Order of Events: Processional; National Anthem sand by Catherine Spann; Welcome and Opening Remarks from WGU Indiana Chancellor, Dr. Allison Barber; Commencement Address delivered by the President of Cook Group and Cook Medical, Pete Yonkman; Graduate Speakers are Michelle Shaffer and Dion Brown; Conferral of Degrees and Closing Remarks by WGU President, Scott D. Pulsipher; Recessional.
Saturday, November 3, 2018 WGU Commencement in Indianapolis, Indiana.
Transcription of video (note: This is not a complete transcription. Transcription only includes the Commencement Address and two Graduate Speaker):
Pete Yonkman: Good morning. Thank you to President Pulsipher and all the team here at WGU. It's great to be here with you.
All right, we have to get something out of the way. I know what you're thinking. You're thinking three things. Number one, who the hell is this guy? Number two, why is he talking to us? And most importantly, number three, how long is he going to talk? So, I'm going to start with the last one first. I'm not going to talk long. But the reality of it is, you don't have any choice, so you can get comfortable.
So now, for who I am. My name is Pete, and I'm president of Cook Group, Cook Medical. Our headquarters are about an hour south of here in Bloomington, Indiana. We are a global life sciences company of about 12,000 people. And we manufacture medical devices for physicians who are practicing minimally invasive medicine.
And I'm here talking to you today for a couple of reasons. First and foremost, I'm here because I believe that the original commencement speaker canceled, and I happened to be available. [Laughter] It's okay. It's okay, I'm not offended. It's okay, because actually the commencement planners got lucky, because I'm actually the perfect person to deliver this speech, and I'll tell you why. It's because I know all of you. All right, I don't know all of you. It would be kind of ridiculous if I knew all of you. We're not even Facebook friends yet.
I'll take it back, I do know one of you. There is actually a Cook employee here today who is getting his MBA. Austin, where are you? Stand up, Austin. [Applause] Round of applause for Austin, congratulations. [Applause]
All right, you may be still thinking, "He doesn't know me though." But actually, I do. I know that at some point you made a very brave, emotionally scary decision to continue your education. You balanced your family obligations, work, school. You studied late into the night, even though you knew you had to get up in the morning, take care of the kids, feed them breakfast, get their homework done, and still make it to school on time. And from what I hear, you passed these online tests with somebody staring you right in the face. [Laughter] And the fact that you're able to do that, damn near makes you a psychopath. [Laughter] It's incredible.
You sat on the couch with your laptop by yourself, and you thought, you know what, I'm not going to make this. And you pushed yourself. You called on energy and emotional reserves that you didn't know you had. And you did all of this because you wanted a degree. But it was more than that. You wanted that next opportunity at work. You wanted to care for people when they're most in need. You wanted to show your friends, your family, and your community how much you had to offer. You wanted to improve your life and your family's life. And some of you did it because you wanted your kids who are here today, to see you walk across this stage and show them what's possible if you're willing to put in the hard work.
And that's who you are. And that's why I have such tremendous respect for each and every one of you. And by choosing WGU, whether you did it consciously or not, you joined a movement that is changing the face of education.
I think we can all agree the world's changing faster today than many of us would've imagined. There are whole sectors of jobs that come and go in a matter of years. Now technologies rise up before we even knew what buttons to press on the old ones. Regulations increase the complexity of our processes and systems. And for God's sakes, when you wake up in the morning, look out, it looks like aliens have invaded and scattered their scooters all across the city. [Laughter]
Now, if you're going to be somebody who is going to survive this modern world, you better be ready to take on new skills, and new ideas and learn throughout your life until you're ready to retire.
It feels like to me the idea of confining our education and learning to our early teens and 20s and then limiting ourselves to studying subjects that some college curriculum committee defines for us, seems a little bit antiquated.
And as employers, we need people with proven skills who are ready to work on the day they start their job. We need people who have competencies that relate directly to the work that needs to be done. And we need people who have proven that they know what they want, and they're willing to work to go out and get it. So from my perspective, what it sounds like what we need is you.
I'm looking around, and I can see a few of you getting antsy. So I'm going to give you a status update on the status of this speech we're halfway done. But I want you to hang in there because I have a unique proposal for you at the end of this speech that I hope you'll consider.
