My experience at Cushing provided me with an approach to life that has profoundly and positively shaped my future. My Cushing experience started when my Mom consented to have me attend Cushing only after the admissions head at the time, Judy Beams, agreed to my Mom’s request that Cushing look after me like family. Judy didn’t hesitate, since the supportive, nurturing and character building attributes a great family have are in Cushing’s DNA. Cushing became my extended family and not only influenced me during my four years, but long after. I was able to apply what I learned from Cushing in all parts of my life, but – let me emphasize – perhaps just as importantly, was my continuing and extending the many great relationships I forged here. My message to you today, is to cherish the experience you have had at Cushing, and don’t have it end here at graduation. Continue to apply what you learned, but also commit to continuing for life, the relationships you have with your friends, mentors and the Cushing family. When you go thru the receiving line with faculty after this ceremony, thank your mentors and promise to be in touch with them and the school. Know that their commitment to your success continues past today, because you’ll always be a member of the Cushing family. Later today, tonight or sometime during graduation week, make a verbal, explicit commitment to your friends that you’ll be a part of their lives. You may think it’s unnecessary since in these farewells, lasting friendship seems implied, but say it to them, and mean it. The greatest joys and rewards in life are thru relationships, and let me attest to that in real terms, in two examples from my own life.
Bill Wenning was my basketball coach for four years at Cushing, and remains a mentor of mine. He taught me a lot, including that my childhood dream of playing in the NBA, was just that. Seriously, he instilled in me the attitude that the great Wayne Gretzky conveyed so well when he said, “You miss 100% of the shots you never take.” Now, actually, I don’t think Bill allowed me to take any shots since I was better known for my defense -- so let me give you some context. We had talented teams, but we were often overmatched on paper, and yet he convinced us that we could push ourselves to extraordinary heights thru hard work, and that a true team is always greater than its parts. We didn’t back down to any challenge, nor think we were ever in a position where we couldn’t succeed thru sheer will, determination and coming together to bring out the best in one another. We learned to overcome any doubts or fears, and to never let the fear of losing or failure, stop us from taking those proverbial shots in life.
The second example relates to when I took one of those shots in life by accepting Pete’s gracious offer to join him in seeking to build a new company and industry. Pete and I reconnected in Washington DC shortly after college when I moved there after working on the Clinton-Gore re-election campaign, and was then working for the Clinton administration at the Defense Department in the Pentagon. Pete had just concluded helping lead a historic victory for Rudy Guiliani’s Mayoral Campaign in New York City. So, we had a lot in common regarding our work experiences having both recently worked on campaigns.
What most people don’t realize about entrepreneurs and successful companies, is success often doesn’t happen overnight, if at all. Being an entrepreneur is being able to weather the peaks and valleys, and working to make sure there are more peaks than valleys, and that the peaks are higher, than the valleys are low. When Pete committed to me, and I committed to him, it was less about assessing the skill sets we developed from our similar career experiences at the young age of twenty-seven, it was about the knowledge we had about each other that was forged at Cushing -- knowing each of us could help create those peaks, but more so, each of us would have the resolve to weather the valleys and pick each other up when we, or the company, was down. Although the first few years of the company took me back to the college days of a lot of ramen noodles and pizza slices to keep expenses low, that resolve proved fruitful and led to incredibly rewarding and memorable experiences over the years – I’ve been able to travel to many countries and most of the United States, I have attended a Super Bowl and World Series, and numerous movie premieres for our studio clients, and also played a role in two presidential campaigns -- to name a few.
As much as my professional accomplishments have been incredibly meaningful and memorable, the memories I’ll cherish for life are thru Pete’s friendship; we were the first people we each called when we met our amazing wives and knew they would be our future soul-mates, we were in each other’s weddings, and Pete and his wife Burson visited us as family the day after our son Augustin was born. So, although I cherish and take pride in our work accomplishments, when I think of Pete, I don’t think of him as a business partner, I think of him as an amazing friend who has been by my side for the most meaningful moments in my life. Ralph Waldo Emerson may have said it best when he said, “Life is a journey, not a destination.” Life is not about singular events, it’s about enjoying its entirety, its wholeness, and especially about sharing that understanding with the people you care most about. It is your journey, to be sure, and only yours. But the luckier of you here today will find ways to share your journey, as often, and in as many ways as possible. That sharing has begun here and can be enriched even in the next few days of goodbyes. Find your path, seek your success, take your journey – and look for friends to navigate with you, support you, and assist you. Yet you don’t do it for success, but for one reason only. You hold onto friends to share with you, carry you, celebrate with you and share life’s real rewards, which are friendships that last a lifetime.