THE SOCIAL, MORAL AND ECONOMIC IMPERATIVE OF OUR GENERATION

October 30, 2015


THIS IS A TALK WHICH I GAVE IN MANCHESTER, NEW HAMPSHIRE IN OCTOBER 2015

The Social, Moral and Economic Imperative of Our Generation

In a sense, I feel I’m speaking to you on behalf of the 7-8 million 3 and 4-year-olds in our nation who today do not have access to quality early childhood experiences.  I am worried yet hopeful – worried about the future of our children and the future of our nation, but hopeful, indeed confident that we can do something about it.

We face an overwhelming imperative – to give every child a fair chance to develop his or her God-given abilities.

I view this as the moral, the social and the economic imperative of our generation.  We must give all our children the fair opportunity to grow up to be educated, independent and contributing citizens.  The future of our nation depends on this.

We talk about a lot of deficits today in this country:  budget deficits, trade deficits, job deficits.  But there is one deficit that impacts all the other deficits and it is the deficit in the early development and education of our youngest, children ages 0-5.  A deficit compared to other countries.  A deficit marked by huge income and racial disparities and a deficit we not only know how to close but do so in a way that makes it a financial no brainer.

I first started to work on early childhood education almost 30 years ago.  We remain far from where we should be.  What makes this particularly alarming is the compelling evidence of the impact which early childhood development has on the life- long future of our nation’s young. 

We know the critical gaps in the development of our young adult population:  

Our high school dropout rate is 20%, almost exactly what is was a quarter century ago and it is 40% in many major metro areas. This at a time when an estimated 70% of new jobs will require MORE than a high school education.  No wonder that, in a nation with 10 million unemployed, we have 4 million jobs that can’t be filled with qualified candidates. 

The consequences of being a high school dropout are worse than ever, and they are multi-generational.  Unemployment rates in double digits.  Too little income to support a family.  And it effects the next generation.  Only five percent of non-high school graduates have children who went on to college.  And I cannot get out of my mind that about 70% of the incarcerated men and women in our nation, a nation having the highest incarceration rates in the world, are high school dropouts.  This is tragedy of the highest order.


The root causes of high school drop-outs go way back. 


They go back to whether a child is ready for kindergarten.  Less than half of the children are and poverty makes the decisive difference.  On learning proficiency, we know that our students invariably end up in the bottom half of those tested among all developed nations.  But did you know that the students from the wealthiest families score above all other nations while those from the poorest districts scored the lowest.  Here we witness one of the tragic symptoms of the plague of poverty.

And it goes on.  A generation ago we led the world in the percentage of young adults who had completed college.  In one generation we slipped to 12th.  And here again, poverty is taking its toll.  Less than 10% of children born into the lowest income quintile will go on to college.

The sad fact is that over 25% of our young people today are simply not developing the workforce and career readiness that we would want, that we would demand, for any one of our children.

Ladies and gentlemen, believe me, it doesn’t have to be this way. We cannot allow it to remain this way. Not if we are to be the Nation we aspire to be.

The last decade has brought us compelling evidence that quality early childhood experience for our children makes a lifelong difference. 

What is that evidence I refer to:
1.     It starts with the undeniable fact that 90% of brain growth, affecting not only cognitive skills but emotional health, occurs in the first five years of life.

2.     Of greatest importance to someone like me who has spent a lifetime trying to ferret out and act on data, we now can document the direct, tightly linked, on-going impact of quality early childhood experience to a) being ready for kindergarten, then on b) reading proficiently in the third grade and that, in turn, on c) graduating from high school and all of life that follows.

 Let me explain. Experience in Southwest Ohio over the past decade shows that 86% of those children who tested “ready for kindergarten” were reading proficiently by the end of the third grade compared to only 59% of those students who were not ready. 

Statistics like this can be mind-numbing but think with me for a moment what would it feel like as a child to be in a class and not be able to read like your fellow students. You feel out of it; inferior; different. So what do you do?  You struggle. You withdraw.  You may opt out. And sadly a lot of students do opt out. Right out of school.  We know that those students not reading proficiently are 4 times more likely to drop out before completing high school; and if they were poor, they were 11 times more likely to drop out. 

