Commencement Keynote: ITT Technical Institute, Indianapolis, 9/20/2008


Yesterday I had the distinct privilege of delivering the Commencement Keynote for the graduating class of ITT Technical Institute Indianapolis campus to an audience estimated at 300.

It took place at the Warren Performing Arts Center, a beautiful multi-tiered auditorium. They certainly didn’t make high schools such as that when I was growing up!

My lovely bride & I arrived exactly when asked, 30 minutes prior to the ceremony. Instructor David Massey was outside eagerly awaiting us, fully bedecked in graduation finery, sweating. I thought at first it might be from a combination of his wardrobe & the gorgeous late summer weather we’re experiencing here in Indiana. However, he betrayed the true reason: If I failed to show up, he had just been told that he would have to conjure the appropriate remarks.

No worries.

Led by ITT Dean Dr. James Hill, I lined up off-stage with the faculty & we marched onto the dais accompanied by appropriately majestic music.

ITT Director Karen Larson-Reuter provided a very gracious introduction, including details about my team, Microsoft Assessment, Consulting, & Engineering (A.C.E.) for whom I am fortunate to work. A.C.E. is perhaps best known for its security work. My team does performance for MS IT & external customers. As most of you reading this know, I specialize in SQL Server performance, especially VLDBs & best practices.

Of course, no introduction would be complete without mention of aforementioned lovely bride, Phyllis, & our girl, Fannie May the Wonder Dog.

As I all-too-rapidly-approach middle age, I have learned a few lessons in life which I am eager to share. Considering my place in life just a few years ago, I have succeeded beyond my wildest expectations—& I’m just getting started! I hope my audience & now you find some value.

Here’s the prepared text of my remarks.



Dr. Hill, Faculty, Students, & Guests,


Thank you for the opportunity to speak today. Professor David Massey, thank you for the invitation.


Truly, this is one of the great honors of my life.


Graduates, congratulations on your Commencement. Graduating from ITT is a GREAT start. Yet we all know what the word "commencement" means—"beginning". As my Microsoft colleague & friend Brian Raymer "The Brain" shared with me yesterday, "Commencement? Good for them! Ha!Now they get to get a job. And a boss." Graduates, don't even think your learning days are over—they've just begun.


Today I'm going to talk about Choices. I hope some of you find some value. These choices are in the areas of:

o Professional certification

o Investing in your own intellectual capital

o Becoming a recognized expert in your field

o Intentional Living

o Dale Carnegie training

o Luck

o Significant others

o Wealth

o Health

o Courage

o Spirituality

o The Last Lecture

Think of this as speed-dating for lessons on life. That's a lot to talk about, so let's roll!


Everyone knows Albus Dumbledore, Headmaster of Hogwarts School of Wizardry. Speaking to Harry Potter, Professor Dumbledore said, "It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities."


So true. You're all smarter than average. Some of you are much smarter than average. But it's our choices which have brought us where we are today. And it's our choices which will get us where we're going tomorrow.


I hope some of you are old enough to remember Buckaroo Bonzai, who said, "Wherever you go, there you are". That may sound amusing, but in fact our choices are serious business.


Professional Certification

I met David Massey while speaking at IWUG, the Indianapolis Windows User Group, on the topic of Microsoft certification. I have been certifiable, er, ah, certified, for some time now—about ten years.


I chose, that is, made a conscious decision to become certified. Microsoft certification has opened big doors wide open for me. With one SQL Server database certification & a lot of enthusiasm, in 2001 my salary increased by 67% in one leap when I moved from a job taking support calls to another as a full-time database administrator. That job set me up for success as a Sr. Database Architect at what become one of the 20 largest, fastest SQL Server databases in the world. That job set me up for success as a consultant for Microsoft. Today I parachute into firms & change my customers lives. It's extraordinary & it's gratifying.


My choice to become certified was serendipitous. I didn't know then the difference it would make in my career & my life. I'm here to tell you that the ability to document via certification a mastery of the fundamentals in specific areas of expertise—whether Microsoft, Oracle, Cisco, or whatever—is a valuable asset.


Microsoft takes certification seriously. I've recently been accepted into the Microsoft Certified Architect Program. Candidates such as I are required to pass four major exams before they can even matriculate.


