Commencement 2017: Greatness, a matter of conscious choice and discipline - Provost, Dr. Suzanne Buchele encourages Class of 2017 to seek Greatness

Good morning. I would like to read to you, two excerpts from the Epilogue of Jim Collin’s book Great By Choice. In it, he says:

"We sense a dangerous disease infecting our modern culture and eroding hope; an increasingly prevalent view that greatness owes more to circumstance, even luck, than to action and discipline- that what happens to us matters more than what we do. In games of chance, like a lottery or roulette, this view seems plausible. But taken as an entire philosophy, applied more broadly to human endeavor, it’s a deeply debilitating life perspective, one that we can’t imagine wanting to teach young people.  Do we really believe that our actions count for little, that those who create something great are merely lucky, that our circumstances imprison us? Do we want to build a society and a culture that encourage us to believe that we aren’t responsible for our choices and accountable for our performance?

Our Research evidence stands firmly against this view. This work began with the premise that most of what we face in lies beyond our control, that life is uncertain and the future unknown. And as we wrote …, luck plays a role for everyone, both good luck and bad luck. But if one company becomes great while another in similar circumstances and with comparable luck does not, the root cause of why one becomes great and the other does not simply cannot be circumstances or luck. Indeed, if there’s one overarching message arising from more than six thousand years of corporate history across all our research—studies that employ comparisons of great versus good in similar circumstances—it would be this: greatness is not primarily a matter of circumstance; greatness is first and foremost a matter of conscious choice and discipline. The factors that determine whether or not a company becomes truly great, even in chaotic and uncertain world, lie largely within the hands of people. It is not mainly a matter of what happen to them but a matter of what they create what they do, and how well they do it."

He continues…

"When the moment comes – when we’re afraid, exhausted, or tempted – what choice do we make? Do we abandon our values? Do we give in? Do we accept average performance because that’s what most everyone else accepts? Do we capitulate to the pressure of the moment? Do we give up on our dreams when we’ve been slammed by brutal facts? The greatest leaders we’ve studied throughout all our research cared as much about values as victory, as much about purpose as profit, as much about being useful as being successful. Their drive and standards are ultimately internal, rising from somewhere deep inside.

We are not imprisoned by our circumstances. We are not imprisoned by crushing setbacks, self-inflicted mistakes or our past success. We are not imprisoned by the times in which we live, by the number of hours in a day or even the number of hours we’re granted in our very short lives. In the end, we can control only a tiny sliver of what happens to us. But even so, we are free to choose, free to become great by choice."