Wednesday, March 30, 2011

PCI Graduation

This past Saturday night, I was lucky enough to be the graduation speaker for the most recent graduates of PCI, a health career training facility here in Dallas.  Here is a short description from their website: 

PCI specializes in the allied health sciences with training for medical career professions exclusively, and we are prepared to meet the challenge by providing qualified graduates who are career ready for the medical community. 

I absolutely loved talking to the students and being part of their celebration.  The graduates ranged in age from 20 to 60+ and about 100 of them were there in caps and gowns, with all of their friends and family members in attendance.  Since this is our luncheon week at CPD (See you there on Friday, gals!), I decided to use the speech I wrote as my blog post this week. 

NOTE:  I was a speech-writing fool the past couple of weeks, so I owe some thanks to the gals from my Leaders Circle at the Center for Non-Profit Management for this one.  My friends in the Leaders Circle (Thea, Charlotte, Tanya, Dolores, Linda, and Harriet) gave me some great advice and let me bounce ideas off of their smart-as-hell brains.  Thanks, gang!  Here’s the speech:

Thank you, Buck.  What a pleasure it is for me to be here this evening to (hopefully) inspire all of you who have inspired me.

Yes, you graduates have inspired me.  You inspired me when Buck told me your stories.  About those of you who are the first members of your families to enter advanced learning.  About those of you who are working 3 and 4 jobs and coming to school so you can build a better life for your kids.  About those of you who have made a great personal sacrifice to be here.

As Buck explained to you, I am the President & CEO of Community Partners of Dallas.  We are a charity that works with the caseworkers of Child Protective Services to provide clothes and shoes and hygiene products for children who are being removed from their abusive homes and placed into a foster home, or with relatives.  Our agency will serve 16,000 children this year.

You guys came to our offices to help as volunteers and without one inkling of reservation, I can tell you that your volunteer work matters to this community.  It matters a lot.

In order to explain why it matters, I need to go back, way back, to 1979.

I graduated from high school here in 1979 – so you don’t have to do the math, I am 49 years old and will be 50 in August – and I went off to college.  I loved acting, so I ended up getting a degree in Theatre.  My dad called it a degree in basket-weaving.  And that is true – I always say that I was trained to do nothing.

And that is what I did with my degree – nothing.  I never used my theatre degree (except for singing in the occasional community show).  I really ended up kind of floundering around for years.  I worked for retail stores as a salesperson, I sold headbands and barrettes, I worked at a bank – that was horrible – they hated me and I hated the work, I sold jewelry for a wholesale company, just a bunch of different things.  But no matter what I was doing to make money, I was always a volunteer.

One day – this was about in 1998 – I was working for the wholesale jewelry company and I had to call the buyer of a store that had made a big order with us (and they were one of our best customers) and tell her that the earring she ordered for her catalog was going to be late.  Well, I just knew that this was going to upset her a lot – and rightly so.  I was SOOO stressed out about making the call and getting yelled at by her.  I put off the call, prayed to God, started crying, just got so worked up.  I was a big old mess.

But right then was when I had my AHA moment – that if I am going to have to get this stressed out and worried about something, I want it to be about more than an earring!  In the grand scheme of life, an earring is just not going to change the world.  And that very day, I decided that I was going to get a job and work for a charity.  A place where my work could change lives and make a difference in the world.  And after taking a big pay cut and starting at the bottom, I finally got a job working for the Dallas Symphony Orchestra, then at another non-profit, and then finally 9 years ago at Community Partners of Dallas.

I tell you all this to show you that you guys are the lucky ones – you made this decision to be trained to help people!  You don’t have to flounder around like I did for 20 years – or if you did flounder around and PCI was a second or third or tenth calling for you aren’t you thrilled that now you are ready?

My goodness, now you are ready and trained to make a difference in people’s lives.  And aren’t we lucky that you have graduated to do this terribly important work?

I haven’t walked in your shoes, but I feel like I know you.  For some of you, your graduation is a beginning in the working world, for others it is a change – as you have been raising kids, working at other jobs, and more.  But whether you are 20 or 60 years old, you now have a spring board into life with an exciting and fulfilling career.

I haven’t walked in your shoes, but I know that all of us are brave.  Your ancestors (and mine) who first came to this country were brave – they came to this melting pot of America for a better life, and to help others to succeed.  And I know that some of you may have had little or no support in completing this training at PCI.  You are self-made and your bravery is inspiring to me and to everyone you will come to know.

I haven’t walked in your shoes, but I know that you will do work that will change lives for the better.

I often spend a little time thinking about how just one decision or act by a single individual can literally change the course of history.  Let me give you an example or two:

When I was a little girl of about 5, my family was at the beach and my younger brother and I were playing in the ocean.  My mom was up on the shore in a deck chair and she watched in horror as my little brother went under the water – she started running and yelled at me to save him.  I reached over and pulled him up.  So, I saved his life – and of course I need to tell you that I bring this up to him all the time – not a Thanksgiving dinner goes by without the story of me saving him and reminding everyone within earshot that he wouldn’t be alive today without me.  That means that his 2 daughters would never have been born.  That his wife might never have been married and would have been an old maid.  That the lives that my brother has touched would have been different.

I also take credit for the cutest, fattest, baby girl in the world because I hired her mother to come and work for me and while she was there she met her husband, they got married, and now that baby brings us all so much joy.

Just imagine how many lives you will touch…  How many people you will make well, who will then go on to lead full lives who will make other people safe, secure, and happy.  None of us will never know how the lives we touch may have been so different were we not there to help them.  A person that you help in your health care career may end up being the President of the United States some day, or a famous actress, or maybe the best mom or dad in the world.  The sky is the limit!

As you may know, graduations are sometimes called commencements.  People tend to think of a commencement as an end to schooling, but really the word commencement means a beginning.

Your new lives are just beginning.  Remember the bravery of your ancestors.  Remember the lives that you will effect.  Remember the way that you feel right now and be full of hope and eager to accept life’s challenges with gusto and pride.

One of my favorite quotes is by Ayn Rand.  It goes like this:

The question isn’t who’s going to let me, the question is who is going to stop me.

Now let’s all stand up and I want you to repeat the end of the phrase:

Ok – I’m going to say the first part
The question isn’t who’s going to let me, it’s

Then you guys yell


You are trained, committed people who are going to do a lot of good in this world.  Thank you for doing it and congratulations on your wonderful achievement.  I am inspired by you!

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