Inspiration was also plentiful, thanks, in part, to two successful entrepreneurs who shared their stories of failures and triumphs.
Terry Terhark, founder and former CEO of TheRightThing, told attendees at the graduate Commencement ceremony that achievement is predicated on choices, even those that, in the immediate aftermath, may appear to have been unwise. Failure also enables accomplishment and improvement, he pointed out, which means it shouldn’t be feared
Choices, Terhak said, should be based on hope rather than fear. Individuals should also place themselves in a position to have as many choices as possible, he explained, which is part of the value of a good education.
Terhark values education so much that after creating a business that attracted world-renowned clients such as Johnson & Johnson and Harvard University, he then earned a bachelor’s degree in business management from UF in 2006.
Another key to success, Terhark said, is choosing to help others. He reiterated his personal philosophy, that “if you do the right things, good things will happen.” As an example of his own “paying it forward” generosity, Terhark and his wife, Betty, in 2012 committed $1 million toward the University’s Give Voice to Your Values campaign for Old Main renovations.
Veronika Scott, founder of The Empowerment Plan and UF’s undergraduate ceremony speaker this year, did not sugarcoat her history, nor did she say that her successes have been easily earned.
“I was raised in somebody else’s rock bottom. I nearly flunked sixth grade. Education was my way out,” said Scott, a College for Creative Studies graduate. Using a class project and product design degree as a nonprofit business launch pad, she started a Detroit nonprofit that hires mostly homeless parents to make bags that serve as coats, sleeping bags and day bags for the city’s homeless population.
As a student, Scott became committed to helping the homeless in a meaningful way, but said she faced obstacles at every turn. Her initial foray into their world was at an inner city shelter referred to on the streets as “Hell.” Her initial business plan had far more photos than words, and included a budget of less than $3,000, she said.
Nearly everyone she spoke to about her idea said she would fail “monumentally,” said Scott.
Today, her nonprofit, which lifts people out of homelessness while simultaneously helping that contingent, has earned national recognition and garnered Scott awards for design, ingenuity and public service.
Scott’s advice to graduates is to forge ahead with their dreams, even in the face of opposition and hesitancy.
“You can’t wait to start something until it’s absolutely perfect, until other people say it’s OK,” she said.