On February 10, 2007 Vice President of Corporate Philanthropy and Education and Global Director of the HP Company Foundation, Dr. Bess Stephens was awarded an Honorary Doctor of Human Letters by WGU President Dr. Robert W. Mendenhall. Dr. Bess Stephens also delivered the WGU Commencement Address. This commencement was held at Abravanel Hall in Salt Lake City, Utah. This video contains both the awarding of the honorary degree and the commencement address.
Transcription of video:
Dr. Robert W. Mendenhall: It’s my pleasure now to introduce to you our commencement speaker who embodies all of these things which I have mentioned. Dr. Bess Stephens has been a lifelong learner and continues to learn and to expand her knowledge. She has been an effective user and proponent of technology and education.
Bess Stephens was born the oldest of seven children in Mobile, Alabama, at a time where it was difficult for blacks in this country to gain a college education. She was expected to be the example in her family and in fact was the first in her family to go to college and to earn a college degree. And I know some of our graduates are also the first in their families.
She had to work her way through her first degree and then continued to pursue her advanced degrees while working fulltime, something most of our graduates can relate to. And because of that effort to gain an education she has dedicated her life’s career to expanding access and providing opportunity for others to go to college, to gain an education, to have access to education and technology and to advance the quality of their lives.
As we mentioned earlier, Dr. Stephens is the Vice President of Corporate Philanthropy and Education and Global Director of the Hewlett-Packard Company Foundation. She directs more than $45 million worth of giving made by Hewlett-Packard and the Hewlett-Packard Company Foundation to improve the lives of people and communities around the world. In recent years she has championed the strategic approach that aligns HP’s philanthropic investments with the expertise and resources of partner organizations to address substantive needs through long-term and sustainable efforts.
Dr. Stephens has served on a variety of national and international boards including the National Board of Professional Teaching Standards, the Board of Gifts In Kind International. She is currently serving and has for many years as a trustee of Western Governors University and also serves on the board of Regents of Santa Clara University, The Contributions Council of the Conference Board, The Junior Achievement International Board, The Center for Excellence in Non-Profits Board, and The National Executive Service Corps Board.
In addition to her life and career accomplishments, Bess Stephens has been a great supporter and benefactor of Western Governors University through the Hewlett-Packard Company and Foundation. The backbone of this university is HP servers and HP laptops and we are indebted to Bess Stephens and to her company for their generous support of our efforts to expand access and opportunity to technology and education to our students. It is with great pleasure that we award at this time to Dr. Bess Stephens an Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters Degree at Western Governors University. [Applause]
Dr. Bess Stephens: Good morning. Thank you, Bob, for that wonderful introduction and certainly for the acknowledgement through the Honorary Doctorate Degree. It’s a pleasure for me to join you as your commencement speaker today, and I want to thank President Mendenhall and the board of trustees for inviting me here to speak on this important occasion.
To the graduates, let me begin by saying congratulations. Well deserved congratulations to you and to your families. You took it upon yourselves to pursue higher education and self-improvement and you followed through on your goal of earning an academic career, a new academic degree. For many of you this achievement has come at a later stage in your life than is true for most college graduates. I understand that the median age of the class is 37. Many of you held fulltime jobs while working toward the degree and many of you have families and other responsibilities that have placed heavy demands on your time and energy.
One thing you all share, though, is motivation, the desire to improve your lives, to advance your careers, and to contribute to your communities motivated you to stay up late at night studying, to get online between meetings and after soccer games. Your incredible appetite for learning is what has driven you to succeed. Today’s ceremony marks the end of many, many hours of hard work and feats of juggling prowess, but it also marks the beginning of a new era, one in which you will enter equipped with increased knowledge and skill that will help you to succeed.
At the same time, today’s ceremony is just one marker along the path of learning. For that reason, I have chosen lifelong learning, the driver of success, as the theme of my remarks today. In the brief moments that I have I want to do three things. One, describe to you further the complex landscape that technology continues to build. I also want to talk to you about what will be required for you to continue on your path of success. And drawing from my own career experiences, I want to offer you a few key things that have worked for me.
I applaud each of you not only for earning your degree but also for making the choice and having the courage and the persistence to attend an innovative institution. You exemplify the vision of WGU, the very vision that we had when we started the university. We, the members of the board of trustees, your mentors, your faculty members and the administrators at WGU are very proud of you and all of your accomplishments. Let’s give you a round of applause. [Applause]
My commendations also go to the WGU administration and to its faculty for its excellent leadership and the guidance that they provided to you, the class of winter 2007. Let’s applaud them. [Applause]
Because of the choice you made you have created communities that extend far beyond the classroom. You are models of the 21st Century workforce, doing what you need to do at any time, at any place, anywhere, using the information and communications technologies that make it possible. As online students, you have learned to adapt to change, to make contributions to the rapidly evolving world. Your well-honed skills and your flexibility will remain critical to your future success. The global reach of business today requires us to exchange information, to exchange ideas across borders and time zones, making us ever more reliant upon technology. It requires us to meet needs of regional cultures, business growth and market demands.
The rapid development of technology has created a very complex business landscape. And yet, it is that same technology that also helps us to navigate it. Because of technology we are able to keep learning and stretching, stretching our own boundaries toward greater success at work and in our personal lives.
I personally can’t imagine a life without consistently learning more. I can truly say that to the extent that I have had any success it has been the result of hard work, continuous learning, and persistence in adopting and using productivity tools that are available to me.
