2019 Whidbey Island commencement
The Brandman University Whidbey Island campus Class of 2019 celebrated their commencement at the Elks Lodge in Oak Harbor, Wash. on May 1, 2019. Among those who walked across the stage was David Cloward, who earned his master's of arts in organizational leadership degree. He just returned stateside after being deployed for 10 months, providing ground support for the P3 aircraft. He is the father of seven children; his youngest was born just a month before completing his coursework. Cloward shared these remarks, as student speaker for this year's ceremony:
Ladies and Gentlemen of the class of 2019: Wear. Sunscreen. These words were famously spoken to introduce a wonderful Baz Luhrmann song twenty years ago, just before my graduation from high school. The lyricist also advised listeners to stretch, to sing, and to floss. I encourage the same.
When I was asked to speak for this occasion I also thought of the famous speech given more recently by US Admiral William H. McRaven. His first comment was, I think, his best. When you wake up, make your bed – for two reasons. First, “If you make your bed every morning you will have accomplished the first task of the day,” which is a good mindset to have. Second, if the day is hard, when you come home, at least your bed is made.
I was asked to speak on my education journey, and I thought to emphasize a TED talk I recently enjoyed which sums up my journey very well. I haven’t met TED yet, but this talk was given by his friend Mark Rober. He invented the world’s largest NERF gun and tested it on his nephews. He also converted a leaf blower into a snowball machine gun, and tested it on the same kids. That’s my kind of guy. He spoke about a mindset that he called the Super Mario effect.
He conducted a blind experiment where people had to complete a task, with some people told to retain points which were meaningless outside of the experiment. When people were not worried about point grading, they took more risks, and more often got the right answers. He then asked, “Do you see failing in a negative light?” If not, you attempt more, and learn more. The trick to success is finding the right way to frame the process. Frame the process so you’re not concerned with inevitable bumps in the road.
A toddler walking has his focus on the goal of increased mobility, not on failures. With a focus on the goal, he and his parents celebrate the successes on the journey, they don’t bother with punishment for the failures.
In the Nintendo game of Mario, you learn when and where to jump, and focus on beating the game. You never focus on how dumb you look as a result of falling in the lava, getting hit by enemies, and so forth. You learn from failures and try again, you don’t focus on failures. The goal mindset helps you to stick with a task, and learn more.
There is an excellent drawing that shows a bicyclist, my favorite vehicle, with a distant flag he is trying to reach, and a flat road in between. Most of our goals start like this – with a worthy destination, a list of tools to reach it, and a flat road to get there. The second part of the drawing shows reality, where the bicyclist and the flag are at the same start and end points, but the path has pits and steep hills, rocks, a water hazard, and somehow a monkey rope bridge. We know objectively that no plan accounts for everything, but when we start a task and hit the first delays or errors, we might assume that we aren’t good at the task, it’s not worth it, or that others are watching us fail.
This is not just a never give up speech, it not about enduring the hard times. It’s about having a mindset to see the goal, and to take the journey because you want to do it. If you reframe the challenge, you see that the rewards of overcoming the bumps on the way are worth it. A bumpy road is a feature of real life, much like lava pits are a feature of Mario. Focus on the goal, and don’t mind the bumps on the way. They’re a major part of why you chose the goal.
When I started a master's course nine years after my last time in the classroom, I thought many of the new ideas I was studying would be backed up with stories. I found out there was a new language I had to learn. Ideas and examples in peer-reviewed academic papers are not gossip stories from People magazine, they are data points in building theses. I had to learn to look for the ideas without expecting some kind of quick summary of people and their choices, but rather to take the longer view of how this person’s experience contributed to the idea. Learning how to patiently read these articles at their own level was my bump on the road to today.
My life struggles also include things like failing every calculus class on the first attempt, not finishing pilot training, getting dumped by Erica Newtown way back when, and the money I lost on three investment endeavors last year could buy you a nice trip to Hawaii. This list could be my outlook and my story. Alternatively, these bumps in the road are my Mario lava pits on the way to learning and succeeding. I wouldn’t be aware of new school courses, social skills, careers and industries, without going through these experiences. I wouldn’t be aware of new ways of thinking, seeing, and speaking and without going through Brandman University. To the class of 2019, keep the goal in mind, don’t mind the bumps on the way, sing, and wear sunscreen. Thank you.
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