3.     Now, and this is vitally important, we now know that quality early childhood experience can help children from all families, including the very poorest families, be ready for kindergarten and hence be reading proficiently by the third grade.  Let me tell you my story of the maps. 

Deeply concerned about the impact of poverty on kindergarten readiness, I compared two maps—one showing kindergarten readiness scores and the other, income levels- for each of the neighborhoods in Greater Cincinnati. The picture that emerged was just what you would expect: almost a direct correlation between the two.  But there were some exceptions. One was Winton Woods, one of the poorest neighborhoods in all of Cincinnati, made up almost entirely of government subsidized housing.  Here I found students having kindergarten readiness scores about equal to the highest income neighborhoods. I wanted to understand why. 

What I discovered was a quality pre-kindergarten school with dedicated, well-trained teachers; I observed young children who couldn’t care less that I was in their class room and lots of parent involvement. Not only that, this school reached out to make sure families had other support they needed like health care and food for the table.  The experience in Winton Woods is no exception. We now have statistical evidence that children from the very poorest families can be on a path to success if they are given a quality early childhood experience. 

4.     There are many reasons why business folks like me care deeply about this issue. One is that we are competitive people. We become paranoid when we see someone else doing something better than we are which we know is fundamental for our long-term success. That’s what we see happening now on early childhood experience. We see other developed countries providing 90% of their 4 year olds with quality pre-K while we are covering less than half and maybe as low as 25%. We see China committing to have 70% of its children having not one, not two, but three years of pre-K by the year 2020. Yes, other countries are getting it; and we better, too. The reality is that most families in the United States cannot afford quality pre-K for their children. The cost represents over 25% of the average family’s income. It is wrong, it is unfair for a child’s future to be so influenced by their family’s income, by the zip code in which they are born. We talk in our country today about the widening gap between those with wealth and those without. And it is getting to all-time record levels, with the top 10% accounting for 70% of total wealth. Views on the importance of this will differ but there is one thing we should all be able to agree on:  every child should have a fair chance to make the most of their life by having a fair start.

5.     We have learned something else that explains why hundreds of business leaders like me are doing all we can to provide early childhood experiences for every child.  Put bluntly, it is a financial no-brainer. One study after another--and I have personally reviewed dozens of them-- prove that the cost of quality pre-K at about $8,000 per year pays for itself many fold, at least 2 to 1. Why? Because of the higher taxes that come from higher incomes and from the lower costs of special education, repeat grades, social welfare, health care and incarceration which too often follow those students who fall out of the system. 

I have had people ask me why, in light of all these facts, is it taking so long to provide funding for quality early childhood experience for all children. One reason is that much of the evidence I have cited is relatively recent. Another is that the "voice" of those most affected is faint. Another is that there have been a few studies that have indicated that the cognitive benefits provided by pre-K tend to fade out in time. 

Without going into a lot of detail, the overwhelming majority of studies do underscore the cognitive benefit.  But beyond that, too many analyses miss the lasting impact of quality childhood experience on a child’s emotional and social development. Let me tell you a quick story. I happened to be outside a museum in Cincinnati last spring and saw a group of about 30 kindergarteners from one of our poorest schools eating lunch. Their teachers were sitting together at a nearby table. I went up to the teachers and asked if any of the children in the group had attended pre-Kindergarten. Yes, about 4-5 had they told me. I then asked whether they could they see a difference in the children who had had pre-K and those that didn't. The teachers’ reaction was immediate and electric. They almost arose from their seats. Indeed it did, they exclaimed. I asked in what way. The answer was not what I expected. It was not that they could read more letters or count more numbers. It was that they were willing to share; stay focused on task; work in a group, follow direction; not act out. 

Experts agree it is this impact of social and emotional development in addition to cognitive learning that explains why studies conducted over 20+ and more years show that quality pre-K makes life-long differences in employment, income level, family formation and health. 

