Volume 4, Number 1; March 2012
Some Lessons for Lifelong Success
About the Author
Edward E. Whitacre, Jr., has crafted a career serving society through corporate leadership at two of the largest corporations in America, AT&T and GM. He has also served on the boards of Exxon Mobil, the PGA, and Burlington Northern Santa Fe Corporation. He is a native of Ennis, Texas, and graduated from Texas Tech with a BS in Industrial Engineering in 1964.
This paper is based on Edward E. Whitacre, Jr.'s December 17, 2011, commencement addresses to Texas Tech University graduates in Lubbock, TX.
Written by Edward E. Whitacre, Jr.
Good Morning to all of you: graduates, family members, friends, faculty, administration, and regents. It is my honor to be here with you today. In fact I can't think of any place I would rather be this day.
It's a proud day for you, isn't it! A very proud day! And it represents a significant achievement. It's been a lot of hard work, and it's been a lot of other things too. Maybe a few sleepless nights! Perhaps some financial worries along the way! And, just about every other thing you can think of: Did I pass? What's my GPA going to be? Can I get a job? That's probably a "biggy" isn't it?
But now you have done it. You're getting that degree. My role is to brag about you and offer some words of encouragement along with a few thoughts about life's lessons and their adoption. And I have to do all of that in a very short time because most of you want to get this over quickly. Am I right? Of course I am right. I was there one time. So bear with me just a very few minutes.
Before getting started, I want to thank Chancellor Hance for his kind introduction. One time when he was asked to introduce me, I asked him beforehand to please keep it short. The chancellor got up and said, "Ladies and gentlemen, welcome Ed Whitacre. The less you know about him the better."
You know your chancellor at one time taught business law at Texas Tech. Did you know that? He taught business law at Texas Tech back in the 1970's. One day in his class he asked his students what they would do if they had a single hour to live. One young woman said she would spend her last hour in his class. Of course, he was flattered by that answer, and he asked her why. She said, "Because every hour in your class seems like an eternity." Seriously, he's a good person, and we are fortunate to have him as chancellor at Texas Tech.
But getting back to my charge, let me offer some personal context. I graduated from Texas Tech almost fifty years ago. And I have to tell you it has gone by in a flash. But one thing I have learned almost fifty years later is that you can't stop learning. So my first lesson to you is: Don't think you can ever stop learning. Don't think your education is over. It's not. Successful people never stop learning.
Mark Twain once said that riverboat pilots have to be really smart, maybe the smartest people in the world, because the river's current and eddies change the river so quickly that you have to keep up with the river channel every day. And then you had to relearn it the next day and the following day because the river channel shifts with the changing currents and eddies. And if you don't keep up, you wind up shipwrecked; you wind up overwhelmed by the river. It's the same way in life. You cannot be a learning dropout in life or life will overwhelm you. The currents will get you.
You are going to face new technologies, new discoveries, and new ideas—so keep learning. You have shown today by getting and earning a degree that you have ability. Ability is a wonderful thing. But, let me be truthful. Ability is not enough. Your degree, believe it or not, is not a guarantee of success. Passion and energy are necessary. Taking chances, taking some risks will also be required to be successful. The Wright Brothers were passionate and energetic, and they took some chances when they dreamed of flying. And even though they only flew forty yards early on—they flew.
My second bit of advice to you today is: Find your passion. Apply that passion with all your energy and enthusiasm. Your passion might be in business, it might be the arts; it might be in history; or it might be in engineering. It could be many other things, indeed up to hundreds of things. But find your passion and go for it. I didn't know at sixty-seven years of age that I wanted to be the chief executive officer (CEO) of a car company. But it happened. I went for it. I would like you to go for it, also. The world needs you, and you can change the world. We need you—we need each and every one of you to make a difference in this world.
When you walk across this stage today, somebody is walking with you. Somewhere along the way, someone inspired you. Somebody helped motivate you. Maybe it was a parent, a teacher, a mentor, or a professor. Thank them.
My third piece of advice is to be persistent. I hope you know this to be true. Persistence is the key to success. Persistence pays off. Never give up. Pursue your dreams. You will have a few detours along the way. There may be some failures. There may be a time or two of frustration. Just remember, hang in there. Things will change. Hang in there!
Here is one additional bit of advice: Treat people like you want to be treated yourself. This is age-old advice that resonates broadly. And, enjoy other people, enjoy your search, keep looking. Treasures are there for those who don't give up and who don't settle for less.
Lastly: Give thanks. When you walk across this stage today, somebody is walking with you. Somewhere along the way, someone inspired you. Somebody helped motivate you. Maybe it was a parent, a teacher, a mentor, or a professor. Thank them. Somebody helped pay. Somebody sacrificed to make this day possible for you. Even if you pulled yourself up by your bootstraps, chances are somebody helped you get the boots. I had some great professors here, like Dr. Richard A. Dudek and Dr. M. M. Ayoub*. I remember them. And I remember others and a lot of other people do, too. So thank someone. Keep family and friends close as you go forward from today. And keep Texas Tech close, too. Be appreciative of the education you have gotten here and be supportive of your school. It's a great place!
In summary, keep learning; find your passion; be persistent; treat people like you prefer to be treated; give thanks. Will Rogers once said, "Never miss a good chance to shut up." I will abide by his advice.
Please accept my best wishes for you today. And thank you for letting me be a part of this day.
* Many thanks to Professor William Marcy (Whitacre College of Engineering and former provost at TTU) for information on Dr. Richard A. Dudek, a Paul Whitfield Horn Professor and the longest-serving chair of the Department of Industrial Engineering, and Dr. M. M. Ayoub, a Paul Whitfield Horn Professor of industrial engineering. Dr. Dudek passed away May 2, 2010, at the age of eighty-three.