Choices regarding certification worked for me. I invite you to learn how such choices might work for you.


Investing in Your Own Intellectual Capital

Certification takes work. It takes discipline. There are self-didactic options, yet often training takes money. Who's going to pay for your training? A lot of companies provide a week of external training each year; some don't. Back when I was new in IT I heard a fellow say, "If they <our company> want me to get certified, they'll pay for my training". The attitude he chose has left him in the proverbial dust in terms of career advancement. A few years ago I chose to pay for my MCSE & MCDBA training out-of-pocket. It was a lot of money, and a lot of work, too. And it all paid off. My friend is apparently comfortable still taking support calls—not that there's anything wrong with that. Whereas my choices have found me in Director-level positions &, as I said, I'm on the way to Architect training.


Economics professor & radio guest host Walter Williams talks about the best investment folks can choose to make—investing in their own intellectual capital.


Choices regarding investing in my own intellectual capitol worked for me. I invite you to learn how such choices might work for you.


Becoming an Expert

Some of you have heard of Earl Nightengale, also known as the Dean of Personal Development. I recently read these words: “If you will spend an extra hour each day of study in your chosen field, you will be a national expert in that field in five years or less.”


Though I didn't read this until recently, I had intuitively put the practice into action. I started my career only ten years ago, yet as a direct by-product of my passion for what I do, today I am working with some of the top engineers within Microsoft, my work is being published, & I speak at internal & external, national & international gatherings. Someone has to be an expert, I thought it might as well be me. And it might as well be you.


My choice to become an expert in my field worked for me. I invite you to learn how such choices might work for you.

Dale Carnegie Training & Intentional Living

I take my choices very seriously—not just in my career, but in all aspects of my life.


You see, I practice Intentional Living. Each quarter I craft a Vision Statement which contains my choices for the next three months. These short-term choices are focused on long-term goals. I post this Vision Statement in a prominent location. When I travel I tape it to my room's mirror. I read it aloud each-&-every day.


Valuable training isn't always technical. I learned about Intentional Living in the Dale Carnegie Course in Human Relations. This course changed my life, & it can change yours, too.


I chose to take the course to learn how to speak in public. Who enjoys public speaking? Who's afraid to speak in public? Who's afraid to raise their hands?


A few years ago I was at my best friend's wedding. It was an intimate gathering—only a dozen of us. But I couldn’t muster the courage to make a toast. It was one of the most humiliating experiences of my life. Yet today I routinely speak to audiences ranging in size from a handful to hundreds. I’m unlikely ever to win an Academy Award, yet it’s no longer horrifying to speak in front of a crowd; in fact, I seek out & look forward to such opportunities.


If you choose to take Dale Carnegie training, you'll learn not only how to speak in public, and also how better to communicate in general. Perhaps most importantly of all, you'll learn about Intentional Living.


You'll learn about making conscious decisions—choices—which in 5, 10, or 40 years may find you in circumstances beyond your wildest dreams. Rather than drifting down the River of Life, Intentional Living gives you a paddle; properly implemented it can even give you a map, a rudder, & a motor with unlimited horsepower.


Graduates, your decision to pursue a degree here was just such a conscious choice. Don’t stop now!


Choices regarding Dale Carnegie training & Intentional Living are working for me. I invite you to learn how such choices might work for you.



There are members of my family who've made different choices than I. One of them recently stated that the only reason I'm where I am today is that I am lucky. Yep, that's it. Nothing but L-U-C-K, LUCK. It's now a family joke, & some of the kids are calling me "Lucky Uncle Jimmers".


Louis Pasteur said, "Chance favors the prepared mind". I suggest that it's not merely luck, not just the Grace of God, but also a series of good choices & bit of effort that finds me where I am today.


My choices—my skill set—find me in demand. I have absolutely no fear of losing my job. Microsoft rewards competence. My customers call me back again & again. After only two years with Microsoft, I just returned from my fourth engagement with the same customer. I have multiple customers & internal resources who have asked for me repeatedly. I fly all over the country solving my customers problems. I may soon be flying to China for a few weeks, & my management team & I have spoken of my providing a training tour of the Pacific Rim. Europe & South America may be on the horizon as well.


