Class of 2014 graduates urged to make an impact

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After congratulating the class of 2014 on their achievement, Hanover Trustee J. Joseph Hale Jr. ’71 encouraged them to give thanks for all the help they received along the way and in their future lives to work hard, help others and find balance.

“As you look to life after Hanover, remember it is possible to do well and do good while having fun,” he said. “Earn a living, help the world be a better place, but also enjoy life.”

Hale addressed the 233 graduates and their families at the College’s 181st Commencement ceremony, Saturday, May 24, at The Point. He also received an honorary doctorate in humane letters.

Hale, who retired as president of Cinergy Foundation, now leads Global BrightLight Foundation, the largest nongovernmental organization in the U.S. dedicated to providing solar lanterns to families around the world with no access to power.

“There’s not a better feeling than when I see how our simple lantern fundamentally changes a family’s very existence.”

He spoke of his mother’s polio diagnosis when she was eight-months pregnant with him and how she spent the rest of her life in a wheelchair.

“I never heard my Dad or Mother complain once about the cards they were dealt, which provided me with a glass half full view of life,” said Hale. “Always look for the silver lining, an approach I heartily recommend. The message here?  Limit the whining. Take responsibility for the cards you’re dealt and improve upon them.”

Encouraging the graduates not to let opportunities pass them by, he said to seek meaningful work that sustains both economically and personally, and to build a family to love and nurture and enjoy.

“Hanover has given you the capacity to enjoy a meaningful life,” said Hale. “Do so, aggressively, with rigor and relish.”

Paraphrasing Apple CEO and co-founder, the late Steve Jobs, senior Jan-Niklas Reisser referred to his classmates as people “who are crazy enough to think they can change the world.”

“I truly believe that every single one of us is going to do great things in life and be great people and change and impact the world in a distinctive way,” he said in his senior address. “But let me tell you, this privileged way of thinking didn’t come without a price. We all had to work so hard to be where we are.”

Reisser, a physics and economics double-major, and a native of Nuremburg, Germany, said his confidence comes from the advantages found in the diversity of ideas that make up Hanover’s liberal arts education.

“A variety of different interests, personalities and ways of thinking ended up in a room discussing something they had never discussed before, which was actually great,” said Reisser. “What many might see as a poor allocation of human resources, we always saw as a Hanover advantage over every other college student in the country.”

By creating this kind of intellectual diversity in the classroom, he said students learn to tolerate different opinions and respect their peers. He also expressed astonishment at seeing the variety of solutions, ideas and beliefs that would develop over a topic.

“We started to find solutions to problems we wouldn’t have come up with if we had all shared the same major or interests. This is what made our liberal arts experience truly unique. This is what we are leaving with today: an inimitable and certainly special way of thinking and viewing ideas.”

Full speech by J. Joseph Hale Jr. ’71

I recently read a study that said 10 years after commencement, 94 percent of college graduates had no idea who spoke at their graduation. That study has obviously taken some of the pressure off me today.

It is always great to be back at Hanover, which may be hard for you guys to believe since you’re itching to get outta here. I see a lot of smiles out there; mostly on the faces of you parents because you realize you’ve written your last tuition check. Congratulations to ALL of you!

I’m honored to be with you here today. President DeWine asked me to talk about reinventing yourself in retirement. I thought about that. But then I realized that talking about retirement on your graduation day was the equivalent of planning your funeral on your wedding day. So I may veer somewhat from the suggested topic.

Here’s the opening thought: Congratulations. You’re a Hanover graduate. You’ve earned it. Feel good about it. Your Hanover degree has value. Your work here built that value. It will benefit you in the years to come, in your work, in your life.

Here’s the second thought: Give thanks. You got yourself here, but not without help. As you pass through this day, remember those who have parented you, loved you, taught you, stood beside you, demanded more of you, befriended you and helped you become the person you are today.

