DeBiase Commencement Speech: “Semper Paratus”: The Script


I have been asked by dozens of students, parents and administrators who attended this remarkable commencement to publish my "inspirational" speech that I delivered TWICE at CLC in 2013.  Here it is:

CLC is where I began my life journey….and my brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews and sons have all studied here. So from all of us …congratulations and thank you for this great honor. As you begin YOUR life journey, I want to share with you two simple words..…Semper Paratus! NO, it doesn’t mean seize the day—BUT feel free too! Its a powerful and extremely useful metaphor for today’s complex world…it means ALWAYS READY.

More than a Latin phrase….Always Ready is the United States Coast Guard moto where I serve and learned to appreciate the meaning of readiness.  Created in 1790 to safeguard our nation, this motto was developed decades later to capture the unpredictably rigorous nature of their missions.Now more than ever…I urge YOU to be…..ALWAYS READY!

When I arrived here 1975….I was NOT READY!  I was a 16 YEAR OLD junior in High School who had managed to graduate a year early, thought I’d learned enough and wanted to join the working world….but first I thought I’d use my new found freedom to travel the world! You see, a couple years earlier I started my first company, a snow plowing business, clearing driveways with a commercial tractor my family owned …named Herby.  I named the business Sunset Snowplowing, since we lived on Sunset Lane and I could only plow at night in order to get to school on time.  I really worked at night because I didn’t have a drivers license…and oh…I neglected to tell my parents about my new venture, fearing they would shut it down immediately.

After a couple of seasons, there I was, a high school graduate, ready to spend my snow removal savings on traveling the world. But when my Dad caught wind of my half-baked travel plans—he would have nothing to do with it!  He handed me a CLC brochure insisting I visit this campus…like immediately!  My Dad was a big Italian guy from a family of thirteen, with seven kids of his own.  He didn’t mince words or talk much—BUT when he did…you best do it.  With seven of us, you can imagine we didn’t always honor his requests, but this time—thankfully—I did. 

So, I reluctantly drove here that day…..yes I finally got a driver’s license….and found a remarkable place.  CLC was a growing college still under construction….with a few temporary buildings scattered around—and I loved that.  Back then you could park right in front of the buildings.    WHAT is up with the parking here????   You could lose a few pounds just getting from your car to class!  I mean…if your name is College of Lake County…shouldn’t all your parking lots actually be in the county???

Like a good startup….I loved the potential CLC had to offer…and signed up on the spot for welding and automotive classes.  That seemed like a priority to me….so I could repair Herby and keep my business going through the approaching winter!!! Later I figured out that I’d outgrown high school curriculum…and lost my love of learning.  But here I was challenged again. I was amazed by all of the classes, clubs and cool things I could do.  

I could take anything…I could do anything….including occasionally skipping classes….and they didn’t even call my parents when I did!  Next I thought…well I might as well try business classes.  Having my first fledgling startup under my belt I thought I knew enough about business.  I thought I was ready.  WOW,  was I wrong.   After, rekindling my love of learning here, I finally found what I was passionate about studing—it was business!! 

When I transferred to NIU—I was almost ready for business.  Apparently, I was in such a hurry, I transferred without taking the last class needed to graduate CLC. President Weber informed me I will finally get my CLC degree today…and it is an honor to walk with all of you.   I guess he thinks I’m finally ready!!

So when you come up here to receive your well deserved honors…remember your parents may not think you are ready…they’re thinking what happens on Monday! Having two sons of my own graduating soon, I think your folks are worried that they may have to help longer than expected….maybe let you live at home longer,  and….you know, keep paying your cell phone bill!    That’s OK…..just make sure you pay their cell bills when you begin to make it.

Each of you will make it—in your own unique way.  But your journey may not unfold as planned….you must be ready for not just what’s happening nowbut what’s possible in your future. The rules of the business are being disrupted—and traditional education will not completely prepare you for what’s next. That’s why I created “READY MODE” …which means you have to let go of your fear and accept the responsibility of preparing for what’s possible. So, I’d like you to consider 2 ways you can get into Ready Mode.

First by Joining the Entrepreneurial Movement- and- Second by Rebooting Yourself through Lifelong Learning

If you track the news this could be labeled as the Worst of Times with high unemployment and a sluggish economy. Im here to tell you that Your Time will be the best of times if you get ready to seize the opportunities lurking in the entrepreneurial movement sweeping the globe.

Forget news reports…when I graduated….back in the 1800’s…interest rates were at all time highs and we were rationing gas in a crippled economy.    You probably guessed there was no campus recruiting or enough jobs, and a limited number of career tracks. Forget back in the day stories…what matters is Todays job market is shifting from:

Structured location based chronological careers -to-  More flexible, open entrepreneurial ecosystems

It’s true…BIG companies are cutting back and hiring less.  But we are also experiencing an entrepreneurial renaissance that is driving our growth and creating new jobs…and it will not back down!!  In the Cyber Security sector alone, there are 60k open jobs … waiting on people who are getting ready.

