DePaul University: Kellstadt Graduate School of Business - Commencement Dinner- 6-2011
DePaul University – Kellstadt Graduate School of Business Commencement Dinner June 10, 2011 Presented by: Dan MichelsonThank you so much for the opportunity - it is really an honor to have been chosen by the students tospend a few minutes with you tonight.But I have to be honest, when I started pulling together my comments I was really struggling to find justthe right thing to say and to share.In fact, I was literally seconds away from Googling "commencement address" to get some examples ofwhat one says at such an occasion when my wife Kim reminded me that I wasnt actually thecommencement speaker - I was the "guest speaker" at the commencement dinner the night beforegraduation.Now for those of you who arent married, you should know that one of the primary roles of a spouse isto put you in your place. In that light, while it is clear that there will be no honorary degree for metonight, I did want to remind my wife that we do get a free meal, so its a pretty good deal.While no search engines were used for this talk - the reality is that anything that I would have found onGoogle to say to you had already been said before. So, I decided to keep things simple and just share afew lessons that have made a difference in my life. Some that I learned at DePaul and some since.The first lesson and this is one that you will hear over and over and over again is that you need to settangible goals. So let me take a shot at setting a tangible goal for myself right now and it involves everysingle person in this room.The goal is this - one year from today I would be absolutely thrilled if you could just remember onething, anything that I said tonight.In fact, for anyone who contacts me one year from today with just one thing they remember, I will buyyou the book of your choice. The only thing I ask in return is that once you read it, you need to let metreat you to a cup of coffee and share what you learned. Not a bad deal.Now getting you to remember just one thing may seem like a ridiculously easy goal to hit, butsurprisingly, it is close to impossible to accomplish.And thats the second lesson - communication done right is incredibly rare - and that lesson was taughtto me by a professor here at DePaul 20 years ago.In fact, lets replay that night in class right now, so you can learn the same lesson.
Heres how it went - think of the greatest speech you have ever heard. It can be something youexperienced first-hand, a lecture from a professor in school or an inspirational speech. Or it can besomething you watched on TV or youtube. Picture that speech right now.Does everyone have one in their mind?Now try to recall one thing they said. Now a second one. A third?Most people struggle to remember one, some can remember two, and three is incredibly rare. Thelesson? If from the greatest speech someone has ever seen, they can only remember two (or maybethree) things, what makes you think that in your speech you can do any better?Who was the teacher? I will give you a clue. Theres a great quote I heard recently that describes thisperson perfectly: "Anyone who thinks there is a difference between entertainment and educationdoesnt know the first thing about either one". Clearly they were talking about Dr. Joel Whalen fromDePaul.I am not sure how many people can honestly say what I am about to say, but I have actually used thelessons Dr. Whalen taught me and that I learned at DePaul every single day since I graduated.But there was one night in those three years that I can still picture right now as if it happened yesterday.The assignment was each student was given 90 seconds to give a speech on something, anything and toget people to actually understand and care about it. The twist was you had to appeal to all five senses -see, hear, touch, smell, and taste - so that your audience could actually experience your story.And it worked. In a room full of strangers, we all became connected.That may sound like a stretch, so heres an example. There was one women who got up and talkedabout her mother dying of cancer and what it felt like when she first walked in the room to visit her -that unmistakable smell of a hospital room, the sound of the monitors, the sight of her mom as ashadow of herself even 6 months before, the tears rolling down her face so fast, out of breath notknowing if she could ever stop crying. Still sound like a stretch?Well I can still remember the story I told - which was not about something tragic, but something magic. Iwas a huge baseball fan when I was growing up. One beyond hot, beyond humid day, when I was nineyears old, my parents took me to a White Sox game. In the 5th inning, the game got hit with a rain delay.The rain was just starting to let up when the sun peaked out and we witnessed this incredible sunshower - rainbows were everywhere and it had that perfect smell of fresh cut grass right after it rains. Itwas magic.Then I saw two Minnesota Twins players jogging out to play catch and I ran down to see them. Everyoneelse was hiding from the rain and the seats were empty, so I was able to get right up to the wall. I waswearing an iron-on t-shirt which was sticking to me because it was soaking wet. Suddenly one of theplayers overthrew the other and there was a real baseball sitting right there in a pool of water, right infront of my feet. I was literally shaking.