The journey is yours, but you don’t travel it alone. Thank those who have been there along the way. And even though right now you’re thinking about leaving Hanover and beginning the next phase of your life, I ask you to include Hanover in that demonstration of appreciation. The value of your degree will continue to depend in part upon the performance and reputation of this institution. So in the future when you’re asked, support Hanover in whatever way possible. And you WILL be asked!

And here’s the third thought: As you look to life after Hanover, remember it is possible to do well and do good while having fun. Earn a living, help the world be a better place, but also enjoy life. Balance. Try it.

If you were at your Hanover graduation, say 40 years ago, in the good ol’ days when Hanover locked the women up at 10 p.m. on weeknights, allowed them to wear pants if it was below freezing, required the men to wear coats and ties to dinner Wednesdays and Sundays, and had mandatory attendance for twice a week convocations, back then your expectation likely would have been to work until you were 65, retire to enjoy life and give something back for a while, then checkout. Life was perceived as a simple, linear series of acts. Learn. Work. Retire. Then use your remaining time to enjoy life and maybe help some folks.

The world certainly isn’t simple any more, and it’s not terribly linear, either. But the opportunity in that is the ability not to wait until late in life. Work hard, help somebody, have fun, all at the same time, now.

I didn’t come to Hanover from Floyds Knob, down near New Albany, Ind., with a silver spoon in my mouth. Dad was a mailman, Mom, a homemaker. After a year and a half of marriage, my mother woke up one August morning with a headache when she was eight months pregnant with me. Twelve hours later, she’d been diagnosed with polio and spent the rest of her life in a wheelchair.

I never heard my Dad or Mother complain once about the cards they were dealt, which provided me with a glass half full view of life. Always look for the silver lining, an approach I heartily recommend. The message here?  Limit the whining. Take responsibility for the cards you’re dealt and improve upon them.

I left Hanover in 1971, and in the last forty-plus years I’ve had 19 different career engagements. Not different jobs, different careers. (I can see the eye rolls of the parents in the crowd – nice role model they’ve invited today!) Teaching, arts management, real estate development, swim coach, corporate philanthropy, sales, communications and utility management. My latest assignment is leading a global solar power effort to bring energy to people in parts of South and Central America, Africa and Asia who otherwise use kerosene to light their huts or just know darkness at night.

I’ve also had more than a hundred volunteer leadership positions supporting or leading civic initiatives, from raising more than $100 million for activities and projects as varied as a modern dance company, to managing aquatic events in an international sports competition, to building a contemporary art museum, to helping lead the national March of Dimes, including raising funds for them by running seven marathons on seven continents in seven months.

I — well, mostly my wife Linda, but I helped — raised a family of three children, all now married and with children of their own. And Linda and I have enjoyed many friendships in our lives. We’ve been fortunate to have had some amazing experiences. We’ve dined with CEOs and celebrities, presidents and princes, but after family, we’re never happier than when we’re with old Hanover friends.

We instantly fall into a warm camaraderie with people with whom we’ve shared this Hanover experience. I believe Woody Harrelson ’83 said when he was recently here that “fame is eclipsed by family and friends.” I think you’ll find the same thing is true in years to come.

My family has been blessed, to be sure, but I’m exhibit A for the argument that a full life is possible, right from the start, that you can do well and do good while having fun.

There is actually a solid body of research that suggests that once you get beyond uncontrollable life events and genetics, the main drivers of happiness are family, friends, faith and work. I’m a doer, not a researcher, so my way of proving that conclusion has been to live it, to work to do well for my family, do good for others and have fun along the way. Balance. Try it.

Don’t let opportunities pass you by. Seek meaningful work that sustains you both economically and personally. Build a family to love and nurture and enjoy. Find and relish friends — beyond acquaintances, true friends. And engage in something beyond yourself: volunteer work, the arts, education or some other form of civic activity that adds more layers of meaning to your life. If it calls you, let faith be another foundation to your life. Hanover has given you the capacity to enjoy a meaningful life. Do so, aggressively, with rigor and relish.

