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“Celebrate Victories! Do Something! Play Well With Others!”

What a wonderful memory to stumble upon this morning! Nine years ago today I was at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, Department of Interior Architecture giving the commencement speech to the graduating students.

University of North Carolina Greensboro Commencement Speech
University of North Carolina Greensboro Commencement Speech

What a privilege and honor to celebrate their victory and offer a few words of wisdom as they pursue their dreams. These timeless truths are still an encouragement as I read them today; and, I hope you, too, will find strength in supporting cultures of honor and maintaining healthy creative mindsets and collaborative spaces.

David and Paula Wideman, founder of paulaproduct, at University of North Carolina Greensboro, Department of Interior Architecture
David and Paula Wideman, founder of paulaproduct, at University of North Carolina Greensboro, Department of Interior Architecture

“Celebrate Victories! Do Something! Play Well With Others!”

I don’t remember who spoke at my graduation from this fine university or what was said. In fact, I don’t remember what was said at my high school graduation either. And the worst part about that is that I spoke at my high school graduation! It is a complete blank which, under the circumstances, I find that rather amusing.

You are sitting there with swirling emotions and thoughts racing through your head, and there is a high probability you also won’t remember anything that I share with you today this time next year. Knowing that, I have been pondering what I should share with you that would be meaningful, powerful, and inspirational. Should it be a brilliant quote? Should it be a funny story? Should it be about saving the world? I have decided what would be best is to share with you what you need at this point in your life and in the near future.

First, you really have done it! You have pulled all-nighters, missed out on parties, cried, screamed at each other, and questioned what the heck you are doing in this major. You decided to push through all of that to make to this moment -- sitting in that chair about to receive your diploma. You have done it. Congratulations. I am so proud of you!

This moment should serve as a monument for you for the rest of your life. When you face a challenge and start to feel overwhelmed, I want you to remember that you have already pushed through challenges and succeeded!

Now, it would be completely easy for you to panic as you look ahead. My first word of advice, celebrate victories! It is important, now and in the future, that you give accomplishment a moment to shine. I find that people often skip over the accomplishment and downplay it as if a celebration is not permitted. It is good for your mind and soul to take a breather even if the next day another big project starts. The corporate world doesn’t do this for you; so, it’s up to you to learn to celebrate victories and let yourself rest and live a little.

Celebrate Victories!

What do you do now? You get to choose your adventure at this point in your story. What will you do? Where will you go? Will you try an avenue completely different? It’s a lot to consider … I understand. My second word of advice may seem obvious, but the truth is -- it’s the secret to moving forward. The secret is -- You just have to: Do something!

You are where you are because of the choices you made. And you will go where you will go with the choices you make. If you are fearful of the future and filling your head with negative thoughts, your opportunities will be limited. What you concentrate on and what you meditate on is what you will become. All of you have the power of imagination. Set a vision for yourself of what you want to do and where you want to go. Then make a step in that direction. Do something!

I had a specific idea of what project type I wanted to work on and what kind of firm I wanted to be a part of…. In the end…my steps led me to a completely different type of firm working on a different project type….and, that is ok… Take a step, make a choice and be open to opportunities that may even be better for you then you initially realized. Do something!

Your biggest fear at this time may be failure. Do not fear failure. Failures are inevitable. Get ready for many instances that you will view as a failure. Failures are what shape us to be better…more knowledgeable…more experienced. Obstacles are almost always opportunities. And Failures are almost always a moment to learn and grow. It is in the reaction you take that determines how successful you will be at becoming the best that you were created to become. Conflict will happen! Mistakes will happen! Success will happen! -- look to all of them as opportunities to grow!

Do Not Be Paralyzed, Take Action. Do Something!

The profession that you have chosen can only be done by people that can analyze, imagine, create. You have chosen a profession in which a computer can only be your assistant! The tools that you have acquired at UNCG will help you to think differently and creatively in any profession that you choose. The world always awaits your next new or improved idea or solution! Do something!

My final word of advice is super necessary for you to become truly successful.

Play Well With Others

Most of us probably like to work individually, but the reality is that your future work will be a group project. The world is full of people. Your opportunities, failures and successes will involve other people. To be the most successful, you will have to have another "college degree" on how to collaborate and exist with others. Be slow to speak and quick to listen. Let go of the natural tendency to always be right or have the final word! Do your best not to talk about others in a negative way nor even stay present in a group of people that are talking that way. Trust me on this one. People behaving as junior high gossiping teenagers are going to be everywhere at every age…. Make it your common practice to stay above it and not get sucked in. This is one of those land mines that is so disguised in normalness that it may not be obvious as a success or career killer. It is!

Along your journey and for the rest of your life seek out people that elevate you. Elevate you in your thinking, your doing and your being. Reach out to mentors and friends that you can trust to always tell you the truth about the way they see you, good and bad. Have close relationships with people of integrity.

Value the co-workers that you will have whether you have chosen them or not. These are the people that will act as a refining tool for your character. I have taken note that in the most challenging times with people and circumstances are surely the moments that God uses to file down our rough edges of attitude, laziness, cowardliness, etc. And in fact, it is in doing the hard things like holding your tongue or saying you were wrong that catapults you to the next level of a finer character.

Celebrate Victories! Do Something! Play Well With Others!

You are the only you that will ever be! Each of you has talents, skills and qualities unique to you. You are a gift to this world. I believe that it’s your responsibility to press in and be the best you that you can possibly be. Be the person that you were equipped to be. Be the type of person you want to be. You are the designer!

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