WJK Jr. Commencement Speech

In honor of graduation season, we are sharing a copy of the commencement address our Dad gave over 20 years ago at the University of Cincinnati College of Business Administration (now known as the Lindner College of Business) graduation ceremony. 

William J. Keating, Jr.
University of Cincinnati
College of Business Administration
Graduation Ceremony

Happy Graduation Day!  This ceremony brings back a lot of memories.  In fact, each time I return to campus I think of my days at UC  –  the classes, the teachers, the friends I made.  UC has always been special to me and I hope your experiences these past few years will be as memo­rable as mine.

I would like to share with you a few stories to help put in perspective some of the things I have learned over the years  –  some very simple concepts.  You do not have to take notes  –  there will not be a test  –  but I do hope you keep them in mind as you pursue your careers.

About 18 years ago this past spring, I was in front of the Armory Fieldhouse discussing my college courses and otherwise focusing on my studies when I was introduced to a co-ed.  Before I had the courage to ask her out, she mentioned that she had to go to a reception on the other side of campus.  So I made an excuse to walk with her.  At the reception, I finally got up the nerve to ask her for a date and then left.  Well, a couple of days later I received a phone call from a group called Cincinnatus.

As it turned out, I had followed this co-ed to a Cincinnatus reception and they were calling to ask me to join their group.  Since I was too embarrassed to explain why I was there, I accepted their invitation and joined.

Why tell that story?  Well, every once in a while you hear about a person who had a dramatic change in his life as a result of a specific event.  That may happen to a few people, but for most of us it is a combination of many insignifi­cant events, added up over time, that make us who we are and what we do.  If I had asked that co-ed for a date sooner, I would not have gone to the Cincinnatus recep­tion and would not have become a member.  Although that one event did not change my life significantly, it did increase my involvement with UC.

You will find out over the years that your life will take different courses, sometimes by happenstance and other times by your efforts.  You become a product of your environment and the opportunities of which you take advantage.  The families we are born into, the neighbor­hoods in which we are raised, the schools where we are educated and the people we meet along the way influence who we are and what we do.  These influences will continue and your ability to take advantage of your good opportunities and minimize your bad opportunities will have a direct impact on your career and your life.

Some people always seem to be in the right place at the right time, and others never seem to get a break.  Although being in the right place at the right time can involve a little luck, more often than not it is the result of a person’s efforts.

When I swam for the Bearcats, I tried to put myself in a position to win.  If I was in contention at the end of the race, I had a chance to win.  If I fell out of contention early, I lost. It will be the same way with your career.  You need to stay in the game and you need to put yourself in a position to win.  You cannot take advantage of opportunities if you are not in a position to do so.

How do you put yourself in a position to take advantage of opportu­nities?  First of all, you have to let people know who you are and what you can do.

When I first started practicing law, I was talking to a friend who mentioned that he had just met with an attorney to prepare his Will.  At first I was hurt  –  I could not understand why a friend would go to another attorney and not me.  I finally asked him why.  He told me that he did not know what type of law I practiced.  I had assumed that he did know.  It was my fault  –  I had not taken the time to let him know what I do.

You cannot assume that people know what you are capable of doing or what you want to do.  Do not assume that your co-workers, your superiors or your customers know your talents.  How can these people give you opportunities if they do not know what talents you have?  Do not leave your success to chance.  Let people know your skills and, more importantly, ask for the challenges.

When I was at UC, I worked as a Resident Advisor.  Every once in a while a student would tell me that he really liked a certain co-ed and wanted my advice on how to ask for a date.  I told him that it was real simple  –  you pick up the phone and you call her.  His response would be, “Well, what if she says no.”  I would then explain that if he did not call, he would not get the date.  If he did call and the co-ed said no, he would be no worse off, so why not try.  Usually about a half hour later, the student would come back all excited.  He had gotten his date and I would then think to myself, “Why can’t I do that?”