My lovely bride had a quote on her fridge when we met—she still does—which goes like this, "Opportunity usually comes disguised as hard work, so most people don't answer the door when it comes knocking."


To be successful in IT or anywhere, you will work hard. There's no job I know of which pays $60K, $80K, $100K, or more where you're not going to work hard. It's up to you to find the right work/life balance for you & your family.


I've made choices, I’ve worked hard, & I’ve created my own luck. I invite you to learn how such choices might work for you.


I have a few other topics I'd like to address briefly.


Significant Others

Economist, actor, writer, & Renaissance Man Ben Stein advises us to marry someone sensible.


Speaking of whom, the best choice I ever made is here today. We've been married less than five years, yet as far as I'm concerned we're still newlyweds. She said she'd kill me if I introduced her. Yet I must mention that my inspiration, my muse, my love, Phyllis has been the most sensible, best choice I've ever made. And she’s gorgeous, too! I intuitively knew to wait more than 40 years to find Miss Right. May you be half as fortunate as I in finding a mate.


Becoming Wealthy

Get out of debt! Pay off your student loans. Pay off your credit cards. Pay your bills on time. Build your credit. Save for your future. Whatever your political persuasion, it doesn't make sense to rely either on the government or your employer. And start NOW. Einstein called the power of compound interest the 8th wonder of the world. Make the choice NOW to become wealthy. Suze Ormen says $100/month for 40 years is a million bucks. That may be a little aggressive. But $200/month—only $50/week—will certainly do it. Of course, a million bucks ain't what it used to be, especially 40 years from now—so shoot for more.


When I was in my twenties I simply didn't know how easy it is to become wealthy. Ladies & gentleman, do not wait. Again, the time to start is NOW.



There's a high correlation between health & comfortable retirement. The commencement speaker at Somerset College this year lectured the graduates on the evils of that wicked weed, tobacco. That earned him the attention of comedians. Yet the truth is you're far likelier to be happy, healthier, & wealthier if you don't smoke, watch your weight, exercise, & take care of yourself. Do what you can to be healthy for yourself & your family. Make healthy choices.



Have the courage to choose to do the right thing. Choose to continue to learn. Don't be afraid to change jobs. There's often no better way to get a significant raise. Have the courage to negotiate your salary & your training. Be willing to make a counter-offer. Consider entrepreneurship. A lot of things make this country great. Entrepreneurs are at the top of the list.


I was in Washington, DC last week. I had a great lunch at an Indian restaurant where I met the owner. He was an immigrant with three children. One was a physician, two were IT professionals. Ladies & gentleman, truly, America like nowhere else in the world is still the land of opportunity.



I am presumptuous enough to provide advice on living your life, but not so much on how to spend eternity.


Spirituality is important yet is deeply personal. Whether you worship God or Allah, whether you abide by the Torah or the Eightfold Path, may you be blessed. A piece of advice I am willing to share is that you NOT worship superficialities. If you worship money, you will never have enough. If you worship beauty, you will die a thousand deaths before you're finally planted. Best wishes choosing the right Path for you.

I have made choices which have brought me good luck, good health, some of which took courage, & some of which are contributing to the creation of wealth. I invite you to learn how such choices might work for you.

The Last Lecture

Lastly I'd like to share a bit about the life of Professor Randy Pausch. Some of you may have heard of him. Randy was a professor at MIT, a geek like us, specializing in virtual reality. A short time ago he learned he had pancreatic cancer. He gave what is known as The Last Lecture. Approaching death, he shows us how to live. The man has inspired me & millions of others. To learn about the choices Randy made, to learn how Randy's death can help you make the most out of life, search the Internet for "The Last Lecture". Get comfortable. It's 76 minutes. Or order the DVD & watch it with your family.



Folks, I have a great life. I'm the luckiest man alive for a lot of reasons, most of which I've not shared here.


I invite you to make great choices. I invite you to discover Intentional Living.


Have a great life. No, make it a great life. MAKE YOUR LIFE A GREAT LIFE.


Congratulations, Graduates. Good luck, God bless you, & God bless America.


Thank you.