All right, so I expect that you would feel shortchanged if I didn't give you some life advice that every self respecting commencement speaker is required to give. So I'm going to give you three ideas and I want you to pay attention because these are gold. And I don't tell them to just anybody.
So, idea number one: Eat in the cafeteria. See, I told you it's gold, right? Let me explain. So I had the privilege and good fortune to work closely for years with the person who founded our company, his name was Bill Cook. And he was the classic American story. Started a business in the spare bedroom of his apartment and he grew it into the largest privately owned healthcare company in the world. And he lived an outstanding life. It was full of entrepreneurship, and philanthropy, and where I come from, he was a legend. And more than that, he was a wonderful human being. And sadly, he passed away in 2011.
And at his funeral, thousands of people showed up to pay their respects, including almost all of his employees. And I had the opportunity to shake hands with a lot of those opportunities. And it was interesting what they all said. They didn't talk about his money or his businesses or the awards that he won. But they all talked about, it was interesting, almost to a person, that they said was this, "You know, we come into work every day. We work hard. And we go to the cafeteria for lunch. And we see Bill sitting in the cafeteria. And he says, hey, how are ya, how's life, how are the kids? And we absolutely loved him for that because we knew that he cared, and he was one of us."
Now I realize that most of us are not going to have the opportunity to build a multi billion dollar business. But each of us does, every day, have the opportunity to demonstrate to those around us that we care, and that we're all in this together.
Idea number two: Pay attention to how people react to failure. So I've noticed that a lot of commencement speeches talk about failure, how it's fun to fail, fail fast, all that, blah, blah, blah. I'm going to tell you the truth about failure. Do you want to hear the truth? It sucks. [Laughter] But you can get something positive out of it if you do one simple thing: Watch how other people respond to failure.
I learned recently that our engineers at Cook have something they call "the bin of shame." And the bin of shame is where bad products and dumb ideas go to die. And it's considered an honor to put your failure in this bin of shame because it means you took a risk, wanted to try something new. This is a great idea, right? It creates a community where people support each other through failure, and they want to take risks and they want to try new things.
When I was 29, and just a year into my job at Cook, I made a mistake. It was actually a pretty big mistake. In fact, it cost the company a lot of money, and a fair amount of public embarrassment. It was a big enough deal and a big enough mistake that I heard the words, "would you like fries with that," in my future. Any other company, I would've been fired, and a scapegoat.
Instead, Bill came into my office the next day. He said, "Do you know what, bad stuff happens. Look around. We're still here. We get to come in tomorrow and work with people we love. What's so wrong with that?" Now he could've screamed at me, yelled at me, made me feel terrible. Instead, what he did was he chose to be supportive and he refocused me on what was actually truly important. And that's a kindness that I will never forget.
Now I've definitely learned the appropriate lessons from my failure. And so have the engineers at Cook. But I also have learned that the approach you take to failure, and the failure of others is the opportunity to change people's lives.
All right, idea number three: Only fools take themselves too seriously. I was in my office one day, Bill stuck his head in, and this is going to be interesting because Bill never asks for permission, but he said, "I have a question for you, can I come in?" "Well, all right, come on in, Bill."
And he said, "Hey, Pete, I've got this question. And it's not weird or anything, so don't worry. But I'm not happy with my current selection. And I don't know who else to ask. So, what kind of underwear do you wear?" [Laughter] He was dead serious. Not joking. Turns out he was actually studying the various kinds of underwear and their various merits.
And so I said, "Well, have you tried boxer briefs?" He said, "No, why do you like them?" And I said, "Well, if you really want to treat yourself, go out and get a pair, and try it, and see what you think." And you know when you make somebody laugh like genuinely laugh hard and for a long time? That's what happened with Bill. And that is my absolute favorite memory of him. Here is a person who was brilliant, passionate, unbelievably successful. But he was still somebody who could laugh at himself and the ridiculousness of underwear.
I think about that moment a lot, and it makes me wonder what our world would be like if our leaders had the humility to have a good laugh at our own underwear every now and then? I think it would be a better place.
