Dream No Little Dreams
Chancellor Kent Hance Commencement Address
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In 1961, my mother and dad brought me to Texas Tech. They let me out at Bledsoe Hall. Soon thereafter, I fell in love with Texas Tech, and I have loved it ever since.
My family has to watch me because in August every year, I want to go back and start all over—just one more time. I finished my Tech degree in four years, but if I could have taken 14 years—I would have loved it. Maybe I shouldn’t have said that, but one time after speaking at an earlier Tech graduation, a student approached me and said, “I appreciate your saying that for it makes my seven years look really short.”
As a student, I loved everything about Texas Tech. It is the greatest university in the world. You can receive no better education anywhere. We have an excellent faculty. We have faculty that inspired me.
I would also put our alumni up against anyone. Consider our alumni—who are the best—because they excel. When Congress and the White House had concerns about General Motors, they didn’t call Harvard or Yale or Stanford, they called a Texas Tech graduate—Ed Whitacre, Jr.—to solve GM’s problems. Ed is the only person in history to have served as chief executive officer (CEO) of two top-ten corporations in the world, having been CEO at AT&T before joining GM.
When you look at Forbes magazine’s recent “100 most powerful women of the world” listing, you will find as number four, Angela Braly who came to Tech from Richardson, Texas. While at Texas Tech, someone forgot to tell her, “You can’t be CEO of the largest insurance company of the world.” Braly is chief executive officer and president of the largest insurance company in the world, WellPoint, the parent firm for Blue Cross/Blue Shield. I called Angela when she was named to the Forbes list and said, “I am impressed. You were even ahead of Oprah and Hillary Clinton.” She said, “My sisters were impressed that I was ahead of Queen Elizabeth”—which shows she has a good sense of humor.
If you visit New York City, Google the Metropolitan Opera to find out if Susan Graham is performing. Susan is a regular at the Met and acknowledged to be one of the world’s foremost mezzo-sopranos. She is also a West Texas woman and a double graduate of Texas Tech. Somebody forgot to tell her that you can’t have such roots and become one the world’s leading opera performers. On Sunday night when you watch 60 Minutes, note the work of correspondent Scott Pelley. He’s a Texas Tech man.
If you hear about Captain John Alexander, the new Commanding Officer of the U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln—one of only 10 Nimitz-class aircraft carriers and among the largest in the world—think of Texas Tech. He is one of us.
If you go to China, and visit the country’s largest telecommunications company, you will note the name of CEO Edward Tian. He’s a Texas Tech graduate. When you try to envision all the societal reform necessary for Iraq to become a stable democracy, think about Hussein Al-Uzri, another Texas Tech graduate (electrical engineering). Mr. Uzri is president of the Iraq’s largest financial institution—The Trade Bank of Iraq—that is leading the latest advances in banking in his home country. Al-Uzri’s dedication to commercial reform almost cost him his life during a suicidal bomber’s efforts in 2008.
All professional baseball teams can use a boost once in a while. But, when the Oakland Athletics could see a perfect game in their sights on May 9, 2010, they placed their faith in Dallas Lee Braden—a Tech graduate—to deliver the very special win. Our people excel. They have a great work ethic, they know what to do, and they dream no little dreams.
Now, I am going to share briefly just a few recommendations with you. The first relates to leadership. Leadership usually is determined by what people think of you and how you treat them. When I was thirty, I was fortunate enough to be on a board of regents, and the chairman called me and asked, “Would you like to go to New York with me to see the New York Nicks and the Boston Celtics play in the NBA finals?” I said, “Sure, I would love too.” So I flew to Dallas commercially, and we went in the chairman’s private jet to New York. And that’s the way to go. That was the first time I had ever been on a private jet. In fact, when we landed I got out of the jet and walked around it a couple times, hoping that the girl who stood me up when I was a sophomore in high school would drive by, and I could say, “What’s happening, honey?” She wasn’t in the neighborhood.
The chairman and I then took a limo to Madison Square Garden where we watched the Nicks-Celtics game. Even though the chairman lived in Dallas, he had an apartment in New York City. We went to the apartment after the game. It was really nice especially being situated on the east side of Central Park. As we entered the building, it was obvious that the chairman knew not only the doorman by his first name, but the desk clerk and elevator operator as well. We got onto the elevator along with a number of other people. Our destination was the 31st floor—the penthouse where the chairman had an apartment—one of two. Before we started on our journey up, the elevator operator said to the chairman, “Mr. Box, my son will graduate from Holy Cross this year, and he would never have been able to do it if you hadn’t given him a summer job.”And Box said, “Look, we were glad to have him, and he did such a good job, we have offered him a permanent position and he is going to take it.” The elevator operator then said, “I know, we really appreciate it. I have another boy that’s graduating from high school and he needs a summer job.” So my friend told him, “Well you have him contact . . . and if your younger son is capable of functioning as well as his brother, I am sure we will be able to work something out.” Then, as we continued to ascend, the elevator operator said, “My daughter needs a music scholarship over at Columbia University. Could you write a letter of recommendation?” And Box got out his pen and replied, “What’s your daughter’s full name? I know the president of Columbia since we served on a committee together. I will call him tomorrow.” Shortly thereafter, the elevator made its first stop and it was on floor 31. As we got off, people grumbled a little as the elevator had gone by the sixth, eighth, and additional floors where the other passengers wished to get off. As we stepped out of the elevator I remarked, “Those people were angry.” And he said, “I’ve told my elevator friend a million times, don’t do that. But he does it every time.”