Is quality pre-K a magic bullet? No.  I have yet to find one of those. But it is the single most effective and financially rewarding intervention we can make to help all children develop into productive fulfilled adults. 

I liken quality pre-K to a vaccine which, even though not a total or universal cure, makes a life-changing difference for a significant number of children. What’s more, the cost of this vaccine is paid back many times. Yet, despite these facts, we are unconscionably failing to provide this vaccine to over half of our children.  This is crazy. We say it all the time:  our future lies with our children. Yet, we are failing to act on that truth.  

Doing so will require more money. However, not only will this investment come back to us financially; we should keep the cost in perspective. Funding quality pre-K for every 4-year-old in America represents only about 5% of our defense budget.  Even more pointedly, the cost of providing quality development experience to over 5 million four-year-olds is half of what is spent on incarcerating 2.3 million men and women each year.

Ladies and gentlemen, let me sum it up simply.  We need to act on what we have learned works if we are to be the Nation we aspire to be – economically, socially and morally.  I choose the word “morally” intentionally.  I do not see how we can any longer honor this sober promise of our Declaration of Independence if we do not honor what we now know to be true.

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

I believe we have reached the point of having the knowledge and the experience to assert that it is the inalienable right of every child to have the quality learning experience during the most important development stage of their life, ages 0-5, that provides them a fair chance to be all they can be.


++++++++++++

I will close my remarks with some good news and a challenge.  The public gets it.  Poll after poll shows that strong majorities of all parties agree on the need to fund quality early childhood development for all children.

And coverage is expanding, albeit slowly.  Governors from over 30 states, red and blue, increased funding in the most recent budget cycle.  An increasing number of cities, including Denver, San Antonio, now New York, are providing universal coverage.  Cincinnati has committed to do the same.

Yes there is momentum.  For the first time, I am convinced universal coverage will happen.  But we have a long, long way to go.  Only about 25% of 3 or 4-year-olds today receive the benefit of quality early childhood experience.  With the evidence in hand, that borders on being criminal.

The time to act is now, here in New Hampshire and across the country.  I challenge you to learn enough about early childhood development that you can become a fierce advocate for its expansion, with your friends, with the business community, with your legislators.  Lobby every government leader you can to provide the funding needed to expand quality early childhood development experiences to all families and all children.  Ask them where they stand on this issue.  Let them know that if they don’t support it, they won’t have your support.  Tell them that loudly and clearly.  Tell them to do it now.  Tell them if we do not do this, we won’t have the community, the nation, the future we need and aspire to.  That is the plain and simple truth.  If not we, who?  If not now, when?  Our children, our community, our very nation are counting on us.

Theodore Roosevelt said something on October 12, 1912 at Madison Square Garden that should inspire us today:  “Perhaps once in a generation there comes a chance for people of a country to play their part wisely and fearlessly in some great battle of the age-long warfare for human rights.  We know there are in life injustices which we are powerless to remedy, but we also know that there is much injustice which can be remedied.  We propose to lift the burdens from the poor and the oppressed.  We propose to stand for the sacred rights of childhood.” 

That is what we are talking about today, Ladies and Gentlemen.  Let us join together to provide the same fair opportunity for all children that we would spend our every dollar and ounce of effort to provide for our children and grandchildren.

Let us give every child a fair chance.  This is the moral, social and economic imperative of our generation.


REFLECTIONS ON "THE RISE AND REIGN OF VLADIMIR PUTIN

October 27, 2015



“The New Czar:  The Rise and Reign of Vladimir Putin” by Steven Lee Myers

This was a deeply informing and mind-opening book for me.  The perspectives I take away from it are many:

1.     It becomes even clearer to me that Putin’s ascendency and with it his frame of mind changed event-by-event, yet inexorably over the course of his life and especially over the 15 years, 2000-2015 during which he has held power.

So much of his history grew from his earliest background, as it does for all of us.  Having been born into a war-ravaged country, with his father at one point left for dead and two of his siblings dying during World War II, having seen a movie in his teens that led him to want to join the KGB and become a “spy,” having been bullied as a kid, and later pursuing martial arts, learning that one has to fight for oneself, seeing the West as a historic potential threat (witness the Cold War), with a life driven by a pragmatic, “put your nose to the grindstone” commitment, while loyally serving those in power (e.g. Sobchak) and being ready to make the most of what comes next (I can relate to that).

