Graduating from college rightly calls for celebration, but also presents uncertainty as students end their familiar academic lives and either enter the workforce or pursue advanced degrees. The pressure is, therefore, on commencement speakers to provide some words of wisdom to the anxious masses who are ready to move forward and yet already nostalgic for what they’ll soon leave behind.
On Saturday, April 30, two successful University of Findlay alumni, VJ Talwar ’92 and Billy Watterson ’96, offered some insight and perspective.
Talwar, who spoke at the graduate ceremony, is president, gifts and special occasions for Sears Holdings Corporation and has held other leadership positions at nonprofits and companies. He earned a Bachelor of Arts in accounting from UF and an MBA from the University of Chicago.
Watterson spoke at the undergraduate ceremony. He has founded more than 16 companies, leading them from start-up through growth and expansion. He is a graduate of UF’s (then) environmental and hazardous materials management program.
Here are some things that Talwar and Watterson posited to UF’s 2016 graduating seniors and graduate students:
- Talwar said great professional opportunities can arise very quickly, which can require fast decision-making. His spur-of-the-moment decision had him leave his home country of India within 48 hours and attending UF to pursue his dream of studying in America. “I’ve been lucky in the sense that I’ve taken those opportunities,” he said.
- “The more risks you take, it will pay off in the long run,” Talwar maintained. “I encourage you to keep your eyes open” for learning and leadership opportunities, he said.
- Talwar once tutored several of his fellow UF students prior to an important exam for a corporate financial course. For one of his professional roles, he also helped tens of thousands of children receive life-saving HIV medication, and eventually helped open a school in Bangalore, India for those ages 3-6. “I found that when I helped others, I learned tremendously,” he said.
- When he wasn’t on the interview list for a visit by the former firm Deloitte & Touche, he donned a suit and tie and showed up anyway, only to be told that his resume did not include anything that represented leadership. He then became a member of the former Students in Free Enterprise team, an officer for the International Club and Alpha Sigma Phi. “it completely changed my profile from the geek that I was,” he said. “Every failure is an opportunity to learn.”
- Watterson admitted that when he graduated from UF, in the non-air conditioned Croy Gymnasium, he was “a hot mess” in more ways than one. But since then he’s “experienced some pretty great things… and some not-so-great things,” all in the pursuit of success and relevancy.
- He quoted Ralph Waldo Emerson: “The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.” But he conceded he was “confused about this happiness thing,” initially thinking it was the end-all be-all of life.
- Happiness is pursued via social media, he noted, but only through envy and validation. “Can you say ‘Instagram?,’” he asked. “These are the rational lies we tell ourselves – that we’re worth it, that we deserve it… But it’s the great deception, if you will. Products, status, admiration will never bring you lasting happiness,” he said. “It’s a fleeting emotion. It’s meant to be temporary.”
- Watterson suggested expecting and embracing the “valleys of life,” and stated, “there is purpose in the pain.” Contentment and fulfillment come from “doing what we are designed to do,” he said. “The path to contentment and fulfillment, the great secret, the thirst-quenching antidote, is in giving of yourselves and your resources,” he explained. “It’s not all supposed to be about us.”
- Helping others generates a feeling similar to a runner’s high post workout, Watterson said, noting that studies have shown it improves one’s health, strengthens the immune system, decreases pain and provides stress relief. “The great things I’ve done for myself didn’t secure my happiness,” he told graduates. “Once I finally realized my purpose in life was to share my gifts and talents, only then did I experience contentment and fulfillment,” he said.