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Some advice for graduates

June 2, 2011
The Town Crier
Paul Hugenberg of Poland was asked to give the commencement speech for Alliance CCTC this year, but, due to unusual circustances, was not able to deliver it. He wanted to share it with Poland graduates however. Here is his commencement speech as written:

“What you get by achieving your goals is as important as what you become by achieving your goals.” – Zig Ziglar.

Good evening everyone. Let me begin with congratulations! Above all else, today is your day, a day to share with your family and friends to celebrate the accomplishment of a tough goal. A sense of pride and a short reflection of your own efforts are well deserved. Take the time and soak this up because where you sit today is the result of your own efforts, your own drive, and your own ambitions. Everyone else that sits with you today has given freely of themselves to help you succeed on those terms. Today is different than your educational achievements of the past. This, you didn’t have to do. There is no expectation of this, no law requiring your struggle. This, is the realization of your work. Every bit of it is yours.

The longer you walk this earth, the more clearly you understand that life offers each of us few more significant opportunities to change our own paths than with education. Tomorrow, your work will continue, but it will continue in the world of influences and competition. Others, who sat where you sit now, will be competing with you for opportunities available to all but granted to only a few. Yesterday, your choices were yours and yours alone. The goals were clear and defined. Your efforts were known and the results of your efforts were laid out in plain sight. I applaud you for those efforts, those commitments, those late nights and class time you substituted for your family. The price of your ability to succeed has been dramatically reduced by today's down payment.

When I sat down to put my thoughts on paper, I spent a great deal of time wondering what nugget of truth I could offer to you that you do not already know. What humorous story to provide you with to recap later in your celebrations. I reminded myself that 15 years earlier, I sat where you sat. I listened to someone and tried to take something from their speech that I could use. I have a son who is graduating next month and starting his life. I want to tell you what I told him. It is what I heard when I was in your seat but it means much more to me today than I allowed it to back then.

For the next few moments, I would like to focus on two things. First, you, individually, and the expectations you should have for yourself. The expectation that life is hard but you have proven to yourselves that “hard” is just a detail. The expectation that success requires more work, maybe a few hard failures, and is not gifted to you but earned and re-earned. And second, your community and the expectation we have of you, each of you. You are a reflection of us. The adage that your legacy is not counted in dollars and toys but in the lives you impact (good bad or otherwise) is never truer than at this point in your lives. As my grandfather told me when I was too young to grasp and too impatient to understand, the only thing I was given without effort was my name and I have an entire life to make sure that those who hear it or are handed it from me won’t have to make up for my transgressions.

Let’s begin.

Today, you are the same person in the mirror you were yesterday. Your dreams, desires, wants, needs…they are the same. Today, however, you have a much better set of tools to accomplish all of those things [than] you did the day before. We know it, your employer or prospective employer knows it, and hopefully you are aware of it as well. If you have children, they know it. Grasp those tools and use them. Polish your skills and be the best that you can be. You owe it to yourself…you’ve made it this far. I hope that you are aware of the subtle but distinct differences in your experiences today. The hugs of a parent or a spouse are different, aren’t they? They are filled with the same love and caring as yesterday, but padded with a pride and praise – an acknowledgement of your efforts. The handshakes of a teacher mean something that they didn’t use to. Carried in that grasp is a respect for your accomplishment, the attainment of your goal. No longer are your teachers the individuals who stand with you and instruct you. Today, they become peers who stand beside you. As you progress in your chosen fields, your instructors remain able to teach you, but they are in a position to learn from you as well. In that hand shake is respect for you.

As you make your choices in the future, do not spend anytime closing doors…choose them and test them. Closing doors takes your map and eliminates roads to get to your destination. What will you choose to do with your skills? How will you repay those, who took their time to offer you this opportunity, to teach you what they have learned by their own efforts? The greatest gift one can receive is that of knowledge shared by someone else who earned it through their own work, and strife, and sweat; those who offer it with no expectation of reciprocation other than your own effort. You are a reflection of them.

Finally, I would you like you to consider your community; the community that gave of its resources for you; the community that provided this very education. Pay it forward. Or rather, pay it back. Pay it back to this community. Everyone who has helped you with this achievement wishes nothing but success in your endeavors. Winston Churchill said, “There is no finer investment for any community than putting milk into babies.” This community has fed you for some time, provided you the nourishment of your education. Be a good investment. Recognize the value of what you have absorbed and learned by nourishing others who have yet to take the steps and challenges you have taken. We wish for you to return with the knowledge you gain in the next phases of your lives, and reenergize the communities that you call home. This great nation of ours, our United States, is at its core the grand collection of great communities. Great communities, like this one, are comprised of people, driven individuals; like yourselves. Consider reversing the “brain drain” from our area by investing your expertise here. Give it back. The skills and education you have been taught can be passed on to others, in this community, by you and your fellow graduates. I take great pride in working here; working with my neighbors and peers to set a better standard in my industry. I gloat about the construction project that I helped to make happen, the 10 jobs that come with it. I enjoy seeing someone here buy their first house. This is our home. It is where we learned to work hard for each other, and you have worked hard to learn. Remember where it is that you say you are from, and make sure that those following in your path have the same opportunities for pride as you have. Me, I’m from Poland, Ohio; the Mahoning Valley. This Valley has been good to me. It is where I got my education, my first opportunity. It is where I raise my family and choose to educate my children. The Valley is where I want my impact to be seen. I hope to spend many more years watching you make yours.

Paul Hugenberg

Poland Seminary HS 1990

Youngstown State University 1996



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