In that regard, nothing could have surprised him more looking back than Yeltsin’s asking him in 1999 to take his place as President.
2.     I believe Putin truly started out with one overwhelming goal – to restore Russia’s stability and return it to greatness.  He had experienced the ravages not only of the war but of the 1990s as the economy disintegrated. 
Just before he assumed the Presidency entering the year 2000, Putin spoke at the Kremlin on New Year’s Eve saying, “unfortunately, not everyone in Western nations understood this, but we will not tolerate any humiliation to the national pride of Russia or any threat to the integrity of the country.”

Those fears were to build incident by incident during the coming 15 years.

Still, he began his Presidency wanting to become part of the West.  This was reflected in his being the first leader to reach out to President Bush right after the 9-11 terrorist attack.  This manifested not only his desire to reach out to the West but, above all, his fear of terrorism, of unrest, of chaos, which he had experienced in many forms.
There is no mistaking Putin’s passion or genuineness as he reacted to the news of the 9/11 bombing.  He went on television and expressed his condolences to the victims of what he called “an unprecedented act of aggression..the event that occurred in the United States today goes beyond national borders.  It is a brazen challenge to the whole of humanity, at least to civilized humanity.”  As Myers says in his book, Putin made it clear that the tragedy was an opportunity to refashion into national relations--to fight, in Putin’s words ‘the plague of the 21st century..Russia knows first-hand what terrorism is, so we understand as well as anyone the feelings of the American people.  Addressing the people of the United States on behalf of Russia,” Putin continued.  “I would like to say that we are with you, we entirely and fully share and experience your pain.”

In a later conversation with President Bush, Putin said it simply, “Good will triumph over evil.  I want you to know that in this struggle, we will stand together.”  Words like these were not contrived.

There is no overestimating in my view the impact on Putin of the multiple terrorist attacks in Moscow, Beslan, Volgograd and other cities of Russia and then the brutal Chechnya war.  Maintaining the strength of the state, including fighting off terrorism, in all its forms, became Putin’s principal goal and that goal continues to this very day in Syria. 

Putin’s view of the importance of having a strong state, ensuring order over chaos, was manifested clearly in a statement he made in 2003 referring to democracy:  “If by Democracy, one means the dissolution of the state, then we do not need such democracy.  Why is democracy needed?  To make people’s lives better, to make them free.  I don’t there are people in the world who want democracy that can lead to chaos.”

Clearly this line of thinking was to find affirmation, as Putin saw in it, the tragic results growing from the move toward what was hoped to be “democratization” in Iraq, Egypt, Iraq and Libya.

Putin’s desire to work constructively with the West had other manifestations.  Myers writes in his book that Putin invested heavily in developing a personal relationship with Bush.  Already the first Russian or Soviet leader since Lenin to speak a foreign language, he took lessons in English for an hour a day, learning the language of American diplomacy and commerce, and he used his rudimentary skill to speak privately with Bush to break the ice.  In private, he felt he could be candid with Bush about their differences, Myers writes, trying to make him understand the difficulties that Russia—that he—faced in the transition from the Soviet ruins.  He sought some kind of accommodation with the United States, even with NATO, Myers continues.

Against this background, it is easy to understand how frustrated and disappointed Putin was in Bush’s abandonment of the anti-missile defense treaty.

3.     Putin’s disenchantment with the West and his increasing view that the U.S. and the West were “out to humble” Russia and exercise a unilateral commitment to hegemony progressed through several stages.  And so did the importance he attached to the “nation state” and his deep abhorrence of what he saw as the unilateral moves by the United States and the West to overthrow national leaders.

