Dr. C. Randy Gregg enjoys using his experience in counseling, management and teaching to help people become more productive. After 20 years in the ministry, he founded Corporate Performance Resources, Inc.(CPR) in 1995. The consulting and training company is dedicated to maximizing the performance of individuals, teams and organizations. Dr. Gregg has worked with federal and state agencies, companies, colleges, banks, hospitals and schools. Under his leadership, CPR has become a network of consulting professionals in Georgia, Texas and Illinois.
The following is Dr. Gregg's commencement address to the College of Continuing and Professional Studies graduates May 15 at the Cecil B. Day Campus in Atlanta.
Dr. Fleming, thank you for your very warm introduction. President Godsey, Dr. Fleming, faculty and staff, honored graduates and guests, I extend my sincere appreciation for the privilege of being a part of this special day.
In preparation for this ceremony I have spent a great deal of time considering what I could say of value in the few moments we share here this evening. There was one word that sparked a thought. It has come from the description I read of the College of Continuing and Professional Studies. When I saw the word non-traditional, I began to dwell on what that word could mean. It can mean not conforming to or in accord with tradition. I want to build on the idea of being a non-traditional student and suggest that we may want to live a non-traditional life.
Thoughts on a Non-Traditional Life
First let me suggest that you write your own story. Already, you have discovered you don't have to fit every mold or live up to all expectations. Your life is different. And different is good.
Some people do not choose to write their own story. They may choose a traditional path. There isn't anything wrong with that, but there is another way.
Like the character Gomer Pyle on the Andy Griffith Show I have always been just a step out of line with those around me.
- I earned a degree from an independent Baptist College and was labeled a fundamentalist.
- I earned two degrees from a Southern Baptist Seminary and was labeled a liberal.
- After having been a minister for 20 years, I resigned from the official role, not because of anything unethical, immoral or illegal. Sorry, but you did not see my name in the newspapers for any of that. Rather I resigned because I believe I am more than a role and calling is more than a function in an organization. Though I must confess in a gathering this large some of my old inclinations come back to haunt me. At this moment, I am feeling the slightest desire to pass an offering plate.
- These small non-traditional steps have helped learn an important truth. I must write my own story. The pen is in my hand. I will write the plot. I will develop the characters. I will build the suspense.
Warren Bennis in his book, An Invented Life, states it much more effectively: "To be authentic is literally to be your own author (the words derive from the same Greek root), to discover your native energies and desires, and then to find your own way of acting on them. When you've done that, you are not existing simply to live up to an image posited by the culture, family tradition, or some other authority. When you write your own life, you have played the game that was natural for you to play. You have kept covenant with your own promise. (page 2, Addison-Wesley Books)
To write your own life story, means you will use your own material. Pick and choose carefully what you want to include. Some of it I know, you cannot control. Don't write your story like everyone else. Use bright colors. In the words of Robert Frost, Two roads diverged in a wood, and I - I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.
Our world needs people who can write their own story.
It will take courage to write your own story. If you invent your own life and reinvent at significant points along the way, it will require courage. It means you will take ownership of the story. You will take the pen in your hand and write what you want to appear on the paper. You will tell it in your words. You will say no to some events and yes to others. Some things will be included. Some things will be left out. It means you will only write the words, people and events you want included. It takes courage to be you. It takes courage to be authentic in what can be a drive through, microwave world.
When I was a young boy growing up in North Alabama, I was walking beside the highway one day when I found a silver dollar. That was a lot of money to me. So, I ran home to share the good news. My older brother looked and told me immediately that it wasn't real. I argued. Then he pulled another silver dollar out of a cabinet. He said flip it in the air. Listen to it. There was a difference. The one I found had the dull sound of lead. The one he had had the ting of silver.
Our world needs people who will live with courage.
To write your own story, you will need to be creative. To be creative means to be imaginative, inspired or original. Live outside the box. Look for a different way. Find a new path.
Several years ago there was a commercial that captured this truth. The first scene is in a grammar school classroom. A teacher is walking back and forth through the rows of desks. In a monotone voice the teacher says, "Color inside the lines. Please color inside the lines. The lines are there to protect us." A young girl listens with care yet she has a twinkle in her eye. The scene fast forwards a few years and we see the same young girl driving a new car. It is sporty and flashy. Driving down the road, she comes to a sign on the road, "No trespassing. Stay on the highway". And we all knew what she was going to do.
Our world needs people who will be creative.
Write your own story with honor. I will not bore you with a description of the moral challenges facing our world and country today. While we cannot solve all of them at one time, we can make a start. Instead, I will make an appeal. Please strive to do the right thing. Not because you have to. Not because your mother or daddy told you to. Not to be religious or obedient. Do it because you need to do it. You need to do it because of the promise that is within you. You need to do it because of the heritage of your family. You need to do it because of the influence of Mercer University. You need to do it to be a good steward of who you are.
We need men and women who can be honest. We need men and women who can tell the truth, live the truth and pursue the truth. We need men and women who can make promises and keep them. We need honorable conduct in the public and private sector.
A friend of mine, Jimmy Jones, died last year. He was active up until he died in his late 70's. One of his sons spoke at the eulogy. His words were, "My father was proud of his life". When you have done the right thing on a consistent basis, you can be proud of who you are.
Our world needs people who will do the right thing.
