I am very happy to join you this evening in celebrating the great milestone reached today by the young men and women gathered here. While we recognize a great achievement in your lives, we can also look at today as the beginning of another chapter in your book of life. As Don Williams, Jr. once said, and Dr. Mekdeci reminds us with every e-mail she sends, “Our lessons come from the journey, not the destination.”
I come to you today as the U.S. Ambassador to Guyana, but I am also a father of two young adults who were in your seats not long ago. And believe it or not, I remember when I graduated from high school. I grew up in a small town in South Carolina, and like many of you, didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do with my life. I was a football (American football) and baseball player, but I knew I could not play at the professional level. I liked the notion of traveling around the world and serving my country. I earned a Master’s degree in International Business at the University of South Carolina, and after a short stint working with Apple Computers in Mexico, I joined the Foreign Service.
It is now 27 years later and I have had the privilege of serving in Colombia, where I met my lovely wife Rosaura, in El Salvador, Ecuador, Guatemala, Afghanistan, Mexico, and Paraguay before coming to the Land of Many Waters, Guyana.
In these 27 years of experience, I have accumulated some nuggets of knowledge and today I want to share with you my top 10.
First, “the sky has never fallen in six billion years and it isn’t now.” Stay calm, and don’t panic when things don’t go your way. I can assure you that everything during the course of your life will not go as planned, but it is important to approach your challenges in a rational, composed manner. I guarantee you will get better results.
Second, “see the forest first, and then the trees.” Sometimes when you are too close to a situation you need to step back and get a little perspective. When you do, you will notice there was a whole forest you couldn’t see before because you were too close and focused too much on the trees. Try it!
Third, “there are no problems, only opportunities for you to excel.” Don’t let the fear of failure drive you to the safe road, and don’t be discouraged if one door, or several doors are closed to you during the course of your life. Remember the story of computer engineer Brian Acton, co-founder of WhatsApp. In 2009 he applied for a job at Facebook, but was turned down. What did he do? Five years later he sold WhatsApp to Facebook for a whopping 19 billion dollars!
Fourth, “You catch more flies with honey than vinegar.” Treat everyone with dignity and respect, whether they collect your garbage, prepare your taxes, are your shareholders, your employees, or your boss. I can tell you from experience that establishing friendly and cordial relationships with people will get you a lot further than yelling and screaming. (not that I have ever done that)
Fifth, “If you are in a hole, stop digging, unless it gets you somewhere.” This one needs no explanation.
Sixth, “If it ain’t (forgive my language, but I am from South Carolina), If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, but don’t be afraid to break it.” Don’t try to reinvent the wheel, but also don’t shy away from taking calculated risks and thinking outside the box. Be bold, but be smart!
Seventh, and this is one that I have seen a lot of both inside embassies and with governments I have worked with. “Don’t let perfection be the enemy of more than good enough.” So often people try to write the perfect report with every imaginable detail and the precise word or phrase, and legislators try to draft the perfect law that encompasses every possible contingency. In the end it paralyzes them into total inaction. Often times less than perfect is perfectly acceptable.
Eighth, “on many issues you should live to fight another day.” Whether it is about that extra point that you are sure you deserve on a 1000 point exam, or something equally trivial, don’t sweat the small stuff. You will know when it is an issue worth fighting for, and when it is give it your all, but in the meantime choose your battles wisely. You might win a battle, but lose the war.
Ninth, “poor planning by you does not make it an emergency for me,” and its corollary is prior preparation prevents poor performance. During the course of your college days and throughout your careers, you will be called upon to complete projects individually and through work in teams, much like the way you have done at GIA. It is going to be increasingly important, particularly as many of you experience newfound independence, so stay organized and manage your time wisely. Procrastination, poor time management, and lack of communication and planning are often the culprits that lead to emergencies. Don’t let it happen to you!
Lastly, and my favorite nugget as the Ambassador and Chief of the U.S. Mission here is, “none of the above apply if the boss says they don’t.” (Laughter)
The education you have received at GIA, and the friendships you have developed, have prepared you for taking the next step in your journey of life. It has imparted valuable skills and knowledge towards supporting you, not only for college, but for being a productive member of your community for the rest of your life.
I congratulate each of you for showing dedication and commitment to reach this point. I also congratulate the parents who have been with each of the graduates from those early days in nursery school to now. I am sure the graduates would agree that without your support, they would not be here tonight. As you graduates move on to college, I encourage to you to stay in touch with your parents, not only just when you need money. (Laughter)
In the spirit of what you have learned at GIA through community service projects, whether for your coursework, or through clubs, I encourage you to continue looking for ways to serve those who are less fortunate. Your work has just begun.
I conclude with a quote from one of my favorite U.S. presidents, Abraham Lincoln, and it points out the importance of lifelong learning. “I do not think much of a man who is not wiser today than he was yesterday.”
Thank you and best wishes to you all for a bright, happy, healthy, and prosperous future!