Student Spotlight

From dropout to graduate commencement speaker and still learning

June 02, 2015 by Brandman University

Kevin Soltis with his wife Alessandra, daughter Chelsea and Chelsea’s fiance Erik.

Kevin Soltis delivered the graduate student address at the Northern Commencement in Sacramento, California, on May 30. Potential student commencement speakers were nominated by academic advisors, faculty members and campus directors and chosen after submitting speeches to a selection committee. 

Mahatma Gandhi said that we should live as if we will die tomorrow, but that we should learn as if we will live forever. This simple quote is actually quite inspirational, in a number of ways. First, Gandhi encourages us to live life to the fullest; to make every moment of our existence truly matter. Unfortunately, when “real life” gets under way, we quickly find that there is little room for anything “extra.” Hobbies, exercise and even education can often take a back seat when our lives have become so full of competing priorities.

When I dropped out of high school during my senior year, I thought I had the world all figured out. I believed I had already been exposed to enough education to get me through a lifetime. I never thought that I would be here with you today, as commencement speaker and fellow graduate.

Something unfortunate happens once we start to believe that we have learned everything we need to know. Horizons grow closer, the bubble of our knowledge shrinks, and we find ourselves moving into the future armed with what we used to know.

But Gandhi’s quote also includes one of the keys to living a full life: That one should never stop pursuing education and knowledge. Although it took me a long time to figure out, once I realized the true power of further education, every class I undertook was a new stone overturned, revealing things I would have never known.

The curriculum required me to search for proof for the various opinions I had formed throughout my life. Often, when I first embarked on an assignment or project, I had preconceived beliefs about what the answers to my questions and thesis would be. However, when I began to research, read, and explore to find support for my beliefs, I cannot tell you how many times I ended up finding out that I had been wrong. That intrigued me. So I researched more, read books, and even sometimes got off track. It turns out I had a lot to learn.

Furthering your education enriches your life in ways you could not imagine. First, as a result of such a journey, you will find out the true nature of the things that puzzle you the most. An advanced degree can reveal to you the world of human resources, organizational leadership, or business administration, just to name a few. While these degrees can become the passports into future opportunities in work and life, just as important is what you learn about yourself along the way.

You see, to me, each class required for the award of a degree is a stepping stone. Each of which being an opportunity for what Maslow called “self-actualization.” It is difficult to describe the sense of accomplishment in reaching an educational goal. To me, it has been like climbing a mountain. Once I reached the top, the new viewpoint revealed a more magnificent peak on the horizon. The confidence built by your first academic achievement can then serve to push you toward grander goals in life.

I would like to congratulate my fellow graduates here today. For, after having decided they would benefit from pursuing their degrees, they somehow worked it into their busy lives. Such a quest requires a great amount of dedication, determination, and sacrifice to reach the seats they are in today.

But Brandman University understands this. They know what adult learners face today. They realize that for some of us, high school was a long time ago. Brandman really does a great job to facilitate the effort that you will have to put in. From the professors, counselors, and coaches, to the online technical support team and library staff … the entire team works to help you succeed in a blend of in-classroom and online instruction.

Are today’s graduates finished with their education? I cannot say. What I do know is that, from this new pinnacle they stand upon, anything is possible. You know, Gandhi really got this right. Learning should be a lifetime endeavor. That is another reason why the quote I opened with is so inspirational. Why? Because it applies to each and every one of us here today. It is never too late to further our education. I wish you all a long life, lived to the fullest. And ask you to consider whether or not today might be the perfect day to begin the next leg of your lifelong learning journey.

About the author

Kevin Soltis

Kevin Soltis

Kevin Soltis added a Master of Science in human resource management (M.S.H.R.) from Brandman University, Fairfield campus, to his resume this year. He earned a Master of Arts in organizational leadership (M.A.O.L.) from Brandman in 2012. He is a leadership training facilitator for Leadership Development Network, following an Air Force career that included serving as a command chief master sergeant, museum director and antiterrorism officer.


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