As you write your story, help us remember to laugh. Laughter allows the spirit to smile. There is something contagious about the uncontrolled laughter of a young child. Unfortunately, we lose the ability to laugh as we age. Or maybe we get so burdened down with adult responsibilities; we have forgotten the sources of joy. Don't forget the child within you. Find time to skip rocks on a pond, walk barefoot in the grass, eat ice cream, and chase butter flies.
Help people rediscover the joy of life. Help people find something that will bring a smile to their face.
Our world needs those who can help us laugh.
As you write your own story, include service. Service is not outdated nor is it out of style. Look at the bookstore today and you will find dozens of books striving to capture the essence of leadership. Today's hot topic in leadership is servant hood. Service means you do not rule over others, but you seek to identify and meet their needs. The concept of service, if it were put into practice, could revolutionize our homes, businesses, schools, governments and churches. Seek to serve before being served.
Last summer my wife and I traveled to Baton Rouge, LA on a business trip. We were scheduled to stay at the Sheraton, so we called to get the hotel shuttle to pick us up at the airport. When the van pulled up to pick us up, the driver hopped out, offered a very friendly greeting, and then loaded our luggage. He introduced himself, he said, "my name is Woody". In the van, he immediately asked, "where are you folks from". We said, "Oh, it's a little town you wouldn't know". He said, "Try me and see". So we said, "Montezuma, GA". "Montezuma, GA, well I'll be, we had a large group from Montezuma at our hotel this past weekend". Thinking he may have been confused, we asked a few questions. And sure enough he had helped transport some of friends and acquaintances who had been in Baton Rouge for a large wedding.
At that point, we started asking questions and he began to share information. He asked if we had ever been to Baton Rouge before. When we told we had not, he said, let me tell you about our city. For the next 15-20 minutes we received an introduction and tour that would have put the Chamber of Commerce to shame. We learned about the history, bright spots and especially about the beauty of the Sheraton. Before we arrived at the hotel, he had offered suggestions on where to go and what to do in the short time we were there.
On arriving at the hotel, he unloaded our baggage and took us personally to the registration desk. He then introduced us by name to the person at the desk. He waited until we had checked in and received our keys. He then took us and our luggage upstairs.
By then my curiosity was really high. So I said, "Woody I travel a lot, and I watch for good service and I know when I have received poor service. What you have done today, is above and beyond what I have ever received at any hotel anywhere at anytime. What is that makes you go this extra mile?"
Then Woody, replied, "There were three of us children. Whenever we went anywhere, my mother would introduce us to others and she would say about me, 'This is my son Woody, he is a good boy, he hasn't ever caused me any problems and I don't think he ever will'. And so my momma and daddy taught us and set the example that I want to follow."
Now, you may think this story is a little hokie and maybe it is, but it is also true. Because by the time Woody had gone to all the trouble that he had to help us get settled, I felt so good about him, I couldn't find enough money to tip him. I wanted to go the ATM and get some more, because who he was and how he offered service. I have never met anyone before who did it with the warmth, sincerity and pride that he did. And I have not seen it sense.
What Woody has done, we all could do. He took his simple position and turned it into a position of power by offering unparalleled service to those he encountered.
Our world needs servants.
As you write your story, remember to march to the beat of your own drum. If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away. Henry David Thoreau
To live a non-traditional life, means we will march to a different drum. It is a drumbeat that only we can hear. It is meant only for us. It has a different beat. It has a different rhythm. Can you hear the beat of your drum now?
Our world needs people who will march to the beat of their own drum.
Archbishop Desmond Tutu gave the commencement address at Brandeis University on May 21, 2000. I want to use his closing illustration and adapt it for our setting here. He closed his speech with the following illustration.
You know the story of the farmer, who in his back yard had a chicken, and then he had a chicken that was a little odd looking, but he was a chicken. It behaved like a chicken. It was pecking away like other chickens. It didn't know that there was a blue sky overhead and a glorious sunshine until someone who was knowledgeable in these things came along and said to the farmer, "Hey, that's no chicken. That's an eagle. "Then the farmer said, "Um, um, no, no, no, no man. That's a chicken; it behaves like a chicken.
"And the man said no; give it to me please. And he gave it to this knowledgeable man. And this man took this strange looking chicken and climbed the mountain and waited until sunrise. And then he turned this strange looking chicken towards the sun and said, "Eagle, fly, eagle. "And the strange looking chicken shook itself, spread out its pinions, and lifted off and soared and soared and soared and flew away, away into the distance. And God says to all of us, you are no chicken; you are an eagle. Fly, eagle, fly. And God wants us to shake ourselves, spread our pinions, and then lift off and soar and rise, and rise toward the confident and the good and the beautiful. Rise towards the compassionate and the gentle and the caring. Rise to become what God intends us to be -- eagles, not chickens .
Now I say to you Fly, Eagle, Fly.
You are non-traditional. Live a nontraditional life. Our world needs you to be non-traditional. Wear your badge with honor. Wear it with pride.
Fly, Eagle, Fly write your own story.
Fly, Eagle, Fly live with courage.
Fly, Eagle, Fly be creative.
Fly, Eagle, Fly do the honorable thing.
Fly, Eagle, Fly help us laugh.
Fly, Eagle, Fly teach us to serve.
Fly, Eagle, Fly march to the beat of your own drum.
So, I say to you non-traditional person, Fly, Eagle, Fly.