Lain Hensley delivered the alumni address at the commencement exercises for his alma mater this past week. He received a standing ovation, and we have to agree, its one of the best we’ve ever seen. Take a look for yourself!
One question to start. Am I in the presence of greatness? Let me ask you again. Am I in the presence of greatness? (There will be more times for audience participation …Stay alert!)
Wow … my Mom and Dad would be proud if they could see this. They didn’t think I would even graduate. And now this …YES! I am sure your loved ones are feeling the same as they look for you in the crowd of graduates. I am humbled and privileged to speak to you on this most important day in your life.
Thank you faculty and staff for inviting me to be here. I am a proud Resort and Lodging Management graduate of the class of 1993, I am the son of a Chico State graduate of the Class of 1961. I met my wife in that gym right there in my ballroom dancing class and we have made Chico our home for the past 25 years, raising three kids as Chicoans. I love this place, this town, and this University. I hope to convey a few lessons l have learned from the tests I have faced, to prepare you for what lies ahead.
From enjoying a successful 21 year marriage, running my business for 25 years, and facing and beating stage 3 cancer almost two years ago – I have learned that the game changes as of today for you, as it did for me. You see, in school they teach you the lesson and then you get the test. In life – you get the test and then you learn the lesson. And if you do not learn the lesson the first time, you will keep encountering the test over and over and over again until you do.
Be humble and curious – and know that you will not pass all of the tests the first time. The question will be – what you do after the failures, after you come up short, after you risk it all and discover that you made the wrong choice. Will you make progress or excuses? Take responsibility or place blame? Will you become a victim or a survivor? Will you bring less of you or more of you to the next test?
Do me a favor. Raise your hand if you have a little voice that talks to you? Many of you are not raising your hand. Your little voice is saying, “What voice … what is he talking about? I don’t think I have one of those.” THAT IS THE VOICE I’M TALKING ABOUT. This voice is trying to protect you. Trying to guide you through the day without humiliation or injury. That voice can lead you to the path of least resistance and then justify why you should take it and not feel regret for living below your potential. Or it can compel you to days like today.
Remember when you walked into your first grade classroom? You started your formal education experience with your hand held high and a willingness to play full-out! (Example of kindergartener hand up.) Get it right or wrong something good happened next. But sooner or later you got it wrong and they made fun of you and embarrassed you. Your emotional memory begged you to take less and less risk, wanting to predict the results and have the guaranteed success before allowing you to take the next overly calculated risk.
The new reflex is to wait. To hold back. Eventually you are forced to lower the bar more and more until you find yourself as a senior in high school sitting in the back of the class with your arms crossed just trying to survive. You could become afraid to express your goals and face possible discouragement from others who have already given up on theirs.
The most recent numbers say that 7,000 high school students drop out each day … in the USA alone. What happened? What happened to their hopes and dreams? Today – you have separated yourself from the majority and answered that call to greatness. You have put the voice of security and safety in the back seat behind your goals and aspirations. Life’s endless possibilities called to you and you made a choice to answer, to grow, to stretch, and to succeed.
I need your help to make a point right now. When I say go! I want you to point at anyone around you and say, “YOU GO FIRST!” Three times to three different people, until you see me raise my hand – then STOP! Each time you say it, add more energy and more persuasiveness – without hitting or spitting on each other. Get your finger up and be ready. If you are ready say, “I am ready.” Ready … GO!!!! YOU GO FIRST! YOU GO FIRST! YOU GO FIRST! (Hand UP!)
How does this “you go first” game show up? How has this game started wars, destroyed lives, families, and companies? You go first! How often do we play “you go first” in our own lives. We are the one who should have the courage to take action – make the first step, take the risk?
Our reflexive safe voice says…
You go first to say I love you and then I will say I love you.
You go first to say you are sorry and then I will say I am sorry.
You go first to pay me more and then I will work harder.
You go first to work harder and then I will pay you more.
You go first to trust me and then I will be trust worthy.
You go first to be trust worthy and then I will trust you.
You go first to be a great teacher and then I will be a great student.
You go fist to be a great student and then I will be a great teacher.
And on … And on …
To gain it all you must be willing to risk it all. To love with all of your heart you need to be willing to risk having all of your heart broken. To trust fully you must be willing to have your trust completely broken. There is no discount at the counter of success – it must be paid in full … in advance.
Many have gone first for you. First to believe that you could graduate. That you could get this done. Today, I encourage you to go first to thank them. To recognize the endless support they have given you to make this day possible.
The great leaders whom we all know, Gandhi, Mother Teresa, and Martin Luther King Jr., have many things in common. They did the work that was right in front of them and they went first. First to see hope in poverty, first to see peace in a war torn world and first to dream of a humanity without color and division. It is time for you to go first!
These great leaders have something else in common …… They are all dead …. I look around and it is just us now – and although one person can change the world, we all must try. We all must be willing to go first in our lives in some small way and believe it matters. I hope you have discovered something while at Chico State, that is so meaningful to you, so powerful, that you are willing to go first!
Do not judge the impact or importance of the work in front of you. Who is to say that me standing here and talking with all of you today is more important than spending a few quiet minutes with my 9 year old son – teaching him how to read or how to ask forgiveness from his mother or big sisters. We will never fully know the impact he might, or might not have, on the world.
It is said, “Anyone can count the number of seeds in one apple, but only a God can count the number of apples in one seed.” Many seeds have been planted in you while at Chico State and my deepest hope today is that you enjoy the fruits of your labor and plant seeds for us and for future generations.
(Five closing comments)
1. Pick a good partner. Be a good partner – You cannot do this alone.
2. Find someone who sees in you what you don’t see in yourself. And be someone who can see in others what they don’t see in themselves.
3. Build on your strengths, but question your reflexes. If you follow your reflexes you will be defensive when getting feedback, you will see your flaws before your strengths, and you will quit your relationships when they get hard and most likely just before they get to the best parts. Deep love and Deep commitment can only be reached after working and struggling together – put in the work.
4. Never sacrifice what you want most for what you want in the moment. The moment will pass and what you want most will elude you like a butterfly in the wind.
And finally – be ready to work harder than you have ever worked before. Be more scared than you have ever been AND to feel MORE PRIDE than you can imagine – at what YOU can accomplish when you lead with your heart and trust yourself more than your mind tells you not to.
The ANSWER to my question… YES INDEED… TODAY I AM… IN THE PRESENCE OF GREATNESS!
Congratulations and thank you!