I picked up the ball, with the water running streaming down the skinny arms of my 65 pound body, andasked Rod Carew, who was leading the major leagues in hitting at the time, if I could keep the ball. Hesaid, “Yes”.I ran to what felt like every single person in the stadium yelling to them that "I got a ball!" until I foundmy parents. I told them what happened. They asked, "did you get it autographed?” My eyes opened upas wide and as a big as my baseball, I swallowed my breath and sprinted to the Twins dugout. I found acoach and told him the story - he ripped the ball out of my hands and told me not to move. Tears rolleddown my eyes, but then they went away. That same coach came back with the ball autographed byevery player on the team.Why did I share that story? Because I am a big Sox fan? Maybe. No, actually the real reason is thatsomething as simple as that one night and that one story, turned a guy who was petrified of getting upto give a speech in front of a group of 5 people into someone who now has given presentations in frontof 3,000 people without hesitation. It was simple, but for me it was a transformational moment.And, for that night, and for the lessons I learned from him, I wanted to present a gift, a major leaguebaseball that says the following "Dr. Joel Whalen. Thank you for helping me find and share my story.Youre the best. Dan Michelson". (Invite Dr. Whalen to come up to receive the ball)Now, I know many of you may think that what you have learned here at DePaul are transient andtemporary. And if thats how you think, you will be exactly right, what you have learned here will begone the minute you walk out the door.But there are others in this room that recognize what is unmistakable. That in todays world, knowledgeis now a commodity. It is as far away as your smart phone and a search engine. What is rare is theperson who has the fire in the belly to try things and the confidence to fail. To apply what they learnedand to search for what they dont know instead of wrapping themselves in the comfort of the blanket ofwhat they already know for sure.I, unfortunately, was not one of those people. I left DePaul and got a job in consulting. It went well. ThenI got married and didnt want to travel so I played it safe and took a job at a company called Baxter,which, for me, was actually quite an accomplishment because this was the same company that hadrejected me three times before. But I had the persistence of an ex-door to door copier salesperson, sofor me "no" didnt mean "no", it just meant "not yet, keep trying”.But that changed for me one day after being there for seven years, when I read an article in the ChicagoTribune about a sleepy little company called Allscripts that was losing close to $18mm every quarter, buthad a cool handheld electronic prescribing device and visionary CEO named Glen Tullman, a socialentrepreneur who was on a mission to change how healthcare was delivered in this country. I wasintrigued, got an interview and then an offer.So I was faced with a decision. Should I stay with the incredibly stable company where I was doing well,or should I take a salary cut to go to a start-up that was losing money.I couldnt make a decision for a month, until finally one day it came to me when I was driving to work.My wife was pregnant with our first child at the time and I thought "what would I tell my kid to do if
they were in this situation?" The answer was clear - I would tell them life is too short to play it safe, takea shot. My decision was made.This lesson on taking risks has proven to be the right one - we have grown Allscripts, the healthcaresoftware company I currently work for, from 150 people in a warehouse in Libertyville to over 6,000people worldwide and from $27 million in revenue to $1.5 billion in revenue per year.And I can honestly tell you that those numbers would be smaller if I hadnt spent my nights andweekends for three years at DePaul. But I could also tell you nothing at DePaul prepared me to makethat decision on that day. It was up to me. Just as your decisions will be your own.So, the question is not what you know today, but rather, how you will answer the following questionstomorrow: • Will you decide to take risks? • Will you decide to work harder than anyone around you and do the lonely work when no one else is watching? • Will you decide to take an extra hour, because you want to make something not just good, but great? • Will you be willing to fail and fail again? • Will you be willing to follow your passion? • Will you be willing to trust your gut?When I made that decision on that day, I trusted my gut and it opened other doors. At the extreme, Ihave had the chance to meet Presidents (like Obama), brilliant creators (like Will.I.AM) and childhoodidols (like Bruce Springsteen). But, more importantly, I have learned that I can make a difference in theworld around me, not through ideas alone, but through action.And thats the final lesson for tonight - action. My wife and our two kids Emma and Ian volunteer eachmonth at LYDIA HOME, a group home on the West side of Chicago for kids that have been physically andsexually abused by their parents. One day, I had a moment when I realized that these kids were really nodifferent than mine, except for one thing important thing which was everything – they didn’t haveparents.What may have seemed obvious was an epiphany and it sparked my wife Kim and me to take action.What we learned is that many of these kids had never been out of the city or had ever had a familyvacation in their life. With that motivation, we started an organization called projectMUSIC. The ideawas to use the power and passion of music - a benefit concert - to pay for the experience of overnightcamp for the 40 kids who live at LYDIA.When we started it, I honestly didnt know if we could even raise enough money to send one kid tocamp. But because we took action, we have now raised over $150,000 to send these kids to overnightcamp every year over the past five years.Once again, the lesson here is that knowledge and ideas can change your mind, but only action canchange lives.
So, no more lessons for tonight - the rest is up to you. But heres what I can promise: • By coming to DePaul, the question isnt whether doors will open for you, they will. • The question is whether you will see them and whether will you be willing to walk through them.So, when you call me a year from now so you can get that free book and that cup of coffee, pleaseremember just one thing that you heard tonight and is these two words - take action. If you do, amazingand incredible things can happen and will happen for you. The stage is set, your future is bright, thepossibilities are endless, embrace it, and enjoy it.Thank you.