Penn Baccalaureate 2014
May 27, 2014, Volume 60, No. 35
<< Back to Baccalaureate/Commencement Index
Baccalaureate Address given Sunday, May 18, 2014 by The Reverend Kirbyjon Caldwell, WG'77, senior pastor, Windsor Village United Methodist Church
Three Simple Concepts: Character, Courage and Creativity
Well I’ll tell you, Dr. Price can make anybody sound good, can’t he? That’s very gracious of you. First of all, congratulations to the 2014 graduates! I want to thank Chaz (Charles Howard) for being instrumental in inviting me; I appreciate it very much. I want to thank Dr. Gutmann for allowing me to come. And will the gentleman who is in charge of the lights bring the house lights up just a smidgen please? Let’s recognize the parents and the members of the extended family who have helped to pay for, pray for, pull for and whatever for, to make this day a reality. Won’t you please stand? You deserve some recognition—to all the parents and members of the extended family—as I say in my business, show them some love!
As a father of 16, 14 and 12-year-old children, I look forward to this day, but not too quickly. Well Spencer, you mentioned experience. T.S. Elliott one day suggested that we have had the experience, but we are missing the meaning. We are having the experience, but don’t miss the meaning. Let’s be clear about this, and I want to salute the graduates again. Number one—you got into the University of Pennsylvania. That’s no small feat. Number two—after having been admitted, you stayed in. I mean not everyone can say that. In some cases there were circumstances beyond other folks’ control that meant that they just had to leave. So you got in, you stayed in and now you’ve graduated. What an experience! But the question is—what does it mean?
I want to offer three simple concepts here this afternoon that will help you to maximize the meaning of this experience. This is a heart-to-heart, a very relational talk that I want to share with you.
Three simple concepts and I have a friend whose going to help me with these concepts. His name is David. He is straight from the Broadway play entitled David and Goliath, found in the First Book of Samuel, in the 17th chapter.
Concept number one is character. Character—you can have the IQ of a zip code. Or in today’s parlance, the IQ of your ID password. You can have an IQ that’s the length of your ID password, but if your character is in the toilet, no matter how expensive the toilet may be, you are a train wreck waiting to happen. Carnage is on the way. Let me put it to you this way. If your competency is here, but your character is there, if your intelligence is here, but your integrity is there, then this is how far you have to fall. And the wider that gap is—did you just hear that thud? That thud is the noise you will make if your integrity doesn’t rise to the level of your intelligence and your character to the level of your competency. Your community—this country—is full of folks who had tremendous potential. They had competencies but they lacked character. I want to encourage you today to have character and not be a character. As my grandmother used to say, have character but don’t act like a character.
I’ve been blessed to serve on a lot of boards, from grassroots 501(c)(3) boards for which I got paid nothing, to Fortune 500 boards for which I’m very thankful. And one common theme, which exists in all those boards is the following: when you hire good people, the probability of good output is increased. I don’t care how excellent your procedure or your practices is. I don’t care how excellent your structure is or your systems may be, if the folks you hire suck eggs, then you are cruising for a bruising. American corporations are doing a better job of this now then they were back then. But think about this for a moment. Back in the day, corporations, companies, even 501(c)(3)s would hire people primarily based on what they could do, on their competencies. Think about this, often times, when folks lose their jobs, otherwise known as getting fired, often times they didn’t get fired because of competency issues, they got fired because of character-related issues. Such as messing with the money, messing with the honey, not playing well with others in the sandbox, or just being a straight up big-headed, unmitigated, unparalleled fool who sucks all the air out of the room when he or she walks into it, such that other folks suffocate because there’s no air left. They find ways to get rid of them. We now realize that hiring for character is just as important as hiring for competency. So I want to say to the graduates, as brilliant as you are, make certain you have character.
I know of several instances where a person—in this case a male—had the capital to buy a major league franchise—baseball, football, whatever —and had the competency to run the major league franchise if he were to get it. But in several cases, call no names, bear no blames, they did not get the team, not because they couldn’t buy it, not because they couldn’t run it, but because of character issues or even the perception of character issues. They had relational skills that were in the toilet or their reputations were such that the other owners simply did not want to have anything to do with him. I hope your colleagues would never be able to say, “I don’t want to mess with him or her because of their reputation.” As a matter of fact, you know you have a smooth reputation when you own a parrot, and you don’t mind selling the parrot to the biggest blabbermouth in the community. Even Albert Einstein said, “What makes a great scientist great is not his intellect, but his character.”
David is knocking on the door, come on in David. David is saying yes, yes, yes, this guy named Goliath sold wolf tickets for 40 days in a row, and I decided to step up, the character in me propelled me to challenge him.
I am going to move quickly now, from character to courage. You know, while preparing this message, it dawned on me. Some folks may have character, but they are unable to espouse or manifest character because they lack courage. Do you know it takes courage to manifest character? It takes courage to say that’s right when everyone else says that’s wrong. It takes courage to stand up when everyone else wants to sit down. In the case of David, David’s daddy did not step up, David’s brothers did not step up, King Saul did not even step up, the leader of the army Abner did not step up, every day for 40 days, a member of the Israelite community turned tail and ran when Goliath challenged them at the top of the hill, except David. David says I’ll have the courage to face the Goliath.
Nelson Mandela said in essence, courage is not the absence of fear, courage is doing what you know is the right thing to do in spite of the fear. You can have all the character in the world but if you don’t have the courage to back it up, you are a great potential that never achieved.
Character, courage and lastly, I love this one—creativity. Now Caldwell, how in the world does creativity fit into the David and Goliath paradigm? I’m glad you asked. Here’s Goliath, somewhere between six-feet-nine-inches and eight-feet, depending upon whose account you believe. Here’s David, described as a little runty guy, who was literally on a cheese mission. He was simply there to deliver cheese to his brothers. He was sent by his dad, but while there, his courage and his character rose to the challenge. How does a little runty guy knock off the giant? David knew that the Goliath walked slowly. He was not very nimble, not very mobile. David knew that Goliath did not see very well. So David took his strength and matched them against Goliath’s weaknesses. You know the story. David takes the slingshot because he was a slinger and bam, he hit him right there where the armor was not. Who could have come up with something that creative—a stone and a slingshot? Now you might be thinking, wait a minute, I’ve read about David, and David pulled up five stones for one Goliath, he must not have had that much courage. I’m here to tell you, not only did he have courage, he had knowledge. David knew that Goliath had four brothers. So after he wacked Goliath, he said to the brothers, this is off the Bible, but I’ll tell you, if you brothers want some of the same thing, I have four more stones just for you and I can use them as creatively on you as I did on him. You want some of this? Come on and get it! See, when you have courage and when you have character and when you have creativity, no weapon formed against you shall prosper.
Dr. Gutmann says she’s going to release you on the world. I decree and declare as you are released, your character, your courage and your creativity shall even exceed your own expectations. God bless you, and God bless the University of Pennsylvania.
Related: Baccalaureate Address by President Amy Gutmann, A Glorious Beginning
<< Back to Baccalaureate/Commencement Index