Flagler College Commencement Speech

Joel Conner, Chairman and CEO of Michelina's, Inc

Joel Conner, Chairman and CEO of Michelina’s, Inc

Presented on April 22, 2006 by Joel Conner, Chairman and CEO of Michelina’s, Inc

Good morning and thank you.

President Abare, Faculty, Staff, distinguished and dedicated trustees, congratulations to you and the good work you do by investing in these students and the opportunity for them to make this a better world.

Congratulations to the Flagler Class of 2006. You are now ready to move forward into an exciting new adventure.

  • We are proud of you;
  • we are excited for you; and
  • we are happy that it is you and not us who are moving forward.

You are infinitely more well-prepared for your challenges than we ever were …when we were…where you are now!

And to parents and grandparents here today, congratulations on the conclusion of this very successful chapter in your own life.

Today is a day of passage and by virtue of the fact that you are here today, you should be very proud both of your children’s accomplishments and of your own.

I am particularly proud of the SIFE students here today and their accomplishments.

SIFE…Students in Free Enterprise…is led here on campus by Donna Webb and Barry Sands who have brought honor to the College and service to the community. SIFE is how I came to know Flagler.

The Flagler SIFE students I have met exemplify three qualities that my own experience has taught me to be fundamental to success, whether that success is as:

  • A business person,
  • A doctor or a lawyer,
  • A teacher or a scientist,
  • A spouse or a parent,
  • Or a SIFE team!

Those three qualities are…hard work, common sense and passion.

Now, the more esoteric among you will ask me to define “success”. And I will tell you, as Potter Steward, the Supreme Court jurist, said when asked to “define pornography”…”I can’t, I just know it when I see it”.

Hard work, common sense and passion…write it on the inside of your hand.

Put it on a note in your wallet or your purse.

Hang it on the refrigerator or the bathroom mirror at home.

Repeat after me…hard work, common sense and passion!

If you leave here today with nothing more than your diploma, take these five words with you.

As I prepared for today, I reflected on commencement addresses that I have heard and researched many others and generally found that commencement addresses are seen as an opportunity for the speakers to give “advice on their life’s lessons to the graduates”.

For me, I have turned to others whose wisdom is either more tested by time or alternatively, more consistent with contemporary values.

For time test advice, I have sought insight from a contemporary of Henry Flagler himself, the British writer, poet and novelist, Rudyard Kipling, in his short poem “IF”.

To the Flagler Class of 2006


If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,

If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you
But make allowance for their doubting too,

If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,

Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,

Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,

And yet… don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:

If you can dream–and not make dreams your master,
If you can think–and not make thoughts your aim;

If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;

If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it all on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;

If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them… “Hold on!”

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with kings–nor lose the common touch,

If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you;
If all men count with you, but none too much,

If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And–which is more–you’ll be a Man, my son!

I apologize for Kipling’s lack of gender equality evident in his closing line. It was, of course, a different time with different expectations, but I hope you will see your way clear to Kipling’s purpose and his advice.

And for those of you who might struggle with the relevance of Kipling who today would be 141 years old, I have complimented his advice with that of Baz Luhrmann, the contemporary, award-winning Australian film director, writer, playwright…and…I hope you will agree…humorist! Luhrmann’s many critically acclaimed works included “William Shakespeare’s ‘Romeo and Juliet'”, “Strictly Ballroom”, and my personal favorite, “Moulin Rouge”!

To the Flagler College Class of 2006

“Everybody’s Free”

Wear sunscreen, yes, wear sunscreen!

If I could offer you only one tip for the future, Sunscreen would be it.

The long-term benefits of sunscreen have been proved by scientists,

whereas the rest of my advice has no basis more reliable than my own meandering experience.

However, I will dispense my advice Now!

Enjoy the power and beauty of your youth.

Never mind that you will not understand the power and beauty of your youth until they’ve faded.

But trust me, in twenty years you’ll look back at photos of yourself and recall in a way you can’t grasp now how much possibility lay before you and how fabulous you really looked.

You are not as fat as you imagine!

Don’t worry about the future, or worry, but know that worrying is as effective as trying to solve an algebra equation by chewing bubble gum.

The real troubles in your life are apt to be things that never crossed your worried mind…the kind that blindside you at 4:00 p.m. some idle Tuesday.

Do one thing, everyday, that scares you.

Sing, yes sing!

Don’t be reckless with other people’s hearts,
don’t put up with people who are reckless with yours.

Floss, yes floss.

Don’t waste your time on jealousy.
Sometimes you’re ahead, sometimes you’re behind. The race is long and in the end, it’s only with yourself.

Remember compliments you receive.
Forget the insults. If you succeed in doing this, tell me how.
Keep your old love letters, throw away your old bank statements.

Stretch, yes stretch.

Don’t feel guilty if you don’t know what you want to do with your life.

The most interesting people I know didn’t know at 22 what they wanted to do with their lives.

Some of the most interesting 40 year olds I know still don’t.

Get plenty of calcium and be kind to your knees. You’ll miss them when they’re gone.

Maybe you’ll marry, maybe you won’t.

Maybe you’ll have children, maybe you won’t.

Maybe you’ll divorce at 40.

Maybe you’ll dance the funky chicken on your 75th wedding anniversary.

Whatever you do, don’t congratulate yourself too much or berate yourself either.

Your choices are half chance. So are everybody else’s.

Enjoy your body. Use it every way you can.

Don’t be afraid of it or what other people think of it. It’s the greatest instrument you’ll ever own.

Dance, yes dance.

Even if you have nowhere to do it but in your own living room.

Read the directions, even if you don’t follow them.

Do not read beauty magazines, they will only make you feel ugly.

Get to know your parents. You never know when they’ll be gone for good.

Be nice to your family.

They’re your best link to your past and the people most likely to stick with you in the future.

Understand that friends come and go but with a precious few, you should hold on and
Work hard to bridge the gaps in geography and lifestyle…

because the older you get, the more you need the people you knew when you were young.

Live in New York City once, but leave before it makes you hard.

Live in northern California once, but leave before it makes you soft.

Travel, yes travel.

Accept certain inalienable truths. Prices will rise, politicians will philander.

You too will get old, and when you do, you’ll fantasize that when you were young, prices were reasonable, politicians were noble and children respected their elders.

Respect your elders.

Don’t expect anyone else to support you.

Maybe you have a trust fund,
maybe you’ll have a wealthy spouse,
but you never know when either one might run out.

Don’t mess too much with your hair or by the time you’re 40 it will look 85.

Be careful of whose advice you take,
but be patient with those who provide it.

Advice is a form of nostalgia.

Dispensing it is a way of fishing the past from the disposal, wiping it off, painting over the ugly parts and recycling it for more than it’s worth.

Having said all of that, …

…trust me on the sunscreen!!

Thank you, Mr. Luhrmann and Mr. Kipling for your help with advice to the Flagler Class of 2006!

Remember the keys to a successful life are:

  • Hard work
  • Common sense, and
  • Passion

And may you fill every minute of your life with sixty seconds worth of distance run…and, of course…

Wear sunscreen!

Thank you.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Be the first to comment on "Flagler College Commencement Speech"

Leave a comment