Communications Office: Stephen Mease
Good morning. I am honored to speak with you today. When I was asked, I reflected on my own graduate commencement ceremonies. There were two distinctly different events that stood out; one changed my life.
The first graduate ceremony was almost exactly 30 years ago in Cambridge, MA when I graduated with my Masters. I was eager to start my career having studied with phenomenal leaders in education and business. What I remember most though is who was there with me. I remember my grandmother sitting in in the blazing heat, wiping sweat from her brow. I remember my mother, so proud that her daughter, first in the family to go to college, was now graduating with an advanced degree. I remember my mother telling me as she had many times before, that I could achieve whatever I wanted to in life. My feeling was deep gratitude for my family and friends. And the memory is a reminder that today truly is about you and the people who are here with you, whether in the room and in your heart. Feel proud of your accomplishment and feel the gratitude you have for each and every one of the people who have supported you in getting here.
These thoughts brought up the question, "What DO I have to share?" I know many of you through my experience at Champlain. I know you are smart and talented, many of you already leaders in your career and life. What can I possibly say to make an impact? I am not famous or extraordinary. I am living an extraordinary life.
My career lets me witness and guide people and companies through transformations. I guide individual, organizational and societal change toward simple, sustainable and compassionate living. This is my purpose. It is deeply authentic and rewarding. To learn, to lead, to love, to grow and to serve while maintaining a deep connection to my purpose has offered me the opportunity for more success and joy than I ever thought possible. I certainly didn't walk away from commencement knowing this. And I did not recognize this was my purpose until after my second career was finished. Get ready. It is very likely you will have several career changes in your life. Graduation is more about the beginning of a new chapter than the ending of one. My graduation advice to you is to be an alchemist.
The word alchemist means "that which is poured out" and is defined as the transmutation of baser metals into gold. Transmutation is not a surface change; it is a deep, at the source transformation. An alchemist pours oneself out in the world through their unique personal expression and turns their life and others into gold.
Many of you may be familiar with the book "The Alchemist" by Paulo Coelho as it's sold more than 65 million copies in 56 different languages. It's one of the best-selling books in history and just last week hit 300 weeks on the NYT bestseller list. It's the tale of a Spanish shepherd boy who ventures to Egypt in search of his destiny. It's the timeless story of struggle, victory and the return home; it speaks to the universal language of transformation. I have read the book countless times and it continues to serve as an inspirational guide to my own change processes. Change is what propels us forward in life.
So here are my six tips to be an alchemist. I invite you to take this journey with me, one where self-knowledge meets heart led action to lead you to YOUR treasure.
Be grateful for what you have. All of it. Imperfect, complicated, taxing. All, all of it! Life is a gift. Appreciate everything, especially the ordinary.
The alchemist says thank you every single day.
BE CONNECTED to the people around you. We simply cannot be successful without other people, at home or at work.
A couple weeks ago I heard former President Bill Clinton speak. He shared a story about E.O. Wilson. Wilson is a historian and biologist who studied the history of species across time. He found there are only a handful species that have survived; ants, termites, bees and humans. And it's because of their reliance on others.
Mr. Clinton noted that here was evidence that we all need networks of creative cooperation to survive. He added that people hold the greatest promise because we have consciousness and conscience. He is optimistic, as am I, that we can solve the world's greatest problems through our relationships if we act on the knowledge that we are all connected.
The alchemist acts on the knowledge that success is all about cooperative relationships.
Who are you, really?
Let me share a brief exercise I learned in a workshop with Mindfulness guru Jon Kabat Zinn. Take a deep breath. Now watch the thoughts floating about in your mind. What are you thinking?
There are thousands upon thousands of very interesting thoughts going on right now in this room. You might be thinking, what is next in the program? Or, I can't wait till this is over and we can get to the celebration. Or even my shoes are killing me. Thousands of thoughts. Now....who is observing these thoughts? THIS is the YOU you need to know. The ONE behind the thinking. The peaceful inner voice.
