Unaccustomed As I Am to Public Speaking

Last weekend I attended both the hooding ceremony and commencement ceremony for my doctoral program.  I was asked to speak at each event, which was a tremendous honor, if a bit intimidating.  

Below is the text of my speech at the Hooding Ceremony for the Doctor of Business Administration and Doctor of Education programs at Wilmington University on January 23, 2015.  What I found most gratifying about this experience was not the applause – that’s an expected cultural norm – but looking out at my friends and fellow graduates and seeing the smiles and headnods as I was speaking.  That’s when you know you’re getting it right.

Thank you for that introduction, Dr. Mike, and welcome, faculty, family, and friends, to our doctoral hooding ceremony.  I promise to keep this brief, which will come as a welcome surprise to anyone who has heard me present in class or defend my dissertation.

Much of tonight has been focused on the achievements of the graduates, but I’d like to shift focus for a few minutes to the friends and family who are here with us tonight.  I think I speak for all the graduates when I say that we are grateful that you chose to join us here tonight.  While for many of you out there, this may be only your first or second visit to a Wilmington University campus, I imagine that nobody out in the audience this evening is entirely unfamiliar with the journey that we on the stage have made these past three years.  You have been our support system from the start, so it’s only fitting that you be with us here at the end.  You were there with us when we were writing papers into the wee hours of the morning.  You were there with us when we needed someone to watch our kids so we could attend class after a full day of work.  You were there with us when we picked our dissertation topic.  You were there with us when we picked our next dissertation topic.  You were there with us the first time our dissertation committee introduced us as “doctor”.  And you’re here with us tonight, as we approach the end of this very challenging, but very rewarding journey.  And for that, we thank you.

Speaking of the journey, I remember the start of ours, sitting in this very room for new student orientation on August 11, 2011 – I looked it up! – surrounded then, as I am now, by many of the men and women seated in front of me.  We’ve come a long way since that time.  Each of us has traveled a very unique path to get to this place tonight, but as fellow doctoral students, we’ve also shared a core experience that very few people in this world can say they have gone through.  Whether it was staying after class racking our brains over statistics, stressing over how to juggle our coursework with our jobs with our families, or just needing a fresh set of eyes to look at this latest rewrite of our dissertations, we have come up together over the last few years.  And in that time, the personal can’t help but to become very much enmeshed with the professional.  We have celebrated each others’ successes and we have comforted each other in times of need.  Regardless of where our travels take us, we will always be bound together in that brotherhood and sisterhood of doctors, and, I hope, also as friends.

In thinking about what I wanted to focus on in this speech, I thought about leadership and academics, but when it came time to put pen to paper, what I kept coming back to was people.  The people in our lives who made this possible.  The people with whom we took this journey.  And moving forward, the people with whom we will work and lead.

We all chose this path for different reasons: some of us wish to distinguish ourselves in private industry or the non-profit sector.  Some of us, like me, wanted to lead in K-12 or higher education.  Some of us are just really into funny hats.  Regardless of why we chose this path, let us never forget that with the prestige and honor of the doctorate comes the awesome responsibility of being exemplary leaders.  I am confident that Wilmington University has prepared us well for this challenge, and for that, I am grateful.  Thank you, faculty.

Relationships with people are the key to everything we will hope to accomplish with our shiny new degrees, in no small part because it was our relationships with others that helped get us here.  Please don’t forget that, and, my fellow graduates, please don’t forget us, and our time together here at Wilmington University.  Congratulations once again to the graduating doctoral students of the Class of 2015.

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