All right, now, you may have noticed those three ideas contained a theme. All of them say something about the company that I work for, Cook. And I hope that what you heard inspired you, and intrigued you to learn more about us. Because I'll admit of being a little bit duplicitous when I included Cook in those stories. I have an ulterior motive.
I've been plugging the company because, well, we're growing, and I'm standing here in front of 800 and some highly talented people with newly printed degrees, and I'm no dummy. [Laughter] In fact, we believe so much in you, and WGU, that I'm excited to tell you that we have opened up ten new jobs. They are to be filled only by the graduates of the 2018 class of WGU. [Applause]
New jobs are located here in Indiana, and also all across the country. They range from jobs in sales to regulatory, to business administration, and they're open only to you. Get ready to write this down. Get your phones out, or whatever you do. CookMedical.com/careers/WGU. Did you get that? All right. It's CookMedical.com I'm going to keep saying it until you write it down. [Chuckles] CookMedical.com/careers/WGU.
I do hope that you will consider joining us at Cook, we'd be proud to have you. But, no matter where you go next, I wish you tremendous success. You have definitely earned it. And if you remember nothing else today, please remember to find beauty in failure, laugh at your underwear, and always, always eat in the cafeteria. Congratulations to you, and to the 2018 graduating class of WGU. Thank you very much. [Applause]
Michelle Shaffer: Good morning. My name's Michelle Shaffer. It's amazing how moments in our lives define us. You think you know where you were going, then you have an experience and your whole outlook changes. These moments are composed of people who make all the difference in our lives, and I'm so grateful for the opportunity to share mine with you.
Like many of you, I have had many ups and downs to get where I am today. In May of 2010, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. At the age of 35, I faced my own mortality. This made me think about all of the things I had not yet done in my life. I had always wanted to take my father to see the sequoias in California, something he had talked about as long as I could remember.
So, I packed up my father, then 81 years old, and my children, and we drove 8,000 miles across the country. When we got back home I got back to reality. I thought about all of the things I had kept putting off. I thought about what I wanted people to say about me when I was gone. I didn't want to be known as the high school dropout who only attained a GED. With seven children in our blended family, one of the things that stood out was that I had never had the opportunity to go back to college and get my education. But after my diagnosis, I finally made the decision to pursue a degree.
I enrolled in classes and started just one week later. At the time, I had no idea what I wanted to do, but I knew that I wanted to wear scrubs to work. But oddly, I had no interest in being a nurse. To my surprise, while being treated for breast cancer during my first semester of school, the nurses inspired me with their amazing care. Filled with new hope, I left the hospital, and changed my major to nursing. In this moment, these nurses changed the course of my life.
While in my prerequisites for nursing, a fellow student asked if I could help her study. By the end of the course, word had spread that I had a way of explaining things and my study group had grown to several students. This is when I realized my true calling: Education.
In my first semester of nursing school, I was recommended to become a nursing peer tutor. It was this moment where I made the decision to combine my love for teaching and nursing and become a nursing educator.
I was first introduced to WGU when I saw their table and their adorable owl on the Ivy Tech campus. As I learned more about WGU, I knew I wanted to attend because of their flexibility, affordability, and above all, they came highly recommended. In addition, WGU allowed me to get my BSN along the way to getting my MSN.
At first, it was an adjustment to work independently on my studies and not have to leave my house to attend classes. But as time went on, I found my own routine. During my time at WGU I was still able to live my life. I saw two of my children graduate from boot camp at Parris Island, South Carolina, and become United States Marines. [Applause]
I finished three of my courses while in North Carolina awaiting the arrival of granddaughter number six. My schoolwork with WGU was flexible enough that I never had to put my life on hold to finish my degree.
To my husband, you are my rock, and I would not be in this moment without you. Thank you to my amazing children for never complaining about all of the cereal you ate for dinner. [Chuckles] And my seven granddaughters, I hope that you follow in my footsteps and follow your dreams. To my dad, and Mer, thank you for always believing in me. And to my program mentor, Shirley Wells, I know you're watching you are awesome. Thank you so much for believing in me, and believing that I would finish, even when I regularly procrastinated.