Now, if my job was running that elevator and somebody had helped one of my kids get through college, was going to help another one with a job, and volunteered to help my daughter obtain a music scholarship, I also would have gone straight to the 31st floor. The next day, I went with the chairman to Marine Midland Bank, which was bought out by Citicorp several years ago. We went there to see a banker named Lee Erdman. I hadn’t met him previously and haven’t seen him since, but I remember the bank and remember his name. The chairman was there to borrow two million dollars—not for his company but for a little project he had on the side. The chairman borrowed two million like I would have borrowed twenty dollars. But as I watched the chairman, I observed that he was no more cordial to the guy who loaned him two million dollars than he had been to the person who ran the elevator. There is something to be said for that. Watch people who are successful. Hang around them. Watch how they act. I am sure as a CEO of a major company, my chairman friend had to let people go from time to time. He also had to make tough decisions, but he was consistent in how he treated people—people at all levels—with the utmost respect, and they treated him the same way back.
A second message about leadership relates to a professor I had at Texas Tech, Dr. Ken Davis who told me something that helped a lot. And I want you to remember this one also. He said, “In communication—oral or written—it is important that your messages are so clear and concise that you cannot be misunderstood.” Boy, he is right on that. There have been wars fought over people not understanding each other. So anytime you are giving instructions to others, make sure the recipients understand you. Many times I tell people who work for me to repeat back what I have said. I want to make sure they don’t get me wrong. That’s very important. Professors at Texas Tech, Dr. Davis, and many others inspired me. I now teach a course on leadership and success. It’s a one-hour offering for juniors and seniors. Do I have any of my students in here? Please raise your hands. Look at all those smart people. Just little geniuses!
As a part of my course, I try to stay on top of issues, along with fads, fashions, and other cultural changes. A year ago, near Valentine’s week, I went to buy my wife some flowers. I went to United Supermarkets. The reason I go to a supermarket instead of the floral shop is because it is cheaper. It’s the thought that counts. Remember that. If you don’t think that it’s the thought that counts then forget sometime and you’ll understand it. After picking out some flowers I went to check out. The girl who was working the cash register was checking me out. Not the type of checking me out wherein she might ask, “What’s happening Paw, Paw? You want to get together a little later?” No, she was going to tabulate my bill and take my money. But, at the same time, it looked like she was about the cry. So, I asked her, “Are you okay?” And she said, “Heath Ledger just died. Heath Ledger just died.” I replied, “Did he work here?” I didn’t know who he was. I got home later that night and was watching television and found out. When I told this story at orientation last year, a lady from Abilene sent me a text message. It said, “Dear Chancellor, in case you did not know: Michael Jackson did not work at United Supermarkets.” I knew who Michael Jackson was.
Besides staying abreast of cultural developments, another important thing for you to remember is to follow through with your dreams. My motto at Texas Tech is this: “Dream no little dreams!” If you want to dream little dreams go to A&M or UT Austin. I shouldn’t have said that, they’re good schools. We hire some of their graduates occasionally to work for us. But, leadership, as I mentioned in reference to Scott Pelley and others, is a clear mark of Texas Tech people.
In my leadership class, I have my students read an article called “A Message to Garcia.” In 1898, President McKinley was trying to reach General Garcia, who was head of the insurgency in Cuba fighting Spain. He was in the middle of the jungle surrounding the mountains of Cuba. They didn’t know how to get him a message over 100 years ago. That’s when someone suggested that if there were anyone who could do it, it would be Colonel Rowen. So they contacted Colonel Rowen and asked him to come to the White House. They gave him a letter in a leather pouch. And President McKinley’s aid said, “We want you to deliver this to General Garcia.” Here is a picture of what happened next: Colonel Rowen winds up in the jungle somewhere in Cuba. His confederates inform him, “A boat will take you to toward the south coast of Cuba and will let you out so you may proceed north until you encounter General Garcia. After you have made contact, given him the letter, and after you have gotten a reply, you will proceed further north and shoot a flare with this flare gun we are giving you. We will then come to pick you up.” Now here’s the important thing in this story about leadership. Colonel Rowen didn’t say, “Could I hire a consultant? Could I get a committee? Can y’all give me more information?” He did it! He did the job. Three weeks later he had delivered the message, and he fired that flare on the northern side of Cuba. When his number was called, he was ready. Now in your lifetime, there are going to be times that your number will be called. Be ready!