I started my career as a research scientist at the Vanderbilt University in the Department of Molecular Biology. And I worked for five additional employers in several fields before becoming a businesswoman in the computer industry. At HP I’ve managed a team of employees since my second year in the company. I’ve led several functions in a variety of leadership roles. And I can tell you, each year has placed new demands on me to learn more about our products, our solutions and their applications.
I’ve also had to continuously focus upon personal growth and developing my own skills while serving as a leader and role model for others. These are the very things that I would expect that many of you – in fact, all of you – will no doubt find over the course of your own career.
This has kept me challenged, motivated and continuously striving to stay on the cutting edge, something that I’m recommending to you as well. In the IT industry and increasingly so in other industries, too, the only constant is change. I feel a special bond with this class of the winter of 2007 because as many of you learned in our conversations last night, I’m personally passionate about increasing access to information technology and the rich set of resources that comes along with it.
The digital divide is a serious reality in both developed nations as well as developing parts of the world, and that is why at Hewlett-Packard we are committed to bringing the benefits of technology into the schools, into the universities, and indeed into communities around the world, giving you people, giving working adults, giving aspiring professionals the opportunity to take advantage of these vital resources that they need to continue to learn to work and yes, to thrive in today’s society.
In short, technology is nothing less than a tool for unleashing human potential and creativity, supporting entrepreneurship, facilitating economic growth, and building community. The cofounder and editor-at-large of Wired magazine, Kevin Kelly, believes, and I concur, that technology opens up possibilities within human beings, helping to expand our potential to create and to do good.
In earning your degrees today you have become excellent examples of this potential. So how do you ensure that you will stay on this path of success in the future? One way is to challenge yourself by pushing your creative limits. Early in my career at HP I had the opportunity to learn the value of innovation and creativity in driving success. It was in the mid '80s and I had the opportunity to create a leading training program for 200 new engineers. What I chose to do was to take the product lifecycle and to use every phase of that product lifecycle to show these young engineers and to help them understand how they could contribute to total customer satisfaction. This approach had never been taken before, and as a result I was awarded this Quality Award with a plaque that went up on the wall in the division and that stayed there for probably 15 years, thereby helping to set my reputation.
I call that to your attention simply to say it drove home the importance of creativity. It drove home the importance of achieving quality in everything you do. Using each stage of your career I would encourage you to take this approach. Quality in all you do. Innovation and creativity as appropriate. Every day of our lives there are opportunities to learn new things. And even the smallest piece of knowledge or unexpected experience can provide us with important information down the road.
I can also recall another opportunity, and I would encourage you to expand your world view. I chose to go to China to participate as a delegate in the Fourth World Conference on Women. I had never traveled in that part of the world. It opened my eyes to problems that I had not envisioned. It gave me a perspective on those problems, particularly through the eyes of women.
Today, I lead a team. I drive the strategy for a company 150,000 strong committed to helping to solve some of those very same problems. So I challenge you as you go forward to hold on to the practice you’ve already started, the practice of absorbing knowledge. Your future success at work and in your personal lives depends upon your continuous learning, growth, professional and personal development.
I call to your attention the example of John O’Neil’s book The Paradox of Success he emphasizes what he calls renewal imperative, the renewal imperative. It points out that as soon as you get to a place of mastery on any subject, that is indeed the time when it’s crucial for you to renew yourself and begin to search for new knowledge.
Of course you can decide to continue your coursework, academic, creative or otherwise. You may be motivated to go on and obtain another degree, as I did, but there are also many other ways to gather knowledge and ultimately create your own success.
As I drive toward my closing remarks I would like to offer to you five things that have worked well for me. One, strive for excellence in all that you do. And don’t be afraid to try new approaches. Collaborate with others is number two. This is a surefire way to learn new things and typically, collaboration generates more creative ideas.
Deliver more than you cost is number three. Increase your value to your team by finding solutions to intractable problems. Number four, contribute beyond your office or your place of employment. Engage in your community. Mentor someone else. As you climb the corporate, ladder, if that’s where you are, try doing a little lifting by becoming a role model for others. And then finally, remain open and curious about new learnings.
And now, as I conclude, I’d like you to indulge me for a moment. Imagine it’s August 1981, one month after I joined the Hewlett-Packard Company. While much of the planet was captivated by Pac-Man fever, the royal wedding between Prince Charles and the late Lady Diana, and the success of Columbia, the world’s first space shuttle, we at Hewlett-Packard were on the verge of releasing what would become one of our most successful and enduring engineering marvels. It was the product, the HP 12C financial calculator. It’s recognized worldwide as the preeminent calculator across both the academic and the business worlds. Few products have had the longevity and the [inaudible] loyalty that the 12C has enjoyed.
So I thought, in preparing to come to speak to you, what better way to commemorate the class of winter 2007, what better way than to send every graduate of this fine collection from WGU off in style than with a tool that was created 25 years ago but continues to support growth and innovation? So I am partnering with WGU and HP will work with WGU to send each graduate – yes, all 495 people – their own personal 12C calculator. [Applause]
This is in recognition of your day and your accomplishment as we celebrate the silver anniversary of that product. On your commencement day I ask you to continue with the boldness that brought you to WGU in the first place, continue to grow and develop, share your experiences at WGU with others. Remember, as a university we can be no better than the proof points that you and other graduates put out there. You are our legacy. And we encourage you to embrace lifelong learning and online training. And I would conclude with a quote from the 20th Century writer Mortimer Adler. And he said, “The purpose of learning is growth, and our minds, unlike our bodies, can continue growing as we continue to live.” Congratulations to the class of winter 2007.