own attitude and persona.  It meant that I could make “change” my friend.  And it meant that I could smile at others including people that I didn’t yet know.  I learned I could harness the energy of change for the better.

The little things can have powerful lessons in them.  I have a view that no matter what you are here on this campus today  you can rise-up to the challenges and energize the power of your education.  The Northern education has the potential to launch you.  But you must be willing to be launched, to set goals, and to put some intensity behind your actions.  You can give dynamism to your relationships and to your future success.  Will you?  Think about it.

Let me tell you why I believe this is so important.  Trends and shifts are accelerating making for turbulent change.  It is a constant for all of us.

The organization that I am chair of is called Greenway Group.  Our research journal is DesignIntelligence.  Our think tank is the Design Futures Council.   We are foresight advisors.  Our firm’s slogan is Foresight for the Business of Design.  We not only observe trends but we translate them and we help leaders in architecture, engineering, and design develop strategic direction to achieve success in the future.

Your own success can take many different forms including financial, personal, and career.

Based largely on my part time work at the Aberdeen YMCA and my great education at Northern State University I chose a pathway toward servant leadership.  What this meant for me was simply that I wanted to work and perhaps lead an organization that I could contribute to and that the people in the organization would be stronger and even healthier than before my involvement.  That I could help people and organizations win more and lose less.  That cross campus walk not far from here, with the warm regards greeting from an upper classman, helped me to decide who I wanted to be.   Moreover, with encouragement from my parents and friends I believed that I had great potential.  I wanted to live up to that potential.

The world has changed a lot since I graduated — and it will change even more.   The pace of change is accelerating. This is why you need to set goals, write a plan to achieve those goals, and put yourself into a state of intensity to act on your commitments.

Being Future Ready

You can prepare yourself to be “future ready”.

As you observe our culture and the context of our planet, I am sure you have witnessed many trends as they are unfolding.  These trends you will be confronted with over the next four years can challenge and redefine you.   You can intercept these trends and make sense of them.  You can get on top of the puzzling waves of change on the horizon.  These shifts will affect you financially, professionally, and personally.  But do not fear.  You can succeed in this changing context.  It’s not as hard as you might think.  But yes, it will be challenging.  For most of you, your own Northern education has been hard.  Right?  And that is actually a good thing.  So, now you are prepared to take on these new challenges — unless you think not.  Then of course you are not.  That is the self-fulfilling reality of this time and place of this graduation moment.

Yes, you can be future ready.

When I graduated there was no Apple, no Google, no Facebook, and No Target corporation.  No 9-11, no great recession, no scandals in education testing.  In less than 15 years Google has become the top equity brand in the world according to the Financial Times.  It did not exist when you were born.  We are in a time of transcending and creating – a time of potential regeneration.  A time of business and policy entrepreneurship.  A time when we can solve the problems we have unless we get fatigued, wear out, and get pessimistic.  We must remember that pain is temporary, quitting is final.    

Our new media research has taught us to stop looking for the answers we expect to find and instead to pay attention to the indicators that lead us to where trends are heading.  Trend tracking, we found, reveals a multitude of possibilities.  Yet, remember that you will have to have an open mind in order to prevent myopia and miss the big opportunities.

When I graduated from Northern people used heavy phones with landlines and big fat yellow and white page phone books.

When we took vacation, we took along a 35 mm film camera.  My father had the film turned into slides.  We had a big cumbersome slide projector to view slides.  Those cameras barely exist today.    

We did not have Kindles, or iPhones, or iPods.  Even those nostalgic clunky Sony Walkman’s did not exist when I graduated.

Much of these trends have played out subtly over the years – you do not notice it on a daily basis – then wow – watch out – they can be disruptive and dramatically different.  But you can take them in stride.  You don’t need to fear the future.  In fact, when you change, the planet changes with you.

Now think forward with me.  We are here on this most beautiful campus in the Midwest.  It is 2012, and we are looking on the horizon to 2016.   Here are some scenarios for you:

You will be successful teachers.

You will navigate the challenges of graduate school.

You will advance your music talents and have a lifelong passion for the arts.

You will become successful business people.

You will lead and be an accomplished coach.