In 1981 President Reagan called. More precisely, his secretary called my office and said, “The president wants to see you.” And I went over to the oval office and met with President Reagan one-on-one, when he said, “I need you to carry the tax cut.” That’s the tax cut contained in the Conable-Hance Act. It’s the largest tax cut in the history of the country. Let me tell you something. I was ready. I was ready!
Many people get excited about baseball games. They may even fantasize about starring in professional baseball games. But, games aren’t won on the day of the game; they are won during two-a-day practices that make you ready to play. When your number is called, I want you to be ready to play.
As future leaders, you are going to have to have goals. I want you to think about those goals. Goals should not be discussed with masses of people, except perhaps one or two persons. But once you have established your goals, give five minutes a day to think about them along with your personal life. Are you happy? Are you excited about your job? Are you satisfied spiritually? Think about that—five minutes a day. I know, a lot of you are saying to yourselves, “That’s not much time at all.” Now I want to do something. During the next 15 seconds, I am not going to say anything so you will have a better understanding of exactly what five minutes is. [PAUSE] Seems like a long time, doesn’t it? Boy it just seems like an eternity. But it’s not. Remember: Five minutes a day on your goals.
I want to end this talk with just a few thoughts about failure. You have got to have some failures. If you don’t have failures you will never be successful.
Thomas Edison tried many things in his quest to invent the light bulb. But, he knew what he wanted. One time, a reporter from the New York Times asked, “How do you feel about failing ten thousand times?” He replied, “I haven’t failed ten thousand times, I just know ten thousand ways it won’t work.” I like that. He took a positive approach.
Abraham Lincoln lost seven elections in a row before he won the presidency. Having been in politics, I would have caught on after about four or five rejections. But, seven in a row—and he turned out to be one of the greatest presidents that we have ever had.
One of my fraternity brothers at Texas Tech was named Henry John Deutschendorf, Jr. We called him Dutch. He quit school in our junior year and went on to the Knott’s Berry Farm to sing. He then began writing songs and singing. Sometime later, he changed his name to Denver—John Denver! I advised him not to go into singing. I just didn’t think he had the talent. Then, there’s a friend of mine from Matador, Texas. He wrote country and western songs including a song about his girlfriend, which had the line, “Her teeth are stained but her heart is pure.” I thought he had a lot of talent but no one is aware of him today. John Denver was repeatedly told in Nashville and Hollywood that he didn’t have it. But he believed in himself. He followed his dream.
I want you to follow your dream. I want you to feel a passion about something. The best employees, the best leaders, are people who feel passion about their careers and roles in life. I don’t care if you want to be a CEO, member of Congress, the best elementary education teacher or best social worker. Whatever you want to be, I want you to do well. I want you to be excited. I want you to be successful. In fact, I want you to be so successful that you will rival Bill Gates, Jr. and Warren Buffet for money earned—and you should send 90 percent of it to Texas Tech. I’m only asking for 90 percent.
By the way, while I am at it, you should join the Tech Alumni Association. One hundred dollars a year is a good way to start and you’ll know what’s going on. Come back to football games. Participate at Texas Tech. We love ya, and you will continue to love Texas Tech. This is a great school.
One thing that makes me appreciate why Tech is so great, is that during one of my leadership classes, we discussed immigration, and a young man came up after class and he said, “Chancellor, I think my parents were the original illegal aliens.” I replied, “Son, I don’t know your parents, but they’re not old enough.” His mother and dad came from Mexico. One of them washes dishes; the other one is a cook. He went through Texas Tech, even though it took him six years. He didn’t borrow any money. He worked his way through and is now teaching high school history.
The next week a young man, two down from the above-noted student, came up to see me and said, “My granddad says he is a good friend of yours.” And I asked, “Who’s your granddad?” He said, “James Baker.” Then I questioned: “James Baker?” “Yes,” he said, “James A. Baker.” And, I followed with, “Secretary of State under Bush and Secretary of Treasury under Reagan?” “Yes,” he said, “that’s Paw Paw.” To which I responded, “Good, we are going to get Paw Paw to speak at graduation.” And, we did. Is this a great country or what? You have in that class, two removed from each other, one student, whose parents are washing dishes and flipping burgers and another student whose granddad knows every leader in the world on a first-name basis. And, the students are getting the same great education. Our university is a cross section of America. I love Texas Tech!
In summary, I want you to excel in everything you do. Don’t let me down. Go Red Raiders!
About the Author
Kent Hance is Chancellor of the Texas Tech University System. He is a baccalaureate business graduate of Texas Tech and subsequently earned a law degree from the University of Texas at Austin. Prior to joining the Texas Tech System in 2006, Hance practiced law in Austin and served as Texas Railroad Commissioner. In the years leading up to his commissioner post, he served three terms in the U.S. House of Representatives and five years in the Texas Senate. Hance’s legendary course on leadership has inspired many future leaders of Texas and beyond. This paper is based on his December 18 and 19, 2009 commencement addresses to Texas Tech University graduates in Lubbock, Texas.