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Trinity Magazine 2007 | Commencement Address 2007

Commencement Address 2007

Trinity’s ‘Phenomenal’ 2007 Graduates

by Barbara B. Lang, President and CEO, D.C. Chamber of Commerce

Good morning! Thank you, Leah Martin, for that flattering introduction. What an honor it is to receive this honorary degree and to be here today. I’d also like to thank President McGuire, the entire faculty and administrators, friends and family, and the Board of Trustees of Trinity, who join me in recognizing the REAL headliners of today’s event, our 2007 graduating class!

Barbara B. Lang, President and CEO, D.C. Chamber of Commerce

Barbara B. Lang, President and CEO, D.C. Chamber of Commerce

And to the Trinity Class of ’07, I say: The years of hard work, of sacrifice, of diligently pursuing your education, have finally come to fruition. This ceremony today represents the successful completion of a journey begun long ago, spanning back to your first day of school, to the first time you picked up a book and began to read, to the first time you realized, ‘I want to be somebody.’ Many of you have overcome great adversity to reach this place: poverty, discrimination, sexism and prejudice. For some, competing priorities monopolized your time, like raising a family and going to work. For others, you struggled to assert your independence, embracing your adulthood for the first time. Each of you sacrificed in your own way, took your own unique path, and yet you’ve all arrived at the same destination: graduation day, at Trinity Washington University. Congratulations are certainly in order, but before you go patting yourselves on the back, just be aware that another journey is about to begin, and this one is much more difficult.

You’ve already laid the foundation for the rest of your life, a bedrock of education that will support all your future endeavors. But that’s not enough. No one is going to just give you a chance, or give you preferential treatment simply because you did well in school, or because you’re a woman, or a minority. You’ve got to continue to prove yourself, everyday, and demonstrate that you’re the best and most qualified for the job. You’re entitled only to the opportunity; but if you diligently pursue your goals, you will get what you deserve. Every choice you make from here on out will dictate your ultimate destiny. And I’m here today to tell you: if you make a plan for life after college, and if you stick to it, through all the trials and tribulations, you will succeed.

Now, as your commencement speaker, it’s generally expected that I’ll try to inspire you, that by espousing high ideals and lofty platitudes I’ll motivate you to ‘be the best that you can be.’ Well, maybe I will inspire you, and maybe I won’t. That’s up to you. But the only inspiration that really matters must come from within yourself, from your indomitable resolve to reach your potential. I can serve as an example, as a guide as you enter the next chapter of your life. Perhaps I can help you recognize the obstacles you’re sure to face down the road. How you choose to use that information is up to you, and you alone.

I’d like to share with you a poem by the great Maya Angelou, entitled ‘Phenomenal Woman.’ And I know not all of you here today are women; nonetheless, I believe this poem speaks to the innate power within us all, man or woman, that enables us to thrive.

Barbara B. Lang, President and CEO, D.C. Chamber of CommercePretty women wonder where my secret lies.
I’m not cute or built to suit a fashion model’s size
But when I start to tell them,
They think I’m telling lies.
I say,
It’s in the reach of my arms
The span of my hips,
The stride of my step,
The curl of my lips.
I’m a woman
Phenomenally.
Phenomenal Woman,
That’s me.

I walk into a room
Just as cool as you please,
And to a man,
The fellows stand or
Fall down on their knees.
Then they swarm around me,
A hive of honey bees.
I say,
It’s the fire in my eyes,
And the flash of my teeth,
The swing in my waist,
And the joy in my feet.
I’m a woman
Phenomenally.
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.

Men themselves have wondered
What they see in me.
They try so much
But they can’t touch
My inner mystery.
When I try to show them
They say they still can’t see.
I say,
It’s in the arch of my back,
The sun of my smile,
The ride of my breasts,
The grace of my style.
I’m a woman
Phenomenally.
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.

Now you understand
Just why my head’s not bowed.
I don’t shout or jump about
Or have to talk real loud.
When you see me passing
It ought to make you proud.
I say,
It’s in the click of my heels,
The bend of my hair,
The palm of my hand,
The need of my care,
‘Cause I’m a woman
Phenomenally.
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.

Trinity, Class of 2007, you truly are phenomenal. And you live in a phenomenal time. You’re about to enter a world which offers a multitude of opportunities that weren’t available to previous generations. I can remember when I earned my own degree in business from Edward Waters College in Jacksonville, Florida, all those years ago, although I won’t say how many years it’s been! At that time, there were only a few career paths readily available to people like me: teaching school, secretarial work, and limited professional practices in business, law and medicine that primarily catered to other minorities. But that time is past! Yes, prejudice still exists, and the world isn’t always fair. But we’ve leveled the playing field to a large degree. There’s nothing to stop you but your own unwillingness to try.

Today you embark on the next years of your life with bigger and brighter opportunities because you have chosen to continue your education. The future lays wide before you’ but what do you see for yourselves? Where do you want your lives to go? Frank Lloyd Wright said, “I know the price of success: dedication, hard work, and an unremitting devotion to the things you want to see happen.” It is so important to envision what and who you want to be and work hard to achieve it. I want to share a story with you from my own life’ it’s about embodying what you dream.