If you want to be considered for an opportunity at work or have an opportunity to do work for a client or customer, you need to ask.  You cannot assume that the work or opportunity will come to you.  The answer may be no, but if it is, you are no worse off than if you had not asked in the first place.  Even if the answer is no, ask what you need to do to get a chance.  Maybe you will need more training or more experi­ence.  Once you find out the requirements, work at meeting those requirements and then go back and ask again.  Even if the answer is no the second time, people will be impressed with your efforts.

When you ask for an opportunity, make it clear what you want.  Do not assume your customer, client or superior knows what you want.  Also be direct, do not dance around the request.

I have coached Little League Baseball for a number of years.  It is a real experience trying to get kids to under­stand what you want them to do.  One game I was coaching first base.  I told our player on first base if the ball is hit on the ground, run all the way to third base.  The batter hit a grounder and the kid ran from first base, directly over the pitcher’s mound, to third base.  He did exactly what I told him.  I thought my directions were clear.  As you can see, they were not.

On another occasion, a father kept yelling to his son, “Be more aggressive, be more aggressive.”  Finally, in the last inning of the game, his son came up to him and said, “Dad, what does aggressive mean?”  Although you may think people understand, ask them enough questions to make sure that they know exactly what you want.

What if you make a mistake?  I have found out over the years that it is not the mistake that hurts you, it is how you handle the mistake that can make or break your career.  No one really cares why the mistake occurred  –  they just want the problem solved.  If you buy a faulty product, you are going to take it back.  At that point, two things can happen.  Either the product is fixed or it is not.  If it is fixed, you usually are impressed with the service and will deal with that company again.  If it does not get fixed or you hear a bunch of excuses, you will remember not only the bad product, but also the bad service.

Remember, people want results, not excuses.  You are better off trying to solve the problem instead of spending your time trying to explain it away.  I have never seen a person fired for a mistake, but I have seen people fired for not trying to correct the mistake.

You need to support your community to enhance the lifestyles of you and your family.  The standard of living in your community has a direct impact on you and your family.  If you are treated at a local hospital, there is a 70% chance that the doctor who treats you was trained at UC.  The quality of your medical treatment is only as good as the medical professors that train the doctors.  We are fortunate to have one of the top medical schools in this country.

Likewise, our business community is only as good as its workforce.  Most of the graduates of the College of Business work in this area.  Many of our teachers that teach at our grade schools and high schools were taught at UC.  The standard of living in our community is depen­dent on the quality of education and the quality of the employees in our local businesses.  If you want to make a difference in your community, I suggest you find a local cause, such as education, and support it.

Not only will you be enhancing your lifestyle and that of your family, you also will be putting yourself in a position to take advantage of other opportunities.

Over the years, I have found out how rewarding volunteer work can be.  I have learned things that have helped me in my profession and I have also developed contacts that have made a difference in my career.

I have been involved with my high school since graduation.  About 10 years ago, I was working with a parent of a child on the swim team, writing a newsletter.  One day the parent was complaining about his legal counsel.  I told him that I practiced law and if he ever decided to change law firms, I would be interested in talking to him.  A year later he called me.  Today, he is my largest client.  Again, your efforts as a volunteer not only can help your community, but also can help you.

One last point.  About a year ago I received a call from a widow that I had represented for a number of years.  She asked me if she had to give all her property to her children when she died.  I told her she could do whatever she wanted, but why not give it to her children?  She said she still wants to give her property to her children, but at times she gets frustrated because her kids never call, she never gets to see her grandchildren and they never send thank-you notes.

Well, after I hung up with her I called my mother.  I told her about this phone call and that I wanted to make sure she knew how much I appreciated everything she does for me and others.  I assume I am still in my mother’s Will.

From the day you are born to the day you die, no one is going to care more about you than your family.  Make sure you stay in close touch with them and take care of them because at the end of the day they are still the most important people in your life.

Congratulations again, and when you start your career, put yourself in a position to win, do not be afraid to ask for a chance, support your community, take care of your family and be aggressive!

© Bill Keating, Jr.

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