Commencement Address by Richard Stuckey (P '00, '03, '09)
Millbrook has indeed
been an important part of our lives for many years, making today a
special one for all of us. When I graduated college about 30 years ago
my wife presented me with a quotation that I’d like to pass along to
you in a few minutes. It’s from John Gardner, a renowned social
reformer and author. He gave a commencement speech to a high school
graduating class where he was asked to pass along his accumulated
wisdom over his previous 30 years. Proving the value of friendship, his
friend said to him: John -- that's their way of telling you to keep it
brief!! And so I will as well.
I'd like to speak directly to the Class of 2009. You and I began a conversation back in October during Parents weekend. We spent an hour or so trying to figure out how we got to a point in our country where people became so fearful that they stopped buying houses and cars, they stopped investing, envisioning only risk wherever they turned. People shut down.
As I recall I asked only one thing of you. And since it’s so rare to get two shots at a graduating class, I’m going to repeat it. Educate yourselves in financial matters. You have one thing in common. Whether you pursue a life as a teacher or artist or engineer, you live in a modern society and economy. You will be asked to make scores of decisions that affect your economic well-being your entire life: how much money should I save? where should I invest my savings? should I rent or buy an apartment?, should I get life insurance? It goes on and on….
If you educate yourselves, or find someone you can really trust who can help you, then you won’t have to make decisions from a place of fear and you’ll lessen your chance of being a victim of the times. You can’t control or even foresee what oil prices or stock prices or interest rates will do. But what you can do is control how you live so that a financial crisis does not become a personal crisis. I don’t mean to oversimplify, but if you don’t borrow too much money, if you live within your means, and if you save a decent part of your income, you’ll be a good part of the way there.
That’s not to say you won’t make your share of mistakes. We all have. I contacted some of your former classmates who've graduated from Millbrook within the past half dozen years, and asked them what they wish they'd been told on this day. Many of the responses centered on reassuring you that people do make mistakes – and it’s ok.
Most of you have heard of a legendary investor named Warren Buffet. Over the past 40 years his investment returns have been more than twice the returns of the overall stock market. Yet in 2008 his losses were $11.5 billion. And what does he say about it? "Never forget that our country has faced far worse travails in the past. In the 20th Century alone we dealt with two great wars, a dozen or so panics and recessions and the Great Depression. Without fail however we have overcome them. America's best days lie ahead.” Such passion and optimism about the opportunities ahead from a man who is nearly eighty years old.
And so I’d like you to think about three really interesting questions. The first you’ve likely heard plenty of times, the second two, lets see: First – how are you going to find your path in life? Second -- will you be aware enough to know it when you see it? And finally -- will you allow yourself to follow your path?
We have a friend named David Whyte who has published a number of books of poetry and books about the individual in the corporate workplace. His most recent is called "The Three Marriages"(in which he addresses the relationships we have to ourselves, to our "jobs" and to our significant others). A very insightful person, if you met him he wouldn’t ask you: what do you want to do for a living? He’d ask: how do you want your life to be?
His personal story is revealing. As a teenager he watched a TV series that your parents might know well from the 1960's and 70's called the Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau. From that show he began to realize that he wanted his future, in some way, to involve the seas. He went to college, majored in Biology and so, hailing from a small town in Wales, ended up a guide in the Galapagos Islands. Followed his dream.
As happens to many people, after a number of years, he was drawn to a different path and became a poet and writer. There was a famous psychologist who some of you have studied here at Millbrook named Carl Jung who said the following: "Most of the time we walk in shoes that are too small for us". Mr. Whyte continued to choose paths that enlarged him throughout his life. In his words, "I had something in me that wanted to get out into the world. And I wasn't going to let others short circuit my life's experience by imposing theirs." Including (my words) his parents.
My story couldn’t be more different, though it also shows how you never know where life will take you. I studied economics in school. I enjoyed it because economics draws from many fields including psychology, math, history, political science and sociology. My interest in the mathematics side of economics, called econometrics, led me to what was a new field in the late 70’s called futures, options and derivatives. These were the new tools being developed to help companies solve their problems that arose from the high inflation and repeated recessions of the 70s, saddling them with risks they didn’t want. And while I was attracted to the challenge of the problems they faced, truth be told, my being drawn to Wall Street was also an emotional attraction to the energy of the markets. I needed both. That Carl Jung would have a field day with the reasons why, would be the subject of another talk.
And so, my questions to you…..How to find your path in life? As you enter college, I'm asking you to cast your net wide as you select courses, because I’d like you to have the opportunity to explore all the possibilities that are out there for you.
And then second, as you live your life on a daily basis, I'd like you to be aware of what you are experiencing. Your parents will understand this -- many people live their lives with a movie going on inside their heads about the past and the future and so aren't always present in the moment. Whyte relates a story about William Wordsworth, one of the writers that you’ve studied here at Millbrook. When Wordsworth finished college, he wasn’t sure what direction his life would take until, walking home at dawn (and yes – it was after a party – but that’s life too) he finally took in the beauty of the natural world around him, and began to write about it. In being aware of what he was seeing and feeling, he found his direction. Thought of from a different aspect of your senses, the word vocation derives from the word voice, and you’ll only hear it if you are listening.
And finally, to the third question, will you allow yourself to follow the paths that interest you? I want you to know that the world is not too big for you, and it's not too complex for you. Let yourself follow them. What a great conversation to have with your parents this weekend – ask them about their paths in life -- how they pursued them, when they changed – and whether they have new paths ahead of them as well. One of the benefits of being young is being fearless, so use it to your advantage. You’ll make mistakes, but rather than pursue something called “success”, I’d like you to go in the direction of the future that excites you.
Said in a slightly different way, as promised, John Gardner’s quote:
"I suppose I should wish you success, but that's really too easy: I would like to wish you something that is harder to come by. So I am going to wish you meaning in your life. And meaning is not something you stumble across, like the answer to a riddle or a prize in a treasure hunt. Meaning is something you build into your life. You build it out of your own past, out of your affections and loyalties, and out of the experiences of mankind as it is passed on to you, out of your own talent and understanding, out of the things you believe in, out of the things and people you love, out of the values for which you are willing to sacrifice something. The ingredients are there. You are the only one who can put them together into that unique pattern that will be your life. Let it be a life that has dignity and meaning for you!”