Graduates processWhen I was about seven years old, I wanted to be just like Pearl. You see, Pearl was the head majorette of the high school marching band. She was very pretty and popular, and she was in charge. She led the marching band in the parades and, as a seven year old from a southern town, it seemed like everyone was following her, all the majorettes and the 200 piece New Stanton Marching Band. I idolized her and wanted to be just like Pearl. One day, while watching her in a parade, I decided that was exactly what I was going to do, be just like Pearl. I watched what she did and how she acted, how she stepped and did everything she did, just like Pearl. So I began practicing leading the other children on my street as though we were in a parade. Years later, when I was the majorette of the high school marching band, I realized that I had done it ‘ I had been successful at accomplishing something I had set my sights on as a little girl ‘ I had become ‘Just like Pearl,’ and this is when I learned one of my first lessons in success ‘ if you want to become something, you have to act the part. You have to act like you’re already where you want to be. You can’t wait for somebody to anoint you or declare you ‘successful.’ To be successful, you have to act successful. To be in charge, you have to act in charge. I’m sure you all know somebody who you respect and admire ‘ somebody who has achieved the success that you aspire to. Those are your role models. Those are people just like Pearl. The first step in getting where you want to go is acting like you’ve already arrived.

That is obviously just the first of many steps. With each successive step, you’re sure to encounter adversity, and you’re guaranteed to stumble, to make mistakes. Mistakes can be fixed. But what can never be salvaged is your reputation. Think long and hard on every decision you make, and every action you take, because once you compromise your integrity, that blemish will follow you forever. It’ll go on your proverbial ‘permanent record” and you may not get a second chance. I advise all of you to hone your decision making skills. The way you steer your decisions determines what kind of leader you will become. In the end, making decisions regardless if they are popular or not doesn’t matter; what matters is that you do the right thing’ and that you stand for something!

As President and CEO of the D.C. Chamber of Commerce, I have to represent the interests of the business community and sometimes that puts me in a very unpopular position with our executive and legislative branches of government. I have taken risks both politically and personally when deciding to go against the grain, but I will tell you I have never regretted standing up for something I believed in. D.C. is funny that way ‘ we have a ‘band-wagon’ effect here where most people will jump on as long as everyone else is doing it. It’s like your mother always cautions: ‘Just because everyone is jumping off a cliff, doesn’t mean you should!’ If you believe in it, if you know that you’ve got a stake in the outcome ‘ take a stand.

LangAnd yes, sometimes my heart is still in my throat, and I get scared, scared that I’ll fail, scared that I’ll let down those people who depend on me. But one of the greatest lessons I ever learned came from failure. I was 22 years old, a low level manager at IBM, giving a presentation to all the big-wigs at the company. But I wasn’t prepared. I relied on my personality, communications skills and charm to get by ‘ traits that had always served me well in the past ‘ but in this case fell short of the mark. Following the presentation ‘ and I’ll never forget this ‘ my boss, in a very polite and cordial way, tore me to shreds’ and I was devastated. So I did the only thing I could think of to feel better: I left work, got in my car, and drove to the mall to shop! I just needed to get out of there, to get it all out of my system. And when I finished my personal ‘pity party’ ‘ I went back to work. I attacked my job with a renewed energy and determination, and I never made that mistake again. It was my first of many ‘battle scars.’ But each failure has made me better; just as it will make you better. You’ll learn that it’s okay to fail ‘ we all do, from time to time ‘ but if you learn from your mistakes, if you get right back out there with passion and enthusiasm, you give yourself the best chance to succeed. That’s what it’s all about: getting a chance, and capitalizing on it.

I’ve worked hard to get where I am, starting out as a little colored girl from Florida ‘ who wasn’t even entitled to a seat on a public bus ‘ and working my way to the leadership of the largest business organization in the region. When you look back, years from now, what will you have accomplished? You may go the corporate route, like I did. Or, if you’re a risk taker, you may become an entrepreneur ‘ conceiving of an entirely new product or service that no one has ever seen before. Only you can decide what’s right for you. But whatever you choose ‘ do yourself proud. Identify what holds the most importance for you. Do you want money and power? Do you want the weekends off and long vacations? Do you want a balance of career and family? Don’t make the mistake of following someone else’s idea of success. As the immortal William Shakespeare wrote, ‘This above all: To thine own self be true.’ We have 690,000 jobs in the District of Columbia every day, yet only 225,000 of those jobs are filled by District residents. All of you have the opportunity to increase those numbers.

I want to leave you with one last piece of advice that I’ve benefited from my whole life: give back! You are all tremendously gifted and talented. And those talents can go a long way towards helping those in need in our community. I’m sure you’re all aware of the challenges facing our kids in public schools ‘ the same schools that many of you attended. I encourage you all to use your skills and expertise to help our youth, to provide mentoring and tutoring to those who need it most. Marian Wright Edelman, founder of the Children’s Defense Fund, said: ‘Education is for improving the lives of others and for leaving your community and world better than you found it.’ It may be the most important thing you ever do.

We are so proud to have Trinity be in our city. You add such richness, and we thank you all for your contributions to the District of Columbia. Just a few days ago President McGuire was recognized as the Business Leader of the Years, many of you were there ‘ and she spoke so eloquently about the students of Trinity and how she shares that recognition with all of you. And looking out at all of you, I can see why.

In closing, I hope you’ll take these words with you. Live your lives with integrity, discipline and an open heart. Remember the lessons you’ve learned ‘ from your parents, your teachers, your role-models and your friends ‘ and venture out into the world, armed with the knowledge that you can succeed. Congratulations, Trinity, Class of 2007 ‘ my best wishes to you all!

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