Dr. James Rickabaugh Offers Advice for 2014 Graduates

Released: 5/19/14

The College of Education honored students at its annual graduation recognition event held on Saturday, May 17, 2014 at the Pabst Theater, 144 E. Wells St.

The afternoon program included the followingkeynote address given by Dr. Jim Rickabaugh, Director of the Institute atCESA #1 and former Superintendent of the Whitefish Bay Schools in Whitefish Bay.


It is an honor to be a part of such a special day and celebrate such an important occasion with you. Over the years, I have repeatedly sat in the seats you are in and have spent a number of graduations on the stage. However, this is the first time I have been present solely for the purpose of speaking to graduates. But, I have listened to a number of speeches and know some things about the criteria for success. What I have to say must be succinct and as practical and useful to you as possible as you approach the next phase of your lives and careers.

With this reality in mind, I want to spend the moments we have together specifically congratulating you on three areas of accomplishment: your work, your choice and your timing.

First, congratulations on your hard work, persistence, focus and successfully reaching your graduation. You have every reason to be proud, excited and satisfied with your accomplishment. The investment you have made in yourself will likely prove to be the best investment you will ever make. Your learning and growth throughout this process will continue to pay dividends regardless of where the path of life may take you.

Second, congratulations on your choice of career pursuit. In an era when so many seem to have chosen a life path driven by self-interest, power and greed, you have chosen a path of influence and enhancement in the lives of others. Your work positions you to make a difference in the choices people make, skills they develop and outlooks they have about themselves and their lives. While others may have chosen a path aimed at controlling and limiting the options and opportunities available to people around them, your work will expand options and enhance the quality of other’s lives. Your work will add to the richness and health of our society, build capacity and resilience in those whose lives you touch, and make us stronger together rather than separating, limiting and pushing others down in pursuit of individual power and dominance. In today’s society, we need more people like you.

Third, and where I want to focus most of my attention this afternoon, is in congratulating you for your timing. Whether you are starting a new career or positioning yourself to advance in an existing one, this is an amazing time to be where you are. Your choice to complete your degree now positions you to participate in and influence what likely will be the greatest, most significant, most dramatic changes in generations all playing out in the areas for which you have prepared yourselves, as teachers, as counselors, as leaders and in other related pursuits. In fact, many of us who are far later in our careers wish we had the opportunity to experience what you will experience and make the differences you will make.

You see, institutions such as schools, non-profits and other service providers face a convergence of circumstances that promise to transform them and their impact in ways we have not witnessed previously. The changes we will see in the coming decade will be amazing, sometimes bewildering and always opportunity-filled.

The fact is that for the most part, core institutions in our society still reflect another time in history and a by-gone era of our economy. They were perfectly designed for their time. However, they were not necessarily designed for today and certainly not for the approaching future.

When most of our institutions were created, the pace of development and dramatic impact of technology could not have been anticipated. The creators of our systems and institutions could not have imaged the challenges and opportunities facing these institutions today.

When our schools were designed, the key challenge was to integrate a rapidly growing immigrant population into an economy that featured the emergence of the assembly line. Today, we are asking the same institution to educate all learners at high levels, and prepare them for an economy that is changing rapidly and values creativity, collaboration and commitment. Yet, we largely depend on approaches that rest on assumptions of compliance, standardization, refinement of old practices and an outdated understanding of accountability.

The choice each of you will be asked to make is how you will position yourself relative to the change ahead. Will you be an active driver, designer and builder assuring that institutions become what we will need them to be going forward? Institutions that value the individual, that nurture and sustain strong, personal relationships? Institutions that help learners and clients make connections, see patterns, frame and solve problems never seen before?  Or will you become a well-prepared professional for a world that no longer exists and whose skills are matched to a by gone era?

There is a saying there are three types of people in the world: those who make things happen, those who watch things happen and those who wonder what happened. Your preparation at this institution positions you to be one of those people who make things happen, or might I say: positions you to Be The Difference? I hope that you will choose that path. We need you to make that choice.

So, assuming this is your path, how can you take advantage of the challenges and opportunities ahead? Permit me to share six perspectives and actions you can take:

First, focus on opportunities. Circumstances will be what they will be – for good or for ill. The difference will be in the choices you make in response. If you choose to focus on circumstances as problems, difficulties and energy-sappers, then that is what they will be. Alternatively, choosing to see possibilities will position you to see more, engage more and achieve more.

Second, take action. Nothing moves us more quickly from feeling like victims to giving us the power to influence than taking action. What we do at times may seem small and insignificant, but every step we take offers new opportunities to learn, influence, grow and model the results we want to achieve. Your journey here today is a result of your taking action, remaining committed and persisting in the face of challenges. Use this experience to keep moving forward.

Third, think for yourself. Learn from others, listen to diverse ideas, value the perspectives of others, but in the end, do not allow others to think for you. This is your unique gift and your personal responsibility. In your thinking may reside the answers to questions with which others continue to struggle.

Fourth, assume the positive intentions of others – a fundamental building block of trust. It can be easy to become suspicious, cautious and skeptical. However, this perspective too readily cuts us off from building trust, engaging others, experiencing passion and forming strong relationships. Yes, at times we will be disappointed and feel let down. These things will happen regardless. Do not let them rob you of the richness life has to offer.

Fifth, remember that failure is a lesson not an outcome. Failure is not the end of the process or journey. It is but an opportunity to explore a different strategy or approach, an indication that more persistence may be required or we need to employ other resources to which we have access.

Sixth, be curious. In times of significant change curiosity and a need to understand are our own unique radar to sense when it is time to learn, change, grow and adjust. If we sit back and assume -- the world will move on without us. If we are willing to engage, question and explore we open ourselves to opportunity, possibility and difference making. Curiosity is not a function of age. It is a state of mind and something we should never allow ourselves to lose.

Again, congratulations on your accomplishment and good luck and God speed as you enter the next phases of your life and career.


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