The expansion of NATO into Central Europe, including the Balkans, and then to the Baltic states, was not vigorously opposed, but it certainly was resented and came despite the understanding (disputed by many in the West) that there had been an understanding reached at the time of the unification of Germany that NATO would not extend in the borders of what had been the German Democratic Republic.  What tipped the scales far more was the consideration given in 1997-98 to bring Georgia and Ukraine into the European Union and, following that, even NATO.

The conflict in Georgia precipitated by Georgia’s move into South Ossetia in 2008 was another point of demarcation.  Putin clearly saw the U.S. having encouraged this initiative.  And if it could happen in Georgia, it could happen in Ukraine and maybe even Moscow.  Another nail had been put in the mindset he was building.
Prior to that, at the close of 2004, we had what became known as the “orange revolution” in Ukraine.  It was treated in Russia as a humiliating defeat and as an ominous warning.  Putin was convinced then, eight years before the Ukraine crisis of 2013, that Western leaders had encouraged the mass protests in the streets of Kiev.  “We must not make it an international practice to resolve disputes of this kind from street riots.”

The first runoff of the Presidential election in Ukraine had given the victory to Yanukowych, a leader clearly committed to Russia.  Marked by a high degree of fraud, Ukraine’s highest court ordered a runoff and Yushenko, strongly supportive of the West, won the election.

This coincided with President Bush’s now advancing what he described as “the freedom agenda” as he cheered the popular uprisings in Georgia and Ukraine.  To recent elections in Iraq, Bush said, “we are part of the inevitable march of democracy that had begun with the Velvet Revolution in the then unified Czechoslovakia in 1989.”  Without mentioning Russia, Bush declared that “eventually the call of liberty comes to every mind and every soul.  And one day, freedom’s promise will reach every people in every nation.”  Without intending to, I’m sure, Bush’s words led Putin to believe that similar efforts might even be undertaken in Russia.

Ukraine’s election came the week of terrorist attacks in Russia and, in Myers view, “proved to be a turning point for Putin and for Russia.”  Putin’s initial instinct to bring Russia into closer cooperation with the West, if not an actual alliance, had faded as steadily as his political and economic power had grown.

In 2007, at Davos, he spoke without, as he said, “excessive politeness and the need to speak in roundabout, pleasant but empty diplomatic terms.  Today, we are witnessing in a most uncontained, hyper use of force—military force—into international relations, a force that is plunging the world into an abyss of permanent conflicts.”  He singled out the United States which had “overstepped its national borders in every way.  This is visible in the economic, political, cultural and educational politics it imposes on other nations.  Well, who likes this?”  The dye had been cast.

And then you had the Ukraine crisis itself which I needn’t go through here.  Putin viewed the riots which led to Yanukovych’s departure and the entry of the new provisional government as having been advanced by the U.S. and the West and indeed it had been.  By now, Putin’s review of the history of the past decade had become a fixation, and in many ways a paranoia.
4.     Syria—Russia’s position on Syria and what is happening right now was totally predictable.  Here again Putin saw the U.S. and the West setting out to overthrow a national leader.  As Myers writes, “Putin had little personal sympathy for Assad; what he vehemently opposed was another American-led attack in the Middle East.  He was convinced that from the beginning the United States had been waiting for any pretext to attack and topple Assad.”

By now, Putin had the evidence that he could point to as confirming his belief.  I refer to the actions taken to intervene in Serbia (Milosevic), Iraq (overturning Hussein), Egypt (Mubarak), Libya (Khadafi) and Tunisia.  Each had unleashed sectarian violence.

Adding to his motivation in Syria, perhaps the most important element was Putin’s deep concern about ISIS terrorism that could flow over into Russia.  Here, in Syria, Putin had the melding of all that was needed to undertake a righteous mission:  the maintenance of the rule of law, national sovereignty and a fight against terrorism of a kind he had fought against almost non-stop and with the very integrity of Russia at stake as he looked back for over 15 years.  Increasingly, President Putin saw himself upholding a value system being compromised by the West. 

In 2013, fresh from his diplomatic triumph in reaching an agreement to remove Syria’s chemical weapons without warfare, Putin described the “Euro-Atlantic countries” as dangerously adrift from their Christian roots.  “They are denying moral principles and all traditional identities:  national, cultural, religious and even sexual.  Worse, he said, these nations want to export these dangerous ideas.”  It was “a direct path to degradation and primitivism, resulting in a profound demographic and moral crisis.”


