Advise and inspire

By Ken Frederic | Jun 07, 2018

Memorial Day is behind us, along with another crop of commencement addresses. I don’t recall who spoke at any of my own graduations or what they said, but I do remember the speaker at my son’s commencement from Virginia Tech was named Warner and was so drunk at 11 a.m. that he could not complete a full sentence coherently. His address was, thankfully, nearly as short as it was empty of content. If these addresses are intended to inspire graduates to seek high achievement, I would suggest that our institutions fail their graduates by their selection of speakers based more on their celebrity, ideology or availability than on a record of success and leadership.

While speakers at my graduations didn’t impress me much, some men and women have offered views, rebukes and advice that profoundly shaped my thinking and behavior. Maybe one or two will resonate:

In 1958, I went with a group of other boys to rake leaves at the Methodist Church in Strong. It was a nice day and I wanted to get the raking done so I could go do something more enjoyable. Later that day, my mom got a call telling her I’d worked steadily, without taking breaks, and done more actual raking than anyone else.

Later, at the University of Maine, Professor Ken Parsons told a class I was in that he knew he wasn’t as "smart" as many others. But, he added, he had learned in life that what he lacked in ability to easily grasp complex electrical engineering concepts he could make up for by working harder than his more gifted associates. Parsons also ran his own manufacturing business.

When I decided to resign from the National Security Agency and try my hand in private industry, George Cotter, a senior executive at the agency, first tried to change my mind, then told me I would never regret any decision I had made, only the ones I didn’t make. (Indeed, my greatest failures have been decisions I waited too long to make.)

While I was manager of hardware engineering at Ford Aerospace, my lab manager came to me to say he was recommending no pay increases for any of his staff. These people performed complex testing and I asked him why. His answer was that he agreed with paying people for their experience, but that there was a big difference between 15 years’ experience and one year's  experience 15 times. I thanked goodness I was his supervisor, not his subordinate.

My son started his own business and, after a few years, grew it to several hundred professional employees with a two-year backlog of contract work. He told me one evening, that an associate had marveled at how lucky he had been." Dad," he said, "what I’ve found is that the harder I work, the luckier I get."

Finally, last week, Mary Mayhew told the Lincoln County Republican Committee that she had been told repeatedly by employers across Maine that they were so eager to hire people they only asked for candidates who would show up every day, on time and sober (including drugs), and work until quitting time. In the days since, young folks have confirmed to me that many of their contemporaries won’t meet those demands and that those who say they can’t find a job aren’t looking.

This year's graduates will likely sit, as I did, not listening to some speaker drone on, a few giving what passes for inspiration and many others seeking to redefine success, denounce the successful and even to suggest the successful are to be hated and brought down. Fortunately, most of the graduates will pay them no more mind than I did.

In the workplace, they will find their "education" fell far short of preparing them for the real world, that much of what they were told was self-serving and excuse-making. They will find the world has no "safe spaces" and cares not if they are "offended" by a rebuke. They will find their needs are not on anyone else’s priority list. Hopefully, most will quickly adjust to the real world, recognize good advice when it’s given, and become the kind of employees who are always surprised when there’s a promotion or pay raise. The rest, I suspect, will scramble for a teaching position at some university.

Comments (4)
Posted by: Ronald Horvath | Jun 08, 2018 19:02

And here's another on you won't like, Dale.


"Watching you other people making friends

Everywhere – as a dog makes friends! I mark

The manner of these canine courtesies

And think: "My friends are of a cleaner breed;

Here comes – thank God – another enemy!"


-Cyrano de Bergerac

Posted by: Mary A McKeever | Jun 08, 2018 12:50

Food for thought. Thank you. I see college grads doing post graduate and living at home. Some not even thinking of working and still dependent off his/her parents. I guess it is a different era where summer work paid for tuition by students themselves, or helped alleviate parents financial Burdon. Education has grown to be a financial problem as it gains increases beyond the student and parents ability to pay. One should look at the expenses and salaries involved at the college/university. Perhaps night school and day jobs are the answers to some. Good luck!

Posted by: Dale E. Landrith Sr. | Jun 08, 2018 10:07

A great many people think they are thinking when all they do is cut and past quotations from other people

Posted by: Ronald Horvath | Jun 07, 2018 15:11

“A great many people think they are thinking when they are merely rearranging their prejudices.” -William James

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