“Thank you Chancellor Wells, Provost Earns, faculty, staff, honored guests-–and….graduates!!
“Many of us have seen the movie “Yes Man.” In this film, the main character, played by Jim Carrey, makes a pact, with himself, to say “yes” to every opportunity that comes along. Of course, it’s Jim Carey-–so all sorts of crazy antics ensue – yet the basic premise holds promise for us, graduates!
“Today I want to encourage us all to be “yes men” and “women.” To just say yes! Now hear me out, I’m not telling you to break the law or risk life and limb. But I am asking us all, at this great crossroads in our lives, to step, or maybe leap, outside of our comfort zones.
“Graduates, picture yourself when you started this college journey. What has changed for you? Could you even have imagined today, back then? When I came to UW Oshkosh four years ago I was quiet and shy. I didn’t put myself out there, and I definitely wasn’t planning on working for a political party after graduation. I spent all of my free time in my dorm room, studying, by myself.
“It wasn’t until my sophomore year that I decided I needed to do something, anything, other than homework. That is when one of my coworkers mentioned her sorority to me, and when I decided to just say yes!
“To say that I was nervous to walk over to a house full of women I didn’t know would be an understatement, a big understatement. But that one day of saying yes in spite of my fears-–that one day of homecoming house decorating opened up so many other possibilities. Taking that one, giant leap outside of my comfort zone made me more comfortable to try other things, to put myself out there, to just say yes! And see what happens.
“Graduates, take a moment to think about your time at UW Oshkosh. Maybe, like me, you said yes to an internship that has now led to your first post-college job. Perhaps, you said yes to serving on the executive board of a student organization. Some of us have said yes to our inner voices and gotten involved in advocacy or politics. Others put in countless hours to be a Titan athlete. Maybe, a few of you were on our football team when we made it to the playoffs…Undefeated! Think about how these decisions shaped your college careers. How they have affected your lives.
“And while we are thinking about our time here, let us not forget those who have helped us get to graduation day. They are filling this gymnasium today. Our families, our friends, our professors. Let us thank them for always being there. For always answering the phone, even if they knew we were calling to vent…For the 100th time that week. Thank you! All of you! We wouldn’t be who we are without you!
“Now the question is, graduates. On this momentous occasion, what will you say yes to next?
“At first glance the opportunity in front of you may seem to be something you would never do. Never even think of doing. You may get weird looks from people when they hear you said yes. They might think you are crazy-–you know, like maybe Jim Carey crazy. Especially if the opportunity doesn’t mesh with your original plans or their idea of what you should do. That’s ok, I’ve been there. What kind of nursing major gets a job in politics right out of college?
“But, this is your life, you get one chance to do everything you want to do with it. So just say Yes to that crazy opportunity. You can try new things, find new passions, meet new people, shape your community, shape the world!
“Graduates, today we are surrounded by our mentors and professors. Ask any of them, new opportunities can be intimidating, downright terrifying at times. You might want to sell yourself short. Thinking you could never be the CEO of a Fortune 500 company, never be the superintendent of a school district, never be the chief nursing officer of that magnet hospital, never change that one big thing that you think needs to be changed in your community–or across the globe.
“But remember, at one time, every one of your mentors, every professor, every CEO, superintendent, CNO and even the President of the United States, was not all that different from you. What sets these accomplished individuals apart from the rest, what got them their positions, is that they just said yes-–again and again-–to possibilities that led to open doors they never even imagined when they said their first yes!
“They went for it, when others chose to say no and sit back, they got up, worked hard and said yes to an opportunity that I’m sure forever changed their lives.
“Sure, it’s scary putting yourself out there. There is always a chance of failure, a chance things won’t go as planned. But if you never try, if you never say yes, and always take the “easy route” then you will never know what that opportunity may have held. And really, what is the worst thing that could come of failure? Except the chance to just say yes. All over again.
“Those who say yes, like Michael Jordan, have seen failure before success. Those who say yes, like Rosa Parks, have faced difficult times head on. Those who say yes, like Bill Gates, have worked hard to get where they are.
“All of these people, and many, many more, have changed our world. All because they chose to just say yes! To that desire in their hearts.
“Today, we can start our new lives by just saying yes to opportunity.
“Mark Twain, in all of his infinite wisdom, reminds us all–graduates–and guests,
““Twenty years from now, you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do. Than by the ones you did do. So, throw off the bowlines, sail away from safe harbor, catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore, dream, discover.”
“And remember. Just say yes!”