Create a better you. I came to Hanover from modest circumstances, and I just retired from my position as a member of the executive team at the country’s largest utility.

And now I’ve begun my second act, the next phase in my life. A friend recently remarked that when we leave a leadership position in a company, we go from being a VIP to FIP to TIP — very important person to formerly important person to totally irrelevant person.

Now I’m not sure where I am currently on that progression, but I believe retiring in the traditional sense is a selfish act. We spend decades amassing skills, experiences and relationships. We need to find ways to use them, to create a second act for ourselves to benefit the world.

Around the time I’d been retired for a week and was going somewhat crazy from boredom, a friend and I both read a story in the New York Times about a woman in Kenya who would get up each morning, leave her five children to walk three miles to pay a bush taxi $3 to ride six hours to a village with electricity where she could get her cell phone charged. She’d have to leave her phone because of the demand and repeat this trip a few days later to pick up her charged phone and pay the 25-cent fee. We figured there had to be an easier way, and that conversation led to the creation of the Global BrightLight Foundation. It’s a huge market, as there are 1.3 billion people in the world without access to electricity.

BrightLight today is the largest NGO in the United States devoted to providing simple solar lanterns to families around the world. For $50, a donor can have the satisfaction of knowing their gift has significantly transformed the life of a family currently living off the grid in remote areas of the world. No more breathing harmful kerosene fumes or causing fires and burns from a spilled kerosene lantern. Cleaner air to breathe. Children can study and read at night. Mom can cook and Dad can continue to work after sundown. Changing lives, one lantern at a time.

I just returned last week from remote areas of Bolivia and Peru. This Monday I’ll be in Moscow providing a message of appreciation to our major donor, a coalition of the 16 largest utilities in the world, and by Friday, I’ll be in the jungle of Rwanda checking on our distribution of lanterns there. There’s not a better feeling than when I see how our simple lantern fundamentally changes a family’s very existence. Doing good. Having fun. Balance.

As you leave here today, you are prepared for a world that is changing, whose context will be complex and difficult to predict, whose overall direction will be non-linear and uneven, but whose general trend will be, as the trend of history always has been one of challenge and improvement that leads to progress.

In the context of your life, the world will offer you many opportunities to challenge and improve yourself. Take them. Don’t be afraid to, indeed, seek to improve your position and your circumstances. Have high aspirations. Then aim even higher. Hanover has prepared you not just to work, not just to participate, but also to lead. Make the direction of your life one that accelerates upward. Work for it. Reach for it.

The world to which you graduate is an amazing place, but it’s not perfect. There’s a lot — a whole lot — that needs fixing. I see it in my travels constantly. There are many people — still far too many — who live struggling lives and who need help. In education. In health. In the basics of life. To overcome hardship. To survive calamity. To grow. To heal. Those people are all around the globe, and they’re in our own communities. The world needs your help. In your own way, find your way to care for it.

Linda and I have always had people at the center of our lives. Our family, always first and foremost. Friends, many friends, many of whom became our friends here at Hanover and many more through our work and our civic engagements. Our best friends have been friends for life, even as we, and they, have often shifted jobs, changed states or even countries. We share that core set of commitments: work, family, friends, faith and a willingness to look for the common good, to leave where we’ve been better than we found it. And we have had fun — a lot of fun — along the way. Don’t forget to reach for the joys that family and friends bring. Live for it.

Linda and I have benefited from and relied on our Hanover education for our entire lives. It has given me the foundation, the flexibility and adaptability to move from one of those 19 careers to another and to chair the myriad of volunteer activities in which we’ve been involved. It has helped give both of us the capacity for family, friends and faith, and for a range of work and civic activities.

Life has not been perfect, but we have had great joy in our friendships, our family, our civic efforts and our work. Balance equals contentment. I hope you’ll have that life. Build on the gifts, the potential, the capacity Hanover has given you. Seek to do well, do good, but also have fun. Balance.

