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WGU Commencement Address from John Steele
WGU Commencement Address from John Steele
Western Governors University
<p>John M. Steele, Senior Vice President of Human Resources at Hospital Corporation of America (HCA), celebrates Western Governors University's graduates at the online school's February 2012 commencement in Atlanta. HCA is the nation's largest provider of healthcare services, and its employees have benefited from WGU's model of competency-based online education. Nearly 300 HCA employees are enrolled at WGU, and another 75 are graduates of WGU's Health Professions, Information Technology, and Business programs.</p> <p>Transcription of video:</p> <p>Dr. Robert W. Mendenhall: We're pleased this morning to have as our commencement speaker John M. Steele, Senior Vice President of Human Resources for Hospital Corporation of America, HCA. HCA has been one of the great corporate partners for WGU and we've appreciated over many years their support, both in helping us to find the competencies for our health care degrees and in working with a number of their employees, some of whom are graduating here today.</p> <p>Mr. Steele is responsible at HCA for recruiting, benefits, compensation, employee relations, labor relations, employee development and HR administration. In addition, he has administration oversight for corporate services, the HCA Foundation and community relations. That, I think, is a great argument for a well- rounded education. We're pleased to have with us today Mr. Steele's wife Jennifer, and his son Cole, who joined us for these ceremonies. We will be pleased now to hear from John M. Steele.</p> <p>John Steele: Thank you Bob. Dr. Mendenhall, Board of Directors, faculty and students, and their family members, I really appreciate the opportunity to be part of this occasion today. It really is a great pleasure and an honor for me to be with you here today and to hear some of the success stories from this remarkable institution. You know, one of the other reasons I wanted to be here though is like everybody out there today, you know, I've got my own bucket list, and on that bucket list was I wanted to someday torture myself by preparing a commencement address for a group of people that I hardly knew. And so thank you for sparing me the indignity of having to go to my son's elementary school or likewise to make my plea for that opportunity.</p> <p>As Dr. Mendenhall mentioned today, we've got hundreds of graduates right here in front of me which is outstanding, and hundreds also over the internet, along with their friends and loved ones who are clearly proud of the hard work and proven ability that you have demonstrated to master competencies that we as employers of the 21st century need in our employees. This is such a remarkable institution. The fact that 19 governors from states in the middle and western part of this country got together over 15 years ago and put together a new model for education, one that didn't have all the normal trappings that we're used to; no buildings, no credit hours, no pre-requisites. Even today it sounds like it wouldn't work, and then to top it off make it affordable. What a brilliant idea and the success sits before me today.</p> <p>You're fortunate to be graduates of WGU for a number of reasons. First and foremost as I just mentioned, you demonstrated that you can master competencies that are necessary in the real world, but beyond that, you've demonstrated an ability to manage and learn in a complex model where in many cases, probably most cases, you've had to continue your responsibilities on the job as well as take care of your family. That is a set of skills that we need in today's world.</p> <p>So on behalf of HCA I'm here today because we believe in the fundamental education model of Western Governors University. As Dr. Mendenhall indicated, we've been here from the beginning, particularly working with the School of Health and the RN to BSN program. Not only with money, but also with time and people we were part of a group of companies that represented over 600 hospitals to support the development of the first ever bachelor's degree in nursing -- easy for me to say -- that was entirely competency-based and entirely online.</p> <p>In addition, team members from HCA have worked with WGU to develop the university's MBA and health care management. In fact, WGU's first graduate from that program was an employee, Michael Alvarez, who completed his MBA in 13 months while working full-time and caring for his family. According to Michael, HCA really knew what they were doing when they teamed up with WGU. They knew how critical it is for people in a competitive industry like healthcare to go back to school. These people are working full time and earning their degree has to be on their time, so it becomes a win-win situation for everyone. Thanks Michael.</p> <p>As I said, we clearly appreciate the competency-based model that the Western Governors University represents. We currently have over 300 hundred students who are attending WGU. One of those just happens to be my former administrative assistant, Shana Jordan, who is working on her Bachelor's in Human Resource Management. Since she started working on that degree she's moved up in the organization and is now part of the recruiting team.</p> <p>We also have 75 graduates from WGU in our ranks. Folks like Michael Alvarez or Jill Howard. Jill Howard who graduated from WGU with a Master's in Health Care Administration two years ago was recently promoted as chief operating officer of one of HCA's largest facilities in her hometown of Nashville, and she beat out 38 experienced hospital executives to get that job, and when you ask her the single most important reason she says Western Governors University and the degree she obtained.</p> <p>Of course, I could sit up here all day and brag about HCA, and if you let me I will, but I know you won't let me. There are a number of institutions companies that have done remarkably well and also are big supporters of HCA so we know we're not alone. Last night during the mixer I met a number of folks. My new friend Dexter for instance, who is a vice president in a bank, runs his own consulting company and finished his degree at the same time. That's impressive stuff. But one last point of privilege since I'm up here anyway, there are a number of HCA employees who are graduating today, so if I could ask my fellow HCA years who are here to stand up and let me at least see who you are that would be great. Huh? Thank you.