Mark Kennedy: Life is a game of addition
EDITOR'S NOTE: Following is the summer commencement address presented at Friday's ceremony by UND President Mark Kennedy.
I recently stopped into a bistro for a coffee and the quote on the placemat captured my attention: "Reach as high as you can, and then reach a little higher. There you will find magic and possibility and maybe even cookies."
Never forget this lesson of your youth. It was only by holding the chair for your sibling so they could reach the jar at the back of the kitchen counter that allowed you to sneak a few of mom's wonderful chocolate chip cookies. You will not enjoy cookies, much less magic and possibility, unless you embrace others in order to reach beyond what you can accomplish yourself.
Moments you failed to reach as high as you could — when you weren't quite prepared for class, teased a little too much, were a little too rude or forward. You're all thinking, I must be talking about the student next to you! Hopefully you have learned doing less than your best does not expand your possibilities or deserve to be rewarded.
The times you reached beyond your own abilities to achieve amazing results with others — when you helped a fellow student through a difficult homework assignment, when you consoled your roommate that had just been dumped, when your club finished a project that contributed to the community. Now you're all saying, "yeah that's me." These are the actions that you found led to magical results.
Life is indeed a game of addition. You must add others into your equation to achieve magic and possibility.
That addition begins with your family. Keep them close. Don't forget to call mom and dad every week. Sorry, a text message is not enough. Call.
Your fellow classmates will be your friends for a lifetime. Keep in touch with them and the faculty and staff that mentored you. The course of your life from this day forward will be defined by how well you add others into your circle.
If you choose to build a family of your own, strive to be as good at lifting your partner higher as they are in supporting you. There is nothing more magical than truly committing to someone to be a soulmate for life and lifting each other up.
If you welcome children into your life, dedicate yourself to them and nurture within them a commitment to the community. There are few things more satisfying than watching your children reaching out to help others.
In your career, don't just give it everything you've got, but pull together with your colleagues as a team to multiply each other's efforts. Strive not just to profit, but to address the needs of society.
In civic life, we must recognize that we are not reaching as high as we can if we listen to only one news outlet, one that reinforces what we already believe. This is the bedrock of gridlock. The only fuel that makes the engines of democracy run is that prescribed by our founding fathers: e Pluribus Unum — out of many one. We can only reach higher as a nation if each of us seeks multiple news sources that challenge our thinking, if we give others the benefit of the doubt and explore every possibility to move forward together.
Just as doing something for others gives more genuine satisfaction than doing something for ourselves, so it is that our nation's proudest moments, those times we brag about, are when we reached beyond ourselves, when Lady Liberty lifted up her torch and welcomed our ancestors ashore, when we defeated the fascist and communist menaces, rebuilt Europe and Japan.
You will only achieve your destiny to be a Leader in Action if you truly embrace life as a game of addition, whether within your family, your workplace, your community.
Congratulations for working hard and sacrificing to reach this magical moment of possibility. Your achieving today's milestone is testament to the fact that success is a team sport. The support, encouragement and prayers of your family and friends, the dedication of UND faculty and staff, funding from the citizens of the great state of North Dakota and our alumni all contributed to you crossing the stage to receive your diploma today.
Now the baton passes to you. The many people that lifted you up charge you to reach as high as you can, and then reach a little higher by embracing the talents and concerns of others. Find magic and possibility. Enjoy as many cookies as life offers. Make us UND Proud.
Mark R. Kennedy is president of the University of North Dakota.