Our family has a painting in our home on Nantucket. We commissioned an artist originally from Indiana to create it for us. It’s a primitive painting of the Nantucket harbor, and around the perimeter of the painting it says, “The best part of a journey is coming home, healthy, safe and content.”

Every night for the last 40 years, I’ve said a prayer asking that my family be healthy, safe and content. Notice I don’t ask for happiness, because in my experience, happiness comes and goes. But contentment, a satisfaction with your life, lasts forever. Having a balanced life, doing well, doing good, while having fun, will lead you to a life of contentment.

Oh, how I envy you guys, just starting out on this next phase of your life adventure. Take some risks. Aim real high. It’ll pay off. Thanks for listening, and I once again offer you my sincere congratulations.

Full speech by Jan-Niklas Reisser ’14

Where has the time gone? I don’t mean this as a rhetorical question. Can anybody please tell me where the time went? Four years normally sounds like a long time but these four years flew by so fast. It felt like yesterday that we all moved into our dorms and met our roommate for the first time, thinking, “please God, don’t let this guy be a goober.”

In addition to this, do you remember the first day of school, when you couldn’t find your class because every brick building looked the same and you were afraid to ask someone because you didn’t want anyone to know that you were a freshman? It was like hell finding your first class. I had the hardest time ever finding mine. For me finding my first class was harder than finding a job with a Franklin degree.

Further, do you recall the strange classes the staff had us sign up for during our freshman year? We mostly studied these topics because the college course catalog required them. So physics majors, philosophy majors, mathematics majors, English majors, and biology majors — you name them — suddenly found themselves enrolled in an art appreciation class discussing the meaning of a Picasso painting.

Hence, a variety of different interests, personalities and ways of thinking ended up in a room discussing something they had never discussed before, which was actually great! What many might see as a poor allocation of human resources, we always saw as a Hanover advantage over every other college student in the country.

By creating this intellectual diversity in the classroom, you learn to tolerate different opinions and respect your peers. Moreover, it was astonishing to see the variety of solutions, ideas, and beliefs develop over this topic. We started to find solutions to problems we wouldn’t have come up with if we had all shared the same major or interests.

This is what made our liberal arts experience truly unique. This is what we are leaving with today: an inimitable and certainly special way of thinking and viewing ideas. We are the crazy ones, and I mean this in an all-positive way. This is what Hanover College has given us, a way of thinking completely outside the box. We are following thoughts that most people do not dare to follow. We come up with ideas that most people are afraid to proclaim. Yes, we are the crazy ones.

When thinking about my Hanover education, the “think different” Apple commercial pops up in my mind. It says, “Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. But the only thing you can’t do, is ignore them because they change things. They push the human race forward. And while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius.”

According to Steve Jobs, the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who actually do. We are those crazy ones, and I truly believe that every single one of us is going to do great things in life and be great people and change and impact the world in a distinctive way. But let me tell you, this privileged way of thinking didn’t come without a price. We all had to work so hard to be where we are.

For the students of Hanover College that are here today, I am not telling you anything new, but let me explain to those who are not Hanover students or graduates what studying here is like. It consists of three steps.

The first stage is my favorite one: the optimism. You look at your assignments and study material and get this exciting grin on your face followed with an, “I can do this” attitude. “What? Only 50 pages to read, an eight-page paper and some short assignments in my other classes? I should be done with this before dinner!”

But then here comes stage two: the realization. You have been studying for five hours already. The dinning hall is closed so you missed dinner, and you are not even halfway done with your collegiate studies.

This leads into stage three: the frustration, which mostly consists of banging your head against a desk or a nearby wall while contemplating over and over again, “Why, oh why didn’t I go to a state school?” But the fact that we are sitting here today is proof that we got through this.

But we didn’t just overcome our academic challenges here at Hanover College. Many of you dedicated yourselves to an athletic program and succeeded by beating our rival school, winning conferences or setting school records. A lot of you volunteered and helped out the community or other people in need. Some of you even held a job in which you progressed and dedicated yourselves.

