5/17/2021 James R. Stengel ’77

Commencement Speaker Remarks: James R. Stengel ’77

Commencement Address | Jim Stengel

Thank you Dr. Altmann and the Board of Trustees for this very meaningful honor, and for the opportunity to be with you, the amazing 2021 Franklin & Marshall graduates. You are no doubt the most resilient and agile class in history, and perhaps the most prepared class in our 234-year history to lead positive change - the world indeed needs Diplomats like never before.      

Class of 2021 - if I were there in person, I would ask you to raise your hands if many of your habits changed since March of last year. I suspect all of you would raise your hands. My habits sure changed - and one habit I have embraced is reading more books - I sort of fell out of love with books over the years.  

I read a tremendous amount as a kid, and of course I read a lot at F&M. One brutal but delightful course I will never forget is Professor Brubaker’s Shakespeare class - MWF for 15 weeks and we had to be ready for each class to analyze a new play. Yes, we covered all 38 Shakespeare plays.  

Anyway - This catalyst for my desire to read more books came from a leader I met last fall, when I was recording my weekly podcast. Her name is Monica McGurk, she is a top executive with the Kellogg’s Company, you know the cereal people in Battle Creek Michigan.  

Monica told me that she felt over the course of her successful career that she had somewhere lost her creative spirit, her creative energy, that she had become flat. She was chatting about this with her young daughter - smart of her to do that - and her daughter said, “hey Mom, you told us you used to love to write as a child, why don’t you start writing again?”  So lo and behold, Monica started writing again, and she is now a bestselling author of several fantasy books written for young girls, and she has regained her creative spirit.  

There is of course a lesson in that story - to find ways to keep your creativity and energy alive throughout your life journey, but that is not what I am here to talk with you about.  

Monica made me think about how I keep my creativity and energy evolving, and for me reading books is one way, and I had forgotten that. So I am carving out time to read all kinds of books now, and one that I happened upon recently is by a woman named Tenzin Kiyosaki. Ms. Kiyosaki practiced as a Buddhist nun for 27 years, and then returned to lay life where she is now a hospice chaplain in Los Angeles.  

Her new book is based on what she has learned and observed by helping people leave this life peacefully.  The book is called “The Three Regrets” - it explores the three consistent themes she hears from people as they depart this life. I know this sounds like it is getting morbid on this day of celebration, but I promise you it’s not, so hang in there with me!

The three regrets from Ms. Kiyosaki’s research are probably not a surprise:

-- I did not live out my dreams

-- I did not share my love

-- I did not forgive

Well this is the F&M 2021 Commencement, so we are going to talk about the first two: living out your dreams and sharing your love.  

First, living out your dreams. That is a loaded one. And in some ways, it is probably the theme of every commencement speech. Well, F&M Class of 2021, here is my hard-earned advice: you cannot live out your dreams if you are not self aware. I have not always been self aware, but I was happiest when I acted on my self awareness “Ah-Ha’s.” 

Self awareness of course means understanding yourself: when you are at your best, what your impact is on others, when you are happiest, when you are most fulfilled, what your purpose is in this life you are creating. It takes introspection, reflection, and humility. It’s tough to live out your dreams if they are not YOUR dreams.

I realized when I was at F&M that playing football was not my dream anymore.  I was a high-school star, and came to F&M to play for Coach Curtis’ outstanding Diplomat team. I only played for one year. I was self aware enough to know that my interests had changed, even though my image had been “the football guy.” That led me to get involved in the arts, and to eventually a life-long career in the creativity side of business - marketing and advertising.  

One habit I now have to be sure I stay self aware - and in my zone - is to keep a visual with me - with my personal purpose in the center of that visual. Around the center of the visual are bubbles filled with things I would like to do - to live that purpose. That keeps me self aware, and intentional in how I spend my precious time.  

The second regret from the work of Tenzin Kiyosaki is not sharing your love. Many of you graduates have family here. Look left and look right, you are surrounded by classmates and friends today. And you are undoubtedly thinking of the teachers, professors, coaches, mentors who have made an impact on you. Here is my simple advice: not just on this special day, but every day, show your love, show your gratitude, show your kindness.  

A mentor of mine in my career is a man named David Bell. He has a habit - there is that word again - that he developed to show his love and gratitude to his wife, children and colleagues.  He frequently surprises them with something to show his love and gratitude. A note. A text. A call. A small gift. A shared experience. People in David Bell’s life know they are loved and appreciated.  

I spent 25 years at Procter & Gamble, or P&G, before starting my own business. P&G is a very large consumer goods company - brands like Tide, Pantene, Gillette and Pampers - and it is the largest advertiser in the world. In my last role at P&G, I was responsible, among other things, for advertising and media, and the people who created and placed the ads. So as an ad guy, I want to close this talk with showing an ad from P&G that is one of my all-time personal favorites...because it is all about gratitude.  It captures the spirit of what is in Clipper stadium today among you, the 2021 F&M graduating class, and your loved ones (ROLL THANK YOU MOM P&G AD FROM OLYMPICS). 

Congratulations and remember: the World Needs Diplomats!  Now get out there and lead positive change! 


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