</p> <p>Those of us who are in human resources in large complex companies today are always debating the following fundamental question: How do we determine the requirements for future talent in a time of such dramatic change? How do we make judgments about the kinds of skills that will be needed in the future and when and where will we need those skills. It's never been tougher from my perspective to answer those questions. Maybe there was a day in the past when we could sort of think clearly about what we needed tomorrow, but in today's world of change we've lost that ability to be very predictable.</p> <p>My conclusion, and I believe the conclusion of many of my peers in human resources is that what we need are people who are truly versatile, able to learn efficiently and effective. Folks who can master change at the same pace that their company is mastering change and folks who are self-motivated. Those are the kind of folks that I think will be successful in the future and those are the kind of people you represent as graduates of Western Governors University.</p> <p>Let me just tap a little bit about health care as an example of what I mean. In health care we see people at their most vulnerable. We see him often at birth, we can sometimes see them at death. We need the right technical skills to be sure, but more than that we need people who have the calling, who understand what it's like to really care for people. People who understand that by the very definition of care there are going to be unpredictable times with the people and with the process. What may sound like a great career choice at 16 sometimes pales, when you are actually at the bedside it's a bedpan or other things that you hadn't quite anticipated back in the day. </p> <p>That's what's so great about graduates like yourself; real world experience before you go back to school. You get it. You understand the importance. It's a recipe for success, whether it's in health care, software, teaching, accounting, management, you name it. The kind of leadership shown by Western Governors University has attracted and continues to attract ever wider recognition and appreciation, not just by the business community and folks like HCA, but also by your governmental leaders. As you know, your president was one of only 10 university presidents invited to the White House to discuss higher education with President Obama this past December. So congratulations graduates, you made the right choice.</p> <p>Of course with that choice comes an opportunity, dare I say an obligation, for you to represent this new kind of an educational model to your employers and to your friends as you go forward. So let me throw another commercial from HCA into the mix. You know, I'm the head of human resources there so we're always looking for people. But if you're interested in finding out about what HCA has to offer, feel free to email me directly at email@example.com. Just to make sure that I won't lose you in the mix of all those emails that come in, put in the subject line WGU Rocks! Parentheses. So I'll know how I came to get that communication, so be sure and do that. I can't promise you a job, but I promise you'll receive real and serious consideration for the positions that we have open based on the success and your accomplishment here at WGU.</p> <p>No commencement address will be complete without sharing some lessons learned. Ideally it would be one thing, but as Paul McCartney says, "In this ever-changing world in which we live in…" it's nearly impossible to do that. So let me give you three things. None of these are rocket science, you've heard them all before, but let me just tell you from my perspective as someone who sees over 200,000 people periodically throughout the HCA system, these things are important.</p> <p>First, your success at WGU is only the beginning. It's essential that you maintain, exercise and improve your skills. Continuous learning is your best ticket to success in the future. You've got a great start with this degree, now it's up to you to continue to learn. Second, don't let this thing overwhelm you. The reality of today's world is the way we work doesn't necessarily work for people. Technology, computers, et cetera, 24 hours a day, you are not a computer. You got to find the balance in everything that you do.</p> <p>The number one issue we get it HCA in our employee engagement survey is workload management. Workload. How do we deal with all of the demands every single day that are coming at you. So be sure and look for those ways to balance yourself. Maybe it's a cold beer, a glass of wine, a shot of tequila perhaps, maybe a sniffer of brandy. No, it doesn't have to all be alcohol. You can actually go for a walk if you choose, a yoga class, whatever motivates you, but look for ways to find some balance in life.</p> <p>And finally you got to keep your sense of humor in all of this. There's plenty of research out there if you want to read about how important it is to laugh every day once in a while. The good news for people like me who are in human resources is we're dealing with people and guess what, they're pretty funny. Let me share a couple of examples of humor just from the application or the resume process. For instance, the individual who told us he finished eighth in his class of ten. Or the individual who received a plague for being salesperson of the year. What? Or the women who left her last job for maturity leave. I'm pretty sure spellcheck ruined that one.</p> <p>And most scary of all, the individual who put in his hobbies that he enjoyed cooking Chinese and Italians. I could tell you we're big fans of almost everything, but not cooking anyone. So I know not everybody gets the benefit of being in human resources, but you're all in areas where you're in contact with people and there's something you can enjoy about every single day and find a reason to laugh a little bit, so please do.</p> <p>Let me close by saying once again, congratulations to all of you who are here and who are listening and watching for your success. I leave here more confident than ever in the future of our company and of our country by having seen the talent that is and will be part of America's future economic success. Congratulations again.</p>
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