Florida Southern College
Commencement Address

By Florida’s Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink

May 2, 2009

Thank you, President Kerr, for that fine introduction.

President Kerr, Provost Warren, Chairman Friar, trustees, distinguished faculty members, fellow speakers, parents, grandparents, students and guests. Thank you for letting me share this very special occasion with you.

It turns out that today is a very special day for me as well. I am deeply honored to be awarded the honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree from this distinguished institution.

As your Chief Financial Officer, I am indeed delighted to celebrate with you this outstanding achievement – the graduation and commencement of the Florida Southern College Class of 2009. This is your day! Congratulations on a job well done.

Commencement speeches are supposed to mark a rite of passage. As I thought about what I might say to you today, I reflected on the paradox of the meanings of graduation and commencement.

Graduation, in this case, meaning to complete. And commencement, meaning to begin? Today marks your graduation. The completion of a course of study to prepare you for the next stage of your lives.

But this is also your commencement, your new beginning. One that recognizes the sacrifice and dedication of parents and families. The commitment of professors. And especially your hard work, faith and perseverance.

As a parent of two college students myself, I am reminded of one of the late humor columnist, Erma Bombeck’s more poignant pearls of wisdom. If you’ll indulge me for a moment, this one is for your parents…

Graduation day is tough for us. We come to this ceremony as parents. We go back home as contemporaries. And, after twenty-some years of child-raising, we are suddenly unemployed!

What is the Value of a Liberal Arts Education? The truth today, which I presume you know in your hearts, is that you are among the very fortunate of the world. You have received an education at one of this country’s finest colleges.

An institution where, as students, you are so much more than a number. A place of real learning, with dedicated and attentive educators focused on students as individuals.

As Florida’s oldest, private liberal arts and faith-based college, Florida Southern is an institution steeped in 124 years of the rich, entrepreneurial history of our great state. As graduates you share that history.

Florida Southern is a college with its own unique legacy of dreamers and do-ers ... a visual legacy that includes the largest single collection of not just mere buildings or structures – but the art and passion of the famous architect Frank Lloyd Wright.

Like you, my collegiate experience is from the liberal arts tradition of faith and values. And I’m sure that you’ve also had to answer parents and peers questions about what are you going to do with a history major?

Or, what kind of job do you expect to get with a degree in Sociology or Art History. And yet, I believe that these majors are worth so much more than we can ever explain.

Perhaps the greatest value from an education in the liberal arts tradition of faith and values is the teaching of critical thinking skills.

When we look at our world today, never before in our history have these skills been more important to the future of Florida, our local communities, and our Nation.

The ability to look at things broadly, to want to see all the angles before making judgment, and to apply what we have learned to understanding our place in this truly global society – these are the real currency of a liberal arts education.

And here you are today, standing at the threshold of your future.

The future is something we make instead of find, and so I encourage each of you to make of it what you will. In the words of Oliver Wendell Holmes – “What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us."

All of us are here this morning to honor and support you, the Class of 2009. We are excited by the prospect of how each of you will put your knowledge and caring to use to reinvent Florida and make the world a better place.

To paraphrase the Apostle Luke, “To whom much is given, much is expected in return.” This has been my life’s guiding principle. The education you celebrate today puts each of you squarely in the column of “to whom much is given.”

If you’re anything like I was on my graduation day, you’re probably so excited that much of this day has already become a blur. It will be over before you know it.

And so, I encourage each of you today, that if you are only able to remember one thing about this day—your graduation, and your commencement, remember how you feel at this moment, degree nearly in hand.

Savor the feeling of your accomplishment and satisfaction. Remember the pride and the anticipation, and indeed, you will remember the very best part.

Remembering my own graduation, I know you’re ready to get out of here. I know that the thoughts rushing through your minds this afternoon are more exciting than anything I might tell you about how the real work is just beginning.

But, because it is my job here today, I’m going to share some of my thoughts on the subject anyway!

First, the degree you’ve earned here today tells us you have learned how to learn. And in so doing, you have mastered life's most valuable skill.

There was a time when the education of a fine institution like Florida Southern College could largely sustain a successful career. But the profound impact of technology across all fronts; and the speed at which it is delivered supports the cliché “the only real constant is change.”

The rapid pace of change in our world requires that our knowledge and skills be updated just like the stream of software updates sent automatically to our computers and other devices. So, let lifelong learning be your goal.

Unlike what most of us as Baby Boomers experienced in our education and careers, during your lifetime, computers and the internet have been a given.

Growing up with this instant access to information and entertainment, getting what you want with the click of a mouse, has given rise to the latest label given your generation – GenMe.

There’s even a book about GenMe, subtitled “Why today’s young Americans are more confident, assertive, entitled, and MISERABLE than ever before.”

I’m not one for labels or generalizations. I am both grateful and humbled by the sacrifices that many of your generation are making in service to our country in Iraq, Afghanistan and around world.

And although self-esteem is important to success, I would take this opportunity to caution you that an inflated sense of entitlement – without accomplishment and experience to support it – is a recipe for frustration and disappointment for all concerned.

I have always believed that there is no substitute for hard work and commitment. In today’s difficult economy and highly competitive, albeit weak job market it’s more important than ever.

When you find that first job, concentrate on doing it really well. Prove yourself every step of the way.

Don’t be discouraged if your first job isn’t everything you’ve dreamed about. Few first jobs ever are. Go to work every day thinking about how you can add value to the job you’ve been given.

Learn how to receive and process constructive criticism and let it help you grow professionally. Find mentors willing to provide coaching and support. Seek out opportunities to learn to become good leaders.

The best way to become a leader is to practice. You can do this by volunteering. Find something you’re passionate about and get involved in career and community activities that will help you grow.

And finally, as Florida’s Chief Financial Officer, a former banker and a parent, I’d be remiss if I didn’t say a few words about financial literacy.

The fact is, most Americans do a poor job of planning for their financial future, and planning is important for so many reasons.

Estimates are that half of college students graduating today have at least 4 credit cards and graduate with an average balance of more than $3,000. And that’s on top of student loan debt.

How you’ve handled credit, or perhaps mishandled it, in college is important. It can impact everything from the interest rates you’ll pay on future loans for cars or your first home, to how employers look at you in the hiring process.

And because we are living longer, you’ll need to save even more money than your parents to survive and thrive through a much longer old-age. So… you're going to need a plan, and I suggest you start now.

There are plenty of resources available to help you. You can go to my website to find some if you’re unsure where to start – that’s www.myfloridacfo.com.

In closing, the demands and realities of the world can wait one more day. Today is your day! Today you are the focus of our attention. You are the center of our pride and celebration, and that’s exactly how it ought to be. Today you have earned your place in the sun.

Congratulations Florida Southern College Class of 2009 on all of your accomplishments, and my very best wishes for much success and happiness to each of you.