Monday, October 1, 2012

Commencement Keynote: The Power of Choice

Commencement Keynote to Globe University: September 28, 2012
Michael Thomas Sunnarborg, Ambassador of Goodwill

"Thank you for the kind introduction and thank you for inviting me to speak today. I'm very pleased to be here to join you in celebrating this wonderful occasion.

Graduates of 2012 – this celebration is for you. Congratulations!

Like you, I have also sat in the same chair—wearing my cap and gown, and trying to get my mind around such a unique and meaningful event. I remember sitting there and reflecting upon my experiences: where I’d been, what I’d accomplished, and how long I had dreamt of this moment. I also remember taking a deep breath and then exhaling into the realization that I had finally done it. The hard work and dedication had paid off, and I had earned the right to breathe again. Anyone who saw me that day could tell you it was pretty hard to wipe the smile off my face.

Graduation is, indeed, a milestone—a map tack on the journey of life—and it signifies the accomplishment of a dream. This day is, and will forever be, a significant part of your life—and something you will never forget. In fact, this accomplishment—this educational achievement—will serve you for the rest of your days… even when you don’t consciously realize it. The experience of a college education is a permanent investment in yourself.

I would also imagine that many of you are pondering the same question that was on my mind  when I was in your shoes.“Now what?” After so many days, weeks, months, and even years of reading, writing, speaking, questioning, and having those “light bulb moments”, it can suddenly be difficult to imagine what to do with all of this new "free time"... or is it? So often the events of our lives fill in the gaps, and we rarely have time to stop and appreciate the transition. In addition, the idea of not knowing where this education will take you, or how you will use it, can also be disconcerting... or it can be exciting. It’s your choice.

It was George Bernard Shaw who said, "Life is not about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself." So what was Shaw saying? And what did he really mean? Shaw understood the creative potential that's within each and every one of us to create our own reality, and that the power to create our lives is already within us. We only need to become aware of our power, and then put it to good use.

So as I stand here before you and speak today, I'd like to take a moment to remind you of something important—something I want you to remember as you open a new blank page and begin creating the next chapter of your life. You have something very powerful on your side. It is a gift that everyone is born with; and it is something you are using on a daily basis. This gift—when understood and used wisely—will assist you in creating whatever experience you desire.

This gift is your power of choice. Your choices have the largest impact on your life and your future. So my question to you today is: What are you choosing? And how are those choices creating your life experience?

Stop and think about it for a moment. How did you get here today? You chose it. How did you decide what clothes to wear? You chose them. And how did you finish all of your homework instead of watching American Idol or camping out on Facebook all night? You chose it.

Our lives are filled with a constant stream of choices, and our choices are always changing. Technology has given us with access to information like never before—which means an onslaught of new choices. And with this explosion of information has come the problem of “choice overload”. Luckily, our power to choose includes our ability to unplug whenever necessary; to walk away from our computer; to put down our mobile phone; to turn off the TV; to say, "No thank you, I need some quiet time.” It's your choice.

Your choices create your relationships. The gift of your time and attention has become priceless. You can lock yourself away in your home, your office, your living room, bedroom, and even within your imagination... or you can keep the doors of your mind open to the wealth of knowledge and experience of the people who already surround you. You can take the time to appreciate the value of your friends, colleagues, and families—you can listen to their stories and glean the benefit of their wisdom. You can look into their eyes, listen to the tone of their voice, and see the expressions on their faces. It's your choice.

Your choices create your personality. For example, your attitude is a choice. Is the glass half empty or half full? Is it a crisis or catharsis? There is tremendous power in perspective. Your attitude determines your altitude. By reframing your perspective, problems can be turned into opportunities—and understanding your power means knowing you can always choose again. So do you accept your choices—all of them? Do you realize the value of lessons learned? Do you allow yourself to be caught up in the minutia of emotion, or do you have the ability to "rise above it" and see your problems from a higher perspective? Once again, it's your choice.

Your actions are also choices. Newton's Law states that, "to every action there is a reaction". We are all naturally wired to be reactive—a function of the human brain designed to protect the body from harm. But it is our ability to respond to our reactions which activates our power of choice. Reacting is natural; but responding is thoughtful. Our power of choice lets us decide how to act, knowing that many times the results of our actions—though full of good intentions—do not always turn out as planned. You can either learn from your choices or you can continue to repeat the same mistakes. It's your choice.

In the same way, your words—some of your most powerful tools—have a direct and significant impact on your experience and the experience of others. Like our actions, our words can also have immediate results. Take, for instance, the word “No”—or the word, “Yes.” Whereas we may see them as opposites, they're merely words—yet they give powerful direction and feedback regarding our choices. The ability to choose our words wisely becomes more critical as we begin to realize their lasting power. Words can uplift and encourage. Words can also belittle and destroy.

In addition, knowing when to act and when to speak are also choices. Sometimes nothing is the best thing to say and often the best thing to do. It's your choice.

The power to create yourself is in always in your hands. Just as a captain commands a great ship, you are the master of your own vessel, and your choices are mapping your direction. There will be times when you are directly in alignment with your desired destination, and there will be times when you are unsure. The seas of life aren't always calm and tranquil. You will experience thunderstorms of contrast and winds of adversity, and your ship will be tested. But if you lose your way, you can always return to the guidance that's already within you. Your internal compass will always point to true north—but you must look at it.

Class of 2012—I believe in you and I believe you can make anything happen. Choose to savor the moments and memories with those around you. Choose to shine your light in world that so often feels dark and misguided. Choose to live your life to its fullest and believe that those you love, also love you. And along your journey, pay attention to your choices, learn from your mistakes, and keep applying the wisdom you gain to experience the joy and freedom that your amazing power of choice brings.

Sail onward into the world with calm confidence, and strive to make a positive and lasting difference. For this is what we are all here to do.

Remember: It's your choice.

Thank you."