Our featured creative writing this week is a speech written by student Steve Hilton. This is Steve's graduation speech from the 2012 Cleveland Graduation Ceremony.
Graduation Speech by Steve Hilton ~ 2012
delivered at ceremony for Cleveland (Seven Hills) Ohio Campus
Fellow graduates, faculty, staff, guests, family, and friends:
I want to thank the University for giving me the honor of speaking to you tonight on behalf of DeVry’s graduates. Little did I know 17 months ago when I dropped by the campus to take a placement exam that I would be standing before you today ready to graduate. It’s funny how things work out. And that is what I would like to talk to you about today: the combination of luck and hard work that got us here today.
Those of you who know me know that I—along with my father and one of my brothers—suffer from the Hilton disease. Hilton disease is where you ask a Hilton what time it is, and he tells you how to build a watch! So to talk about anything for just a few minutes is a real challenge, but I’m going to try!
The Roman philosopher Seneca is credited with having said, “Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.” Funny, I always thought it was Vince Lombardi, but he—along with many others—only adopted the saying. Opportunity is part of that equation; serendipity, that uncontrollable external force that visits us at random. One has to be prepared to seize it because we never know when it might come. I can handle that. Preparation, the other part of the equation, is what brought me to DeVry University after having been out of school for sixteen years.
I completed my Associate’s degree in Mechanical Engineering in 1996, and I was done, out of gas. I felt as if I had drained an Olympic-sized swimming pool with a teaspoon. Thirteen years to complete a two-year degree while working and raising four children. I had no plans to ever move on to a Bachelor’s degree. I was content to be a father of four and a grandfather of seven and work my seemingly secure job.
In fact, I was startled when I heard a radio talk show, with callers in their 50’s, lamenting that their two-year degrees, which had always served them well, were getting them nowhere in the current economic situation. This hit me way too close to home. In addition, a new compensation plan at my work placed more emphasis on higher education. Under this new system, coworkers lacking a four-year degree were being passed over for advancement. I felt that I was not in a good place. If an opportunity came along, I was not ready. If I were to have any chance to benefit from Seneca’s luck equation, I would need to do my part. I needed to prepare. That is what DeVry did for me.
My Bachelor’s degree in Technical Project Management has prepared me for opportunity when it comes knocking. My four-year degree will be my “trump card.” In this effort, I am not really depending on pure chance to bring me opportunity either. In my preparation I am building something more. Seneca was wise, but I further subscribe to Ernest Hemingway, who once wrote, “You make your own luck.” My experience at DeVry thus far has proved that Hemingway’s observation is also true.
Interesting things have happened since I embarked on this endeavor. The business of “luck making” seems to be contagious. I explained what I was doing to a young salesman, who called on me at work recently; he seemed transformed on his next visit. “Hey, guess what I am doing?” he asked me excitedly. Without waiting for my answer, he blurted out, “I’m going back to school for my Master’s! I got to thinking after the last time we talked and I think you have it right!”
In a similar fashion, I talked to an old friend who also started thinking about making some luck of his own. But most importantly, my twenty-year old daughter, who is currently attending Cuyahoga Community College, is impressed with my accomplishment. I think my returning to school at age 54 is a life lesson for her: it is never too late. When opportunity knocks, you will have a part to play, so get prepared to play it!
Finally, I commend us all tonight for doing our part! None of us is entitled to that pay increase, job promotion, or new position. We need to give someone a good reason to give us these things over some other deserving individual. This diploma is the start of a very good reason! We have done our part, and those of us who go on to Keller will do more. For which is sadder: never to have gotten an opportunity, or to get it and not be ready? I am betting on the latter!