Below is the complete text of the 2005 Winter Commencement address delivered on Dec. 17, 2005, by Zebulun (Zeb) Nash, manager of ExxonMobil Chemical’s plant in Baytown, Texas, and a 1972 chemical engineering graduate of UMR.
Thank you, Chancellor Carney.
To the graduates of the class of 2005, congratulations on completing this memorable phase of your life. I’m told by my classmate, Professor Neil Book, that you are truly the best and brightest commencement class since the 99th commencement class of May 1972.
To the parents, family members and loved ones who have come here today to share this auspicious occasion with your Miner, I say thank you for all that you have done in having prepared and supported these Miners during their time at UMR and for all that you did in preparing them even before they arrived at UMR. It really does take a village to graduate a Miner.
Just as the dedicated faculty of my student days was determined to prepare my generation for excellence, with the ever looming presence of the Vietnam War as backdrop to our uncertain future, so today, nearly 35 years later, you — the best and brightest of your generation — have also been prepared for excellence with the cloud of global terrorism as the backdrop to your generation’s future.
To the faculty and university staff, who have been so dedicated for so many years, thank you for the investment that you’ve made in preparing these Miners and all other Miners to take our place on the stage of world leaders. We have been and will continue to be known as an institution that excels in producing leaders in every field of endeavor.
Back in May, when I received the letter inviting me to be the commencement speaker, my thoughts immediately returned to a cold January morning in 1971, to a classroom on the second floor of the old civil engineering building, where a white-haired, elegantly dressed, bowtie-clad, silver-tongued gentleman from Southern Illinois – Professor John Brewer – stood in front of our English 85 Class and proclaimed that his mission for the semester was, "To prepare us to return to our alma mater one day for an auspicious occasion, where we would deliver a salubrious address to those gathered for the grand event."
Being that it was 1971, one of my classmates – Robert Morrison – shouted RIGHT ON!!! Right On was a very popular phrase back in the 70’s, and was our way of collectively acknowledging to Professor Brewer that we were ready and willing to be prepared.
My experiences at UMR, including that public speaking class, proved invaluable in preparing me for my life’s adventure. And just as the dedicated faculty of my student days was determined to prepare my generation for excellence, with the ever looming presence of the Vietnam War as backdrop to our uncertain future, so today, nearly 35 years later, you — the best and brightest of your generation — have also been prepared for excellence with the cloud of global terrorism as the backdrop to your generation’s future.
So, my question to you today is, "Now that you have been prepared, what are you going to do to make the world a better place?"
Well, I have a few tips to share with you today that have served me during my life since graduation. It won’t take long, as there are only four of them. Professor Brewer taught us that the best salubrious speech is a short one!
Tip No. 1: "Please" and "thanks" are two simple words that are easily translated into most known languages of this world. Do not — I repeat, do not — remove these two simple words from your vocabulary, now that you have a title behind your name. I have learned that these two words will normally bring a smile to the face of the person or persons to whom they are directed and more importantly, reflects the character of the person from which they come. These two words do more to "move mountains" than any title or position of authority you may attain. Just because you are the boss, or will be the boss, doesn’t mean you have to be bossy. Remember, "Nice people do nice things for other nice people." Be nice and give thanks cheerfully because it is the right thing to do. I’m sure you will want to practice this tip at the conclusion of this ceremony, by thanking your loved ones for all that they have done for you, and then to remind them to please remove you from their payrolls, now that you are an independent graduate.
Tip No. 2. Give back to society. Develop a passion for something other than a paycheck. You have been blessed with gifts, talents and opportunities far beyond most of your fellow world citizens. The world will be a better place only if you make it so. Get involved in some non-profit organization: United Way, Habitat for Humanity, Scouting, Big Brother or Big Sister programs. Help those less fortunate than yourselves. Embrace diversity and learn about other cultures in this country and in the world. Be willing to share your culture and values with others. To paraphrase the immortal words of Winston Churchill: "We really do make a life by what we give, not by what we get." Give your time and talents, share your compassion with those in need, and your return on that investment will be priceless.
Tip No. 3. Be flexible, and unafraid to take the path less traveled. When my graduating class sat in this very place on Sunday, May 14, 1972, at 2 p.m., never in my wildest dreams did I envision that four years later I would be half way around the world, in Embu, Kenya, serving as a Peace Corps volunteer, helping farmers grow food to feed their families. Working for free had not been in my game plan at graduation, but that experience was in fact, "The toughest job that I could ever love," and it helped me to learn so much more about the World and about myself. Be flexible, and seek healthy adventure in your lives.
Tip No 4. I shared this tip with the freshman class a few years ago at the conclusion of my convocation talk. "If you put God first in your lives, everything else will be OK."
I hope and pray that each of you will continue to do great and exceedingly wonderful things with your lives; that you will always do your best. Do what is right and not what is easy.
I’d like to think that Professor John Brewer, and my mother and grandparents, are looking down on this auspicious gathering from that podium in the sky, with smiles on their faces and twinkles in their eyes, knowing that I am thankful for the investment they made in me, and that our collective investment in your generation will make the World a better place.
May God continue to bless each and everyone of you. Go forth and achieve great things with your lives, Class of 2005. Congratulations!