5.     Stepping back, there is no question that for Russia to have a healthy, growing economy, and for the entire world to be safe, Russia needs constructive, non-adversarial relationships with the U.S. and the West. 

At a minimum, we need to:

·      Avoid a further breakdown the relationships between Russia and the U.S.  This means that we must work together to resolve what are the open wounds now in Ukraine and Syria; both require a political settlement which requires Russia and the U.S. (and others) to be at the table, and the defeat of ISIS.
·      Come together to identify what are the common interests which Russia and the U.S. and others must work to achieve.  Interests so important and so requiring Russia and the U.S. to work together that we must form a common goal and plan.  Those for me are two-fold:
o   Avoiding the risk of nuclear proliferation and disaster.
o   Combatting terrorism, starting with but not exclusively combatting ISIS

We are going to need to accept the fact that values as they relate to the mode of democracy and cultural issues such as same-sex marriage will be different in Russia than the U.S., just as they are different in parts of our own country and have differed over time.  We must avoid seeming to or actually working to impose our values on Russia.  We must acknowledge Russia as a major global power, with a history and status that deserve and demand respect.  We must dial down the rhetoric which vilifies the other party when what they are doing is essentially expressing their own national interest and pride as we do.  Such rhetoric runs the grave risk of creating “self-fulfilling” negative outcomes—“mythical enemies”—distracting us from the real enemies in front of us.  

At the same time, we should make it clear that we will not stand by and allow Russia or any country to infringe upon the integrity of another national state like Ukraine.  Indeed, that position on our part mirrors that which has been driving Putin and Russia as they express it.
We should be under no illusion that Putin’s mindset and deeply entrenched attitudes will change quickly.  They are the product of decades of experience.  To the degree they change—and I for one believe they can--they will change based on actions and behaviors on both our parts as we work together on objectives of common interest.  Most importantly, at this moment, combatting ISIS and reaching political settlement that brings greater stability and peace to Ukraine and Syria and other countries of the Middle East.

Yes, Putin’s mindset had evolved, slowly but surely, block on block.  As Myers writes, “each step against Russia, he now believed to be a cynical, calculated attack against him.  His actions belied a deep sense of grievance and betrayal, sharpened by the crisis that unfolded (in Ukraine) at the very moment Russia had achieved its Olympic dream (referring to the Sochi Olympics).  It was as if a political upheaval in Ukraine affected Putin deeply and personally, like a taunt on the schoolyard that forced him to lash out.  For 14 years, Myers continues, Putin had focused on restoring Russia to its place among the world’s powers by integrating into a globalized economy (and), profiting from…the financial institutions of the free market.  Now, Myers continues, “he would reassert Russia’s power with or without the recognition of the West, shunning its ‘universal’ values, its democracy and rule of law, as something alien to Russia, something intended not to include Russia but to subjugate it.”

As he winds to his conclusion, Myers greatly simplifies and overstates matters and, most importantly, I believe, misconstrues Putin’s pragmatic mindset and willingness to be flexible in order to achieve what in the end is his main goal:  a successful, economically thriving, respected Russian state, looked at and treated as a partner in critical world matters.

I believe Putin understands that it will only be through a coalition of forces, prominently including the United States, that terrorism can be beaten, nuclear proliferation avoided and economic progress optimized.

I am convinced that if we were able to bring leaders together, to undertake specific goals, including combatting terrorism and taking steps to control the threat of nuclear annihilation, we can progress.  It has always been human nature that we come together best when we face a common enemy.  Unlike the past, we do not have ideological differences with Russia (as we do with ISIS) that should lead to war or that by their very nature lead to competing commitments to global expansion.




                                                                                    J. E. Pepper

EVERYONE COUNTS

October 26, 2015


“EVERYONE COUNTS”

If I were asked to boil down all my thoughts on what should guide our relationships with each other into just two words, they would be:  “Everyone counts.”

