Lower Columbia College | 2013 Commencement Ceremony

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77th Annual Commencement Ceremony

Friday, June 21, 2013, Kelso High School Schroeder Field.

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Commencement Address

Paul Laufmann, Lower Columbia College Junior College, Class of 1958, United Paradyne Corporation Board of Directors Chairman/CEO, Retired

So Now What Can you Expect?

I would like to begin my address by sharing a startling statistic with you - at least it's startling to me. And it is this - something less than 1% of all the people who have ever lived have had the opportunity to reside in the US - and of those only very, very few have attained the level of education and opportunities you now have before you.

Imagine that - only a few hundredths of a percent of all the people of history have reached the position you now find yourself. Isn't that statistic humbling? How fortunate you are!

I would like to share with you some lessons I've learned in a post-college career of over 50 years. I sat where you now sit, wondering what awaited me, so maybe my experiences can give you some idea of what might await you.

Some of you will attend universities - some of you will enter into your professional careers. Regardless, these principles should apply.

First, find your passion and strive to excel: You may not find it in your first position. Like me, maybe what you really need right now is exposure - and a paycheck! But you will now have the chance to explore your profession firsthand.

Develop your 'ideal job' goals. Learn all you can about it and create a plan to get into that field; treat it just like it is a 'project' - then get to work on advancing your plan. (After an exciting few years in rocket propulsion research and development, I discovered my primary interest was in project management, the business side of the field. So I searched for, and found, an opportunity in my locale to attend a USC evening school curriculum, MS in Systems Management. That led to accelerating my promotability.)

You'll find your way into your path - keep plugging. There are roadblocks to any endeavor, so be prepared to adjust your plan along your path - if you are sincere about it, you will get by those bumps in the road. You will eventually get there - your task is then to excel in it. Study it, look for weaknesses and develop strategies to resolve those needs - you will be recognized for your efforts. And, guess what - recognition comes easier and faster if a recognition motive isn't even in your plan.

Secondly, recognize that every endeavor has a budget: You will find a boss that you might consider 'dumber than dirt', but that is still your boss. You'll have to keep in mind that your boss will have restraints you may not have appreciation for - like a budget. While you might have a great new idea, your employer might not have the resources to address it. Every advancement needs assets to develop it, dollars, time, assets employed, etc., so keep that in mind.

The most important axiom I had to learn was - your boss is the boss - and if he or she didn't need help doing his/her job, you wouldn't have a job!

Thirdly, information is your friend, maintain its integrity: A recent and very vivid example of the misapplication of information is the case of the United Nations' IPCC (International Panel on Climate Change) contract with the East Anglia University in the United Kingdom. They were commissioned as the responsible repository for all related climate change documentation, maintaining the data and disseminating it to investigators in the field.

No matter what one's opinion is on the subject of man's involvement in climate change, it was found that these stewards had already predetermined a conclusion and manipulated data to support it, while repressing data that conflicted with their desired conclusions. Further, they even demonized those scientists who acquired, published or wished to access data refuting their preconceived positions. The consequence? Their actions caused considerable damage to those whose position it was to connect humans' activities to climate anomalies - they damaged their own cause!

While the acquisition and interpretation of data is legitimately open to debate, data is data - its existence is real and it should not be repressed.

Fourthly, ATTITUDE - your attitude is essential to success: The projection of your personality will always be assessed. That may not be fair, but it is a reality in our world. How you approach a task or an event will be observed and measured by those in position to evaluate and influence your performance, assignments and promotability.

Show eagerness to accept and perform an assignment - and do it with a positive outlook. The more effectively one does a small task, the more likely to obtain increasingly responsible assignments and exposure.

Regardless of your role, your attitude is the primary game changer to personal progression in a career!

Fifth, prepare yourself for risk-taking: Throughout anyone's life, there come times of risk. At some point in your career many of you will be confronted with at least one exceptional business opportunity, sometimes more than once. But virtually all such prospects involve some degree of risk and you will find yourself confronting that opportunity with the question of how to address the risks.

Of course, personal issues are critical to decisions to go forward and are often the primary issues, but one has to understand these kinds of opportunities are rare over one's career.

I had two such opportunities, one not taken and one taken:

  1. An Opportunity Not Taken: An early passion of mine was baseball. While still at LCC, I had an opportunity to play professional baseball in the Chicago Cubs organization, for whom my brother played, but I wanted to complete my college baseball career in Pullman, at WSU, before turning professional. As a transfer student to WSU and in the second semester of my first year there, I was informed that I couldn't get out of afternoon labs to play ball. I would have had to change majors, costing me another year of unaffordable college, so I abandoned my baseball dreams and became an Engineer. I always carried a bittersweet wonder about how I might have fared as a professional baseball player.
  2. An Opportunity Taken: Much later, relatively late in my career, another prospect required me to assess putting at risk everything my spouse and I had and once undertaken, to understand there was no turning back. I knew another prospect was unlikely to occur again in my working life, so I studied its risks and decided to pursue it. It took a lot of hard, focused work, and had its moments of concern, but it ultimately succeeded. Had it not succeeded, however, I could be comfortable that I had appropriately analyzed the risk vs. benefits and tried my best.

When this kind of opportunity comes your way, I suggest taking an internal assessment of yourself before embarking on the prospect.

  • Have you exhibited a history of determined focus in your taskings?
  • Do you have the drive to stick with a plan through the 'valleys' of the pursuit?
  • Can you see the end state of the endeavor and does it have personal, technical or financial rewards that counterbalance the investment of time and resources needed to chase it?
  • If you decline, can you accept the prospect of disappointment, maybe despair, in an opportunity wasted?

Here's what Leo Buscaglia says about risk: risk must be taken because the greatest hazard in life is to risk nothing. The person who risks nothing does nothing, has nothing, is nothing. He may avoid suffering and sorrow, but he simply cannot learn, feel, change, grow, love, live. Chained by his certitudes, he is a slave. He has forfeited freedom. His bottom line: Only a person who risks is free!

So, I suggest starting, even now, to develop a plan, maybe a checklist, to be prepared for the event when it comes, and adjust the plan as mitigating events occur (marriage, children, mortgages, etc). When the opportunity comes, there may very well be time limitations to its pursuit - you'll be glad you had truncated your analysis by having the preliminaries already handled.

It's going to happen, so why not be prepared!

Finally: There are those mentors in your history who have helped you get to this point. Acknowledge them! Let them know you have valued their attention - a teacher, professor, sponsor, supporter. It means so much!

And to this institution, LCC - some of you are here because someone else, who you may not even know, provided some resources (scholarships, endowments, donations, time, assets, - even taxes) that helped propel you into your career. 'Pay it Forward' when you find the ability to do so.

My wife (a very pretty cheerleader) and I met here at LCC and went on with our careers, so we are 'Paying it Forward' - we are establishing endowments to help the next generations.

Please - Don't ignore 'who got you there'.

Congratulations on your achievement! Thank you and may God continue to bless each of you as you advance in your careers.