Spend time with this YOU, your authentic voice at least once a day and listen to what it has to say. It will never send you in the wrong direction. Do whatever it takes to hear this voice as many times a day as possible; through meditation, exercise, prayer, service, mindful living.
My deepest listening and ability to be present occurs while I am running or hiking but listening to that inner voice while engaging with the ordinary details of life is even more essential. The more present with myself I am every moment of every single day, the more I have to give. Self-knowing does not lead to selfishness. It does lead to empowering selflessness and fullness of life and love that our world desperately needs.
Marianne Williamson is her often quoted starts,
"Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us.
And she ends,
"And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others."
I love that quote. The alchemist knows who they really are. BE YOU. The liberated you. The world needs you.
BE ON PURPOSE
Once you know the real you, pay attention, be present to where your energy moves you. This movement towards increased energy, excitement and passion is the key to being on purpose.
Why are you here? What is your purpose?
The poet Rumi says "Let yourself be silently drawn by the strong pull of what you really love." I love that strong pull however purpose might also make itself known through a strong PUSH.
Have you ever have a moment when you knew your life was changed forever? A pivotal moment when you knew that nothing would be the same again? I have had several. The moment in in the Cornell lab, my senior year of college when I could not put the dog down and my childhood dream to be a veterinarian, died; the moments my children were born; the moment the police officer was at my front door to tell me my father had died. Each one pushed me toward my purpose in a pivotal, raw way.
I alluded earlier to a graduate ceremony experience that changed my life. It actually was one of THOSE pivotal moments. It was 2004. I was at my doctoral graduation ceremony at UVM. We were sitting outside in a line of chairs on Prospect Street in a steady rain all wondering why the ceremony wasn't being held inside.
I was feeling proud of my accomplishment, my study I had completed on leadership. I was grateful to be surrounded by the love of my family and friends. I had a successful career, nationally known as a contributor to changing governmental response to children who experience domestic violence. I worked with fabulously talented and dedicated people seeking to end violence against women and children. I felt a great pride and love. I also felt something else. I felt numb. At that moment, playwright David Mamet (Maymit) began his commencement speech.
Have you ever driven down the road and not remembered that you had driven the last mile or two? You're on autopilot doing what you did through habit or because something was expected of you or just so easy to not think about what you were doing? Mr. Mamet then said words that literally woke me up from that dream-like state. He said "We all die in the end. There is no reason to stagnate or to die in the middle."
All of a sudden, I felt shaken awake. I realized I was stagnating or even worse, I was dying in the middle. Don't get me wrong, I was profoundly grateful to be in public service and Lord knows we need more people dedicated to ending violence; however the work was not providing me any opportunity to grow. I was working hard and my work was recognized but I wasn't growing. Without growth, there is stagnation and death. Ben Franklin's assessment of this is profound - "When you are finished changing, you are finished."
Mamet's words startled me back into the process of change that inspired me to change from the inside out; and not only with my career; with my WHOLE SELF. I found self-knowledge was not enough. Ideas are important. Execution is everything. Without action, there is no success. It was not long after that day in the rain that I found my purpose.
The alchemist acts on purpose.
Tip # 5
In finding and acting on my purpose, I learned how to be vulnerable. Brene Brown in her famous Ted Talk on the Power of Vulnerability says vulnerability "is the birthplace of innovation, creativity and change." Learning to open up and be vulnerable was a challenging and humbling experience for me. I had been very successful in my prior career yet here I was starting over when most people are settling into their careers. I wanted to return to my Harvard roots in education and business. I wanted to be a leader in a socially responsible business, one that was growing and where I could have a great impact on people's lives. As a Vermonter, I of course, thought Ben & Jerry's, Magic Hat, Green Mountain Coffee Roasters, King Arthur's Flour and Seventh Generation. Instead, what opened was a door to Champlain.