SOME ADVICE ON A PAPER NAPKIN

October 19, 2015


Some Advice on a Paper Napkin

*****
THE FOLLOWING IS A TALK I GAVE TO THE GRADUATIING CLASS OF HIGH SCHOOL SENIORS AT SEVEN HILLS SCHOOL IN CINCINNATI IN JUNE 2015

 What is this I’m holding in my hand?  A paper napkin.  What could it have to do with what I’d like to share with you this evening?
Just this.  I was in Romania last month talking to a group of students.  One of them asked me this question:

“Mr. Pepper, what advice would you leave for your grandchildren if you only had the space to write it on a small paper napkin?”

In the brief moment I had to reflect on that unexpected question, I was pulling from a lifetime of experience.

Here was my answer:
·      Believe in yourself
·      Do what you believe is right
·      Love People

Why did I choose these three points?  Why do I think it makes sense to share them with you tonight?  I hope what I say in the next few minutes will explain why.

“Believe in yourself”
I don’t know you young men and women who are proudly graduating today.  I do know that, when I was where you are, I was carrying doubts from the past—doubts which led me to take stock and push hard to believe in myself.

You see, growing up as a youngster, I was not that popular.  I was a poor athlete.  But I found reasons to believe in myself, just as you will—in my academic performance, in being the business manager of my school newspaper and even making a downfield tackle in a football game.  I recalled the victories, some small and some not so small; and I drew strength from the love of my parents and my faith in God.

Don’t let anyone ever tell you that you can’t do something.  Even more, don’t tell yourself you can’t do something.

If you are going to honor that mandate, you’ll find that you need to step out of your comfort zone.  What I remember as much as anything from high school, 60 years ago, was the decision to step out of my comfort zone to go out for the football team.  I didn’t become a starter, but I made the team.  I have drawn on this small victory as I approached many challenges:  applying to work at P&G, or even making a major speech.

You already know this.  Challenges are part of life.  The ones from which you learn the most will be those that stretch you most.

In believing in yourself, never be afraid to let your strengths shine bright.  I am reminded of these immortal words of Nelson Mandela:  “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.  Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.  It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us.  We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?  Actually, who are you not to be?  Your playing small does not serve the world.  We are all meant to shine, as children do.”

And remember this.  If you believe something is really important, don’t give up.  Almost nothing truly important happens on the first try.  I will always recall the shortest speech Winston Churchill ever gave.  Just six words:  “Never, never, never, never give up.”  He then sat down.

Remember this, too:  Believing in yourself requires being yourself.  Never feel you need to act a part.  I love to hear it said of someone:  “what you see is what you get.”  Let your authenticity flow from you.  That is what you owe yourself.  That is what you owe others.  People will love and respect you in part for that--because it is so rare.

One other point.  As I remind myself to be myself—I add “be my best self.”

Let’s face it:  none of us are at our best every day.  I’ve often gone to bed discouraged and grumpy.  I’ve had a setback, a disappointment.  But there is one thing I know:  I’m going to wake up in the morning and face a choice.  I’m either going to tackle the issue at hand positively, reminding myself of my blessings and strengths, or I’m going to continue to feel down or sorry for myself.  It is our choice; my choice:  Am I going to be the best version of myself?

That choice is never more important than when it comes to the second point on my napkin.


“Do what you think is right.”

Who could argue with that you ask?  No one.  But I have found nothing more important than consistently doing what I believe is right.  Your self-esteem will rest on how you judge yourself in doing that and your reputation, your most precious asset, will rest on how others see you honoring—or not honoring—what you believe is right.  Personal integrity is the non-negotiable in every relationship. 

Years ago, a fellow P&Ger told me a story about her indoctrination on her first job out of school.  Her manager asked her to sit down.  His message was short and crystal-clear:  
 
We have a lot of rules and policies around here.  You will hear about many of them, but there is one that is more important than all the others—so important I want you to paste in on the inside of your eyelids and if you’re ever in doubt, shut your eyes and look at it.  The rule:  “Do what you believe is right.”
 
