Soon after my arrival in March I was approached by a group of our undergraduates to deliver the spring 2023 commencement address for the Herbert College of Agriculture. They surprised me in my office with balloons, a cookie cake, and a sign asking, “Would you be our commencement speaker?” I felt a little like I had been asked to the prom—and I couldn’t be happier.
As with any commencement season, it gave me time to reflect. It’s been a little more than thirty years since my college graduation. Since that time, I’ve held jobs in Ohio, Knoxville, Martin, Memphis, Knoxville (again), Martin (again), and now back in Knoxville with our statewide Institute. Along the way, I’ve found that each transition has been an incredible learning experience.
Some years ago, I started a journal to log the lessons I’ve learned along life’s journey. There are more than seventy entries to the journal now, and I thought this morning’s commencement ceremony would be a good time to share those with our students. (Don’t worry, I didn’t speak about all seventy. Ten seemed right if you ask me.)
So, just a few hours ago, I shared those ten things I wish I’d known thirty years ago with our graduates. I thought I’d share them to you, too.
10) Every decision you make in life impacts someone else. There are implications to every choice we make. The decisions we make today have the potential for changing the lives of those around us . . . and we can’t ignore the impact our choices have on our friends, coworkers, and neighbors.
9) The job isn’t ever just about us. The opportunity to have our jobs is a privilege. We have to treat our coworkers with care, as equals. Success is earned by working together as a team.
8) When it comes to “being in the know,” those who talk a lot usually aren’t in the know. Idle talk is not helpful in the workplace. We need to seek to be a part of the solution, not a part of the problem.
7) Take tasks off your boss’s desk. Leadership is a lonely activity. Those that we serve in the workplace have numerous demands on their time, and they need to find people they can trust. Become someone worthy of that trust.
6) No task is too small for you. Humility is a wonderful thing for all of us.
5) We are all replaceable. No single person is essential to the success of a business. We will never be bigger than the organizations we serve, nor will we ever be more important than those that we serve.
4) Everybody has a first name. All people have worth. All people deserve our respect. It is essential that we know those people around us who are investing in the success of our organization. Get to know their interests, their joys, and their pain. Invest in them.
3) Whatever task you are asked to do, do it with all your heart. Whatever we do in our business or work, let’s commit to putting our complete and total effort into it. If it needs to be done, let’s give it all we’ve got.
2) Dinner with your family is important. We are all busy. We will never complete our to-do lists at the office. But it is essential that we invest in those who we love and who love us. The work will always be there. It’s important to build our relationships with those who bring us joy and renewal, too.
1) When you don’t know what to do, remember to do no harm until you do. Find good, trusted mentors and seek their counsel. Wisdom comes from careful reflection and life experience. So, seek help from those you trust when faced with difficult decisions.
I don’t know how much our students learned from my words at commencement this morning, but I can assure you that I’ve learned a great deal from them and from all of you over these past seventy-nine days. I’ve learned that each of you has a vital role in promoting our agricultural programs and initiatives. I’ve learned that together we do really great work.
And I’ve witnessed the commitment of our statewide team in providing Real. Life. Solutions. for all Tennesseans and those beyond the borders of our state. It’s incredible.
Thanks for all you do to fulfill UT’s land-grant mission. And remember, every day is Ag Day at the University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture.
Senior Vice Chancellor and Senior Vice President
UT Institute of Agriculture