Thank you to my best friend, Misty for never giving up hope that I would become a nurse too. To my study groups and my student peers, thank you for believing in me, even when I didn't. And to all of my instructors and my co workers, some of which who were my instructors, and are now my co workers, thank you for supporting me through this journey, and could not have done it without your support.
Today, I stand before you cancer free. [Applause] Thank you. I'm graduating with a Master of Science in Nursing Education. I have been teaching since January. Because of a few nurses that changed my life, I have achieved the goal that I set for myself eight years ago. I no longer consider what I do to be work because I'm doing what I love. I am touching the lives of aspiring students, teaching them to become great nurses. My students will go on to touch the lives of their many patients, creating a ripple effect.
To those of you graduating today, I want you to take a moment, I want you to look around, soak all of this in. This is your moment. WGU has made this moment possible. This is the day that you graduate, and this is the moment that you are been working for. The only question is: How will this moment define you? Thank you. [Applause]
Dion Brown: Good morning. Thank you. My name is Dion Brown, and today is the day I've been waiting for. I've been waiting for this day for seven years. My first attempt at college ended after three semesters. I was a college drop out before my 20th birthday. I can attest that Western Governors University was just what I needed. They helped me graduate in less time, and with less debt than any other school that I considered.
I stand before you today as a proud WGU night owl. My WGU story begins with being home on military leave for Christmas several years ago. I remember my father mentioning WGU's competency based model. From the way he described his WGU student experience, I could apply prior knowledge and work experience to complete my courses on my own schedule. His mind works the same way as mine. He likes WGU because he was able to move through his program quickly, and get back to other things such as running a thriving church.
I reacted like I'm sure most of you did when you first heard about WGU, it sounded too good to be true. Even after this conversation, I still did not think about returning to school for several years.
In 2016, while deployed in support of Operation Resolute Support to Kandahar Airfield in Afghanistan, I found the fire within myself to return to school and finally obtain a bachelor's degree. If I could overcome all the challenges that come with being in a hostile land, away from friends and family, I could go back to school.
I returned to the conversation with my father who had now completed his second degree with WGU. He reiterated that I could complete my bachelor's faster and more affordably than I would with other programs. This time the conversation stuck and I began the enrollment process with WGU.
I hit the ground running with my degree program. I was pleased to find the curriculum I was engaged in at WGU was directly relevant to my profession. As I advanced in rank in my professional military education, the management techniques and theories I was studying at WGU helped me immensely. To this day I'm called upon for my skills I learned during my Information Technology degree as we work on projects around the office.
My studies helped propel me to graduate Airmen Leadership School in the top ten percent of my class and be named a distinguished graduate. [Applause] Thank you.
This professional military education coupled with the Information Technology Management degree through WGU prepared me to now lead and inspire the next generation of America's youth who decide to sign their name on the dotted line to serve their country.
As active duty servicemen, in the United States Air Force, I travel quite a bit. But even during my travels, I was able to bring WGU with me. I was able to pass assessments on three continents. I was busy with courses while traveling the continent to United States, while exploring the beautiful country of Korea, and also exploring the rich history of France and Germany. I did all this while preparing for my future.
Today, I have completed one degree from Western Governors University, and my father has finished his third. He's here with us today. Doctor Brown, would you please stand? [Applause] I am thankful for your wisdom and guidance, and I'm proud to follow in your footsteps.
All right, where is the rest of the Brown family at? Can I get a shout? [Applause] Thank you guys for being here in attendance today. It means a lot. To my mentor, Jamie, thank you for being there for me throughout my degree program. Sometimes she had to reel me back in, and keep me on track to get here today.
To my military family, who are sure to be watching on Facebook, thank you for either waking up early or staying up late to be here with me today, it means a lot. [Applause]
I rely on each and every one of you as I continue with my graduate program and lay the roots for my future. WGU's competency based approach to coursework instilled a discipline in me that I did not know I had. Demonstrated by the fact I was able to transfer in with 17 credits, and finish in a year and a half. I am truly thankful for what this school has allowed me to accomplish. This is the education of the future. Congratulations to the Western Governors University class of 2018. I wish you the best in your future endeavors. [Applause]