You will find unlimited opportunities and yet nothing will be handed to you on a platter – instead it will hurt a bit.  And, as you grow, you will know that pain is temporary and that only quitting is final.

The take away idea from my comments today are these:

  1. Northern is a great platform to move forward from.  Congratulations for what you have accomplished here
  2. It’s time to set new goals for the future and to keep them with you in your purse or wallet
  3. Let positive experiences dominate your thoughts replacing the negative.  This will help boost your self-esteem.
  4. With your goals in place you should develop an intensity scale of no less than a 7 on a 10 point scale.  This energy will regenerate and redefine you as a person of action, traction, and who gets results.  If in your honest opinion you can’t get to a level 7 then it’s time to set new goals that can get your authentic adrenaline rushing.

Kathleen Norris said, “If ambition doesn’t hurt you, you haven’t got it”.  My experience is the same.  There is some pain.  But there is great reward.

Beverly Sills said, “I’ve always tried to go a step past wherever people expected me to end up”.  I like that.  It’s relevant to you too.

And Carrie Fisher said, “There is no point at which you can say, “Well, I’m successful now.  I might as well take a nap.”

You really can’t coast now, because coasting only goes in one direction, downhill.

There will be a new normal unfolding for you.  It will be one full of accelerated change but also loaded with dilemmas and issues that we have not yet been able to solve.  You can change this.      

You can become this planet’s navigators and agents of change.  Agents of enterprise that improve this place and this time.  Agents of hope.

This is your choice; your decision.  You have chosen wisely thus far by attending this college.  Northern State University.  Keep making wise decisions.

You won’t be able to do it with blind optimism or with myopia.  Instead, you can be “future ready” and you can wring opportunity from change

 You need not be a victim in all the changes of the next four years.  Instead, you can be victorious.

 Vigorous commitments by you in the next four years and throughout your career will make for a cleaner and more sustainable planet.

 Yes, quite a lot can be different – and why not for the better?

When you see the big opportunities and what change can bring, you will likely feel a rush of adrenaline.  You will see the potential of this time.  You will feel the sense of power of your education.

Then you too can communicate hope and inspire people as they walk across campus.

It’s time to conclude.  For your next four years that follow this graduation from NSU I ask that you adopt and then never drop your winning attitude – Do this in everything you do in your professional and personal life.  Remember to keep up that attitude of possibility.  Not at the expense of others but to benefit others.  Remember too that pain is temporary and that quitting is final.  Even though the fatigue and the dark side of the future will challenge you – do not quit.  Fear not – we are in a world of startling inequality but gloom and doom worry is a misuse of your imagination.  Do not let fear run your life.  Do not let the burdens of the world shut down your creativity.  Engage each day in development of possibility and opportunity and remember that much of your future success is really quite simple.  You will be well served by having warm regards for people.  Warm regards will build rapport and strengthen your relationships over time.  Keep building your networks on the core of those you have here at this school.  Relationships will always matter in your future success.

I have one final secret for the next four years.  It may surprise you but I’m suggesting to each of you that you learn to welcome rejection.  Why do I say this?  It is because I already know that you will lose a dream job.  You will fall short of your goals.  You will be rejected on a major proposal.  These are the challenges of life.  Not everyone wins the NCAA Division II championships.  However, each setback has important lessons.  You will gain wisdom from each experience and from your brief and temporary failures.  Here is the secret that few know about: successful people are rejected more often than average people are.  But they keep trying harder.  Then they gain traction.  Their influence grows when they persevere and they become even more competitive each time they are rejected.  Therefore, when you are rejected — and you will be in the tough challenges ahead — build your own style of dynamic commitment for long-term success.

Pain is temporary, quitting is final.

Today you graduate from one of my favorite universities in the world.  It is easy to love NSU.  It is a great launching pad.   I encourage you to stay connected with this place.  To interact with it.  To give back to it and I ask you to support it whenever and however you can. I hope you will.

Thank you for having me to your wonderful campus.  It’s good to be back home.

My parting shot is this: Let me encourage you to be the agents for change that our planet needs.  I believe you can do it.  And once again, don’t quit.

Congratulations to each of you!


James P. Cramer, Chairman/CEO, the Greenway Group