Also, many of us were part of a club or a Greek organization in which we made friendships that will last a lifetime. This is truly unique about this place, and I honestly believe that the friendships you created here are more than just good friends. The individuals sitting around you will be the same ones who are going to stand next to you when you get married, are going to be there for you during good and bad times, and are the ones who will carry your coffin when you eventually die.

These lifelong friendships, as well as, our academic successes are what we are taking with us here today. But what we are leaving behind are the countless good memories. I mean, let us be honest, when will you ever go out on a random Wednesday night again? When will you ever dress up like a pirate and by the end of the night, be truly convinced that you are an actual pirate? When will you ever go to an 80s themed party dressed in your parents’ old clothes, celebrating a time when none of us were born yet. When will you ever go again to a Moonwalk Party, bouncing from mattress to mattress and hoping not to hit your head on the celling?

It’s not just the parties that took place on this campus that left us with good memories. How about Spring Break, which consists of the entire Hanover Campus almost literally moving 680 miles down south for a week? Or think about the wiffleball tournament: who would have ever thought that hitting and chasing a plastic ball would become one of the most important events on this campus?

Yes, all of these things end here today, but we are leaving with memories of them, and it is easy to share those memories with a friend with a simple, “Hey, do you remember?” and a smile. I know it is sad to come to the realization that these fantastic four years are over, but guess what? We always can come back! After all, we did great things here at Hanover College. Every single one of us had individual forms of success while attending this prestigious institution.

For me personally, it’s a great honor as a foreign student from Nuremberg, Germany, to be giving this speech. Despite coming in as an outsider, the Hanover community accepting me and allowing me to speak on behalf of this community is the ultimate sign of that acceptance.

Triumphs occurred regularly at Hanover College. But I don’t have to tell you about all your accomplishments because nobody but yourself has them better immortalized. With this being said, we also understand that we didn’t always win. There were plenty of moments during our college career in which we lost. In which things just didn’t quite go our way, and disappointment, agony, defeat and grief shaped our life at Hanover.

For example, there could have been a failed test, a bad paper, a loss to our rival school, the termination of a friendship or a fight. I comprehend that those are the moments we don’t like to look back on. As a matter of fact, we often try to forget them and let our victories prevail. But in my opinion, our losses and disappointments in life are as equally, if not more important, than our victories.

I understand that we all have been raised throughout our entire lives to think that winning is the ultimate goal. Don’t get me wrong, it is. But how can you win when you have never lost? Maybe this notion of constant winning is overrated and the true winners are the ones who have also experienced defeat.

Boris Becker, a German tennis player, was considered the world’s best during the 80s. He won Wimbledon at the age of 17, and from there, went on to win many more major tournaments all over the world. When he was about our age, in his early 20s, he entered Wimbledon and everybody expected him to win effortlessly.

But then to the surprise of everyone, he lost during the second round against a no-name player who had incredible odds against him. As you might imagine, the media lunged at Boris Becker, asking him how he could have possibly lost?

His response was, “You know what? I don’t mind losing.” You can imagine the expressions on the journalists’ faces after hearing a statement like that. He explained further, “The reason I play this sport is to win, no doubt. But when I actually win, what do I get out of it? Sure, I get a nice trophy, prize money and fame, but that is it. A win doesn’t make me better.

“But when I lose, I cannot stop thinking about the things I did wrong and how I can improve them, and this is what makes me better. So yes, you heard me right, I don’t mind losing because I get so much more out of a loss than a win, because a loss actually makes me better.”

So Class of 2014, don’t be afraid to lose! See a loss as a learning experience. When life disappoints you, understand what you have done wrong, dust yourself off, and come back stronger and better than ever before. Losing is truly not a bad thing, but it depends on what you make of it.

Thank you, Class of 2014. Don’t ever stop being the crazy ones. You made those four years one hell of a ride. I love you all.