George C. Greer
Keynote address delivered at Chatham University
December 19, 2010
Mr. Chairman and Trustees, Dr. Barazzone. Thank you for the great honor you have bestowed on me. I receive this degree with great pleasure, but I must first acknowledge the unanimous and enthusiastic support of each of the Trustees of the Eden Hall Foundation for the gift of the new Eden Hall Campus to Chatham University.
Class of 2010: congratulations to each of you. I am proud to be a member of your class and have some brief remarks for my fellow graduates. The rest of you may listen in at your discretion. In light of the somber economic picture across the world, the shadows of two unfinished wars, ominous rumblings from the Korean peninsula, and with the Middle East at a boiling point, your prospects for the future may seem bleak.
I looked back at my own youth for inspiration on what I might say to you today.
- I was born in the midst of the worst depression in history
- My early education included air raid practice, blackouts and food rationing
- My college years were filled with the anxiety of whether or not I would receive a draft notice to go fight in Korea along with my diploma.
- The rise of communism threatened to challenge the hard–fought freedoms that Europe and Asia were beginning to enjoy after WWII.
Indeed, my first job after law school was sitting in a foxhole in germany near the soviet border, keeping a watchful eye on the morning mist. A pretty good comparison, don't you think?
The point is –– the world had a lot of question marks as it does today.
I should interject at this point that I received my bachelor of arts degree in 1954. The commencement speaker was the President of Columbia University and soon–to–be President of the United States – General Dwight D. Eisenhower. I am sure he imparted great wisdom from his vast experiences, but I am embarrassed to say that I do not remember any part of the ceremony – except for a quick escape. Likewise, I have no recollection of any speaker when I received my law degree. – Another quick escape to a cram school for the bar exam. Perhaps you will do better. So, as today, there was a great deal of anxiety and concern about the future. In fact, that anxiety is probably consistent for all graduates in all years. But personally, I think you and I had particularly tough ones.
So let's be honest. it's not going to be easy. It's going to take hard work, persistence and a bit of street smarts. But overcoming challenges in life is what makes us who we are. It's what gives us our character. So, in that sense, these challenges are your opportunity to stand up to them, to overcome them and to hopefully leave your positive mark on this world.
I have three observations which I hope will be useful.
First: with a perspective of 50–plus years, I can say without reservation that after finishing my formal education, the world, in fact, offered unlimited opportunities, social advancement and technical breakthroughs that were far beyond my imagination as a college student – computers, the internet, space travel, analysis of the human genome, drone warfare, to name a few. I predict the same for you. The world will change in unimaginable and positive ways. Opportunities are unlimited.
My advice, therefore, is don't despair if you find short–term obstacles. Seek out opportunities anywhere in the world; be persistant, tenacious and flexible as you begin your first of probably several careers. And remember, success requires optimism. It is an instinct that all humans possess but sometimes you have to dig deep to find it. Your futures, in my view, are unbelievably bright.
I want to tell you a true story, which supports my advice.
Last week I was having lunch at a sushi bar in Squirrel Hill. When the bill arrived, it was accompanied by a fortune cookie. I will leave it to you to decipher the significance of a Chinese fortune cookie at a Japanese sushi bar in Squirrel Hill.
The message in my fortune cookie was: "every adversity carries with it the seed of an equal or greater benefit." If you feel discouraged, just remember my fortune cookie!
My second bit of wisdom stems from almost 40 years in the corporate world. ––Perhaps more credibility than my fortune cookie. –– After observing talented people dealing with major problems and day–to–day issues, alone or in teams, I identified two distinct groups: the problem–solvers and the complicators. Problem–solvers focus on clarifying critical issues – listen to and weigh the views of others, assessing the risks involved and make a decision. Complicators, often among the brightest in a group, tend to see all of the problems, risks of failure, reasons to pass on any action without attempting to measure the real potential and impact of the issue they raise. My advice – develop the skills of problem–solving and increase your value in any chosen endeavor. Thirdly – make time for unremunerated public service. Involve yourself in a cause or issue which has personal significance for you or find something which has great benefit for society as a whole. You will find that although you cannot save the world as an individual, you can impact directly the lives of a few with resultant personal gratification and sense of accomplishment.
With that I wish you all good luck and smooth sailing. Rush for the doors and begin a great life.