The one thing I’ve always asked of those who worked for me:  “Tell me what you think and act on what you believe to be true.”

*****

I risk making this sound too easy.  It isn’t.  It can be hard to resist the pressure from a group of friends doing something which we don’t feel is right.  We hear a racist or sexist remark.  What do we do?  Speak up?  Remain silent and let it pass?  Yes, there are pressures and sometimes we are not sure what is the right thing to do.

That’s why my final prayer in church is to ask for the wisdom to know the right thing to do and the courage and perseverance to do it.  We will never be perfect, but consistency matters.

I often return to the words of this short poem: 

“Watch your thoughts; they become words.
                        Watch your words; they become actions.
                        Watch your actions; they become habits.
                        Watch your habits; they become character.
                        Watch your character; it becomes your destiny.”
                                                                        Frank Outlaw

Now, can anyone remember the third point on my napkin?

Love People! 
I don’t mean that we will love everyone to the same degree.  But I do mean to suggest that we meet everyone with an open mind and an open heart.

If there is one thing I’ve learned in life, it is that life is all about relationships, not only with people who are like me, but people who are different from me.  I’ve learned more from people who are different from me than in any other way.

It is easy to be put off by stereotypes.  We draw conclusions from superficial observations. 

Let me give you this piece of advice.  As you meet another person, try to see yourself in them and see them in yourself.  Please, try to think about that. 

Appreciate the differences but also appreciate the commonalities--of our challenges and our fears; our hopes and desires and dreams. 

Think about your fellow classmates sitting right alongside you.  You have learned from one another.  You have drawn confidence from one another.  You have taken joy from each other’s company.  I hope many of you will stay together for the rest of your lives.  I wish I had done more of that.  Borrowing on the words of a Josh Groban song, “we can raise each other up.” 

Countless people have lifted me up through their confidence and their love.  Above all my family.  But my best friends have done it as well.

Years ago I wrote a paper titled “If It Weren’t For Them.”  I named the people without whom I would not have become who I am.  The list included one of my high school teachers and a classmate named Buck Leary.  Buck was the all-start halfback on our team.  He helped me learn how to tackle; and I believe I helped him in math.

Yes, love people.  The simplest way I express it is that “everyone counts.”  

How do you show other people they count?  It is really pretty simple.  Greet them by name and with a smile!  Listen to them!  Hear what they say and sometimes what they don’t say.  Ask them a question!

I’ll never forget a visit I made to a P&G plant in South Africa which we had acquired a few years earlier.  I was on a tour with a black African.  I asked him how he liked being with P&G.  He said he loved it.  I sensed his enthusiasm.  I looked at him and asked him, “Why?”  His answer hit me between the eyes:  “Before P&G,” he said, “nobody would have asked me a question like that.” 
 
Imagine the gift we give someone by simply asking for their point of view.  That’s how we learn and convey honest respect.

Yes, love people.  Love people as they are…realizing that everyone has something to offer to you and you to them.

Well, there you have it.  My advice on a paper napkin—

·      Believe in yourself.
·      Do what you believe is right.
·      Love people.

In closing, let me offer one final thought.

You are graduating from one of the finest schools, not only in this city, but in the nation.

You are about to go on to outstanding universities.

99% of the youth in this country would give their eye-teeth to be where you are tonight.

With this comes great opportunity—and great responsibility.

As you go ahead on your journey of life, I urge you to share your time and talent with those who have not had the same opportunities.

Regrettably, my generation is leaving you with challenges on which I wish we had done better.

To have over 50% of the children in Cincinnati living in poverty today, many only a few miles from where we are right now, is a disgrace.  It need not be that way.

Lack of quality education is one of the root causes of this poverty.  We can change this.  Indeed we must.

The culture of Seven Hills has always focused on helping those around us.  Never lose that focus. The future of our community and our Nation depends on it.  And if my life and that of my wife Francie are any examples, so will the satisfaction you take from your own life.

So, “On you go,” drawing strength from your great accomplishments.

Keep learning!
Aim high!
Have fun!

Godspeed!