This past Saturday, I had the distinct pleasure of being invited to speak at the convocation ceremony for the regional high school where I serve as chairman of their Governing Board. As it’s only been a year since I’ve been a member of this school community, the main challenge I had with my speech was trying to find a message that would connect with the students at this pivotal juncture in their academic careers.
After giving this some thought, I realized this moment encapsulates a key aspect organizations and their leaders have to address in today’s competitive market – change.
For many of us, change is something we fear because it’s disruptive. It forces us to shift our perceptions or approaches about what we do and how we go about doing it. At the very least, it leaves us questioning our current assumptions and how close they really are to reality.
Looking at the students mingling about, sharing hugs with parents and friends alike, there was no such fear of change despite the fact that the very purpose of this celebration was to mark their departure to new areas of unexplored potential and hardships.
Indeed, it was clear that these students recognized how the challenges and opportunities, the failures and successes they achieved had not only lead them to this moment, but revealed a truth within themselves about their ability to learn, adapt and grow.
Of course, it’s easy to dismiss such notions as an expression of the naive idealism of youth. And yet, can anyone really say that today’s organizations don’t require the ability to embrace failures along with their successes as part of their collective path to learning and growth? Is there not a lack of willingness to accept the inevitability of change so that we might remain within the comfort of staying the course in how we do things?
If there’s one thing organizations require today it’s leaders who are willing and capable of encouraging their employees to view change as an opportunity to gain a true understanding of their capabilities to overcome the challenges they’ll undoubtedly face in today’s faster-paced and evolving world.
It’s with this in mind that I’d like to share the text of the speech I presented that night as – looking back on what I found among the joyous students that day – perhaps there’s a lesson or two in here that leaders should take heed of in order to help their organizations move forward to meet the challenges that stand in the way of their shared purpose.
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Principal Barnes, teachers and staff at Heritage, invited guests, and of course, the graduates of the Class of 2012, I would like to thank you for the honour of speaking before you on this special and important day.
Today is certainly a day of change, a change where you have gone from being high school students to high school graduates. Of course, unlike your parents’ generation, yours is one that’s quite familiar and comfortable with change. Consider for example, the changes we have witnessed over the last five years during your time here at Heritage.
Five years ago, no one knew what a tweet was. Five years ago, there were only 50 million people on Facebook and the only thing they liked to do was poke one another. Five years ago, text messaging was mainly a business tool and not a platform that popularized the use of such terms as B4N, FOMCL, MYOB, and other head-scratching acronyms. And five years ago, the idea of a tablet computer seemed absurd given the popularity of laptops and netbooks.
Yes, a lot has changed in the world over the last five years, but a lot has also changed in this room as well. Five years ago, you joined this school community as newly minted teenagers, ready to taste your first samplings of freedom and eager for that day when you go could off-campus without needing a note from your mother.
Five years ago, you came to Heritage holding onto the friendships you had with kids from your elementary school days, unaware of the bonds you would build and nurture with many of the people in this room with you right now.
As you look back at these past five years, at what you learned and experienced, the joys and the sorrows, the failures and successes, it’s easy to think that today marks an end. And in some ways it does.
However, I’d like to encourage you to focus on the real purpose of today’s ceremony, a purpose we can glean from it’s very name – commencement – and how it starts with the French word “commence” or “begin”.
For today is not just about celebrating what you have accomplished, it is also about celebrating what you are about to begin. Today marks the beginning of the next chapter in your life where you will take the knowledge, experiences and insights you’ve learned over the last five years to help guide you on the path to that life you were meant to live.
Yes, there will be more challenges, but the challenges you experienced during your time here at Heritage has shown you what you’re capable of. Indeed, look around at the company you’re now with to see proof of that.
And likewise, there will be joys which you can add to the rosy memories you will take with you from your time here amongst us.
So while we might be inclined to think today marks an ending, I’d like to encourage you to see it for what it is – the start of your next chapter and an opportunity to begin.
On behalf of the Heritage Governing Board, I would like to congratulate the Class of 2012 on a job well done. May your course remain steady and your hand never leave the wheel.