Champlain was not in my plan. It reminds me of the CEO I worked with who kept a sticky note on his IPAD that said "Man plans. God Laughs." I love that. I was pulled to work at Champlain, a creative, dynamic place. I said yes. Counseling and teaching awesome, wonderful students was a profound blessing. I met remarkable people who are some of my closest colleagues and friends. My love and connections to them opened up the next doors in my journey.
I learned to be truly vulnerable and open; open to all the possibilities. I learned if I trust my purpose and listen to the peaceful inner voice then what opens up is inevitably better than I ever could imagine. I also learned that sometimes doors close and when they do I must be prepared and patient for the next door to open because it is often JUST around the corner where I can't see it.
The alchemist is open AND is ready for what is next. Luck as the saying goes, is where preparation meets opportunity. And when opportunity knocks, the alchemist says YES; I'M READY TO BE SURPRISED.
Tip # 6
A few weeks ago I saw the movie "Divergent." It is a great alchemist's story of a woman named Tris who is searching for her authentic self. There is a line near the end of the movie that shook me and stayed with me. The other lead character "4" says to Tris, "Most people shut down with fear but you are different. Fear wakes you up."
I had fallen in love with the character Tris and now I knew why. Not only was she a fantastic role model for young women; in following her truth fearlessly, she woke up. Fear does paralyze most of us and keeps many of us from living our purpose. I have never zip lined or jumped off buildings however I am absolutely moved by the courageous act of any person facing their fears to live their purpose.
Two years ago I was presented with an opportunity to face my fears. I was invited to move across the country after living in Vermont for 20 years, away from all my friends and family, to leave work with incredibly talented people as President of an award winning marketing company; to work for a company in a totally different industry. I felt vulnerable and scared yet I was pulled toward the sun, heat and beauty of the desert. I was likewise enthralled with the prospect of having a greater influence in a larger, growing company one whose purpose was, "To change lives, create traditions, build community and feed the soul with passion, every time every day. " So, I said yes.
Talk about fear. I felt as if I was jumping off a building without being able to see the net below. Taking this leap of faith connected me in a deeper way to my peaceful inner voice and brought me to my present place to both grow and to serve. Facing my fears was and is not an easy thing to do. However I have found that there is simply no other way for me to live a meaningful purposeful life in service to others. I find with each fear I face, I am more excited than scared to dive into whatever is next. I do not know always know where the next call to serve will come from. What a gift. As Helen Keller remarked, "Life IS either a daring adventure or nothing at all."
The alchemist is brave and in facing their fears they live a daring adventure.
Oddly enough, in preparing for this speech I found the root of the word graduation refers to the process of alchemy; to temper, refine or change. Thus, with graduation we each walk the alchemist's path. It is not easy to change and it can be downright painful, however transformation is what leads to success and joy. As graduates today you have tempered, refined and changed yourself to pour out more of the gold that you already are. If we continue this search for deeper self-knowledge and choose heart led action we will all be alchemists. The alchemist is the eternal student.
Be grateful, be connected, be you, be on purpose, be open and be brave. Be an alchemist. At this time in our history we are hungry for lives full of love, connection and service. That is the real treasure. That is your treasure to behold.
Founded in 1878, Champlain College is a small, not-for-profit, private college in Burlington, Vermont, with additional campuses in Montreal, Quebec and Dublin, Ireland. Champlain offers a traditional undergraduate experience from its beautiful campus overlooking Lake Champlain and over 60 online undergraduate and graduate degree programs and certificates. Champlain's distinctive career-driven approach to higher education embodies the notion that true learning occurs when information and experience come together to create knowledge. Champlain College is included in the Princeton Review's The Best 379 Colleges: 2015 Edition. Champlain College is featured in the "Fiske Guide to Colleges" for 2016 as one of the "best and most interesting schools" in the United States, Canada and Great Britain. For more information, visit www.champlain.edu.