For those interested in pursuing the movement…..it’s easier and more socially acceptable to explore an entrepreneurial  journey …be it inside your existing company, outside in an incubator, starting a company on your own…or just joining a risky startup. For those into test drives… you can even explore entrepreneurial ventures while you have a day job. As a hybrid, I’ve always been on a dual track … when going to school I was working…and when working I’d explore learning.  Not sure it was normal…. it is now.

For some of you this entrepreneurial exploration will be a matter of choice.      But for others it may be thrust upon you—so it pays to be ready.  In every one of your chosen industries there is business model disruption ahead.  Lets look a one cause near and dear to me …. technology and the Internet. The Internet has been transforming industries, like news, entertainment, travel and real estate.  It’s ushered in new companies and wealth, unseated market leaders, created entire new industries…and in the process welcomed over 2.5 billion people online.  BUT with 7 billion people in the world…we’ve only scratched the surface.

It’s altered forever  how we work, play, study and connect.    20% of our industries have been impacted by the web.    Over the next decade you will witness the enablement or disruption of the remaining 80% that have only begun to feel the effects of what we call….the Internet of Everything….when connectivity is embedded in everything from our sun glasses and dog collars to our refrigerators and toilets.

Moores law continues to plow ahead making our devices smaller, more powerful and cheaper every year.  Your iphones have more power than all of the computing capacity that existed on the planet when I was born.  By year end there will be 7 billion cell phones….further accelerating our information explosion…which is a HUGE opportunity for you!!  Since the dawn of civilization until the late twentieth century mankind created  5 Exabytes of information.  What’s 5 exabytes…..just visualize the Star Wars Death Star.   But NOW we create that much data every two days…now that’s a lot of dancing cat videos! 

And when the class of 2014 graduates we will generate that much content EVERY TEN MINUTES!!!  ……… I just hope Im not paying my kids cell bills then!   Some are thinking, geeeez why don’t people use their delete button more often.   But for those who are always ready for the next opportunity…..those Exabytes of digital exhaust could be your next business opportunity where you make your mark on the world.

Your peers are doing just that.  The pace of students starting companies is accelerating, from Zuckerburg’s Facebook and  Crowley’s 4Square to Dorsey’s Twitter….and you can join them!!  As we move to the Internet of Everything, look for advancements in every sector that you have been studying…including education energy, healthcare, transportation, government—and even manufacturing!  Entrepreneurs are using 3D printing for rapid prototyping. So when you come up with a cool idea…you will soon be able to go to a Kinkos and print out a 3D prototype for manufacturing.

Any of you can create the next billion dollar company. Many of you will try, some will succeed and one of you will be here addressing the class of 2030 on how you seized the entrepreneurial movement and became a millionaire. For those who choose to stay in the industry you are pursuing, it can be the best—or the worst of times—your choice.   It depends on what side of the status-quo you are on.  DO NOT be on the side of defending it.   You think you wont…but when you are in the fog of war…and you haven’t prepared for what’s next …you get stuck in the status quo borg.

Doesn’t matter if you start working in a hospital, corporation, government or services shop—you can create your first entrepreneurial journey in parallel.  It could be a blog, book, charity…a startup….your choice. Even while finishing your undergrad work —you can pursue dual journeys.  I apologize to the parents, but we need to tell them the truth.  DO NOT just pursue your major, explore something disruptive too. 

The next two years of undergrad are critical for sure—but coming out on the other side with more than a degree is extremely valuable.  Employers will value it….because it means that you can handle more than what the system throws at you. One way to get ready for the Entrepreneurial Movement is to Reboot Yourself through Lifelong Learning. You got this far and proven you are lifelong learners…and the last thing you want to think about at your graduation is more school!!  I get it   When I finally finished Grad School I never wanted to see a classroom again!!   

Lifelong learning is NOT about you sitting in a classroom the rest of your life—it isn’t always about YOU being the student.  It works in reverse too.  Look for ways to help or teach or tutor someone.  You’ll be amazed when you reverse the process and give back, you learn soooo much…it truly is priceless. We are lucky to be living in the age of always-on, open-sourced, chunky learning.

Did he say CHUNKY??  Yes, look for ways to learn skills in “chunks” like in-demand certificates, project management curriculum, technology and industry specific credentials..  I eventually stopped getting degrees and moved on to chucky learning—because its fun. In this extremely competitive world we need to expand our learning, step up our game and feed our curiosity! Whether it is taking a class or volunteering for something cool…..getting chunks of knowledge along your journey is good for your body, your brain, your soul…and oh yeah….your livelihood. Want Proof?   Did you know companies may not hire you if you haven’t shown proof of lifelong learning. Some even measure your agility…how quickly can you learn and apply new things in real time.  Talking to a manufacturing CEO last week, he said, Dean if they score low on agility…they don't get the job. 

Good news is…. it’s never been easier to participate in learning programs.  Even me, the paranoid optimist…just to be safe…I still do some chunky Ed every year!  And I am not alone….dozens of your fellow graduates here today are in their 50’s and 60’s….and I applaud their commitment!! Chunky learning keeps you in ready mode….and can happen in a flash.  When my career got stuck , the power of stories helped me.  Two, in particular inspired me:  a banished CEO from the company he created…and a fed up corporate leader plotting his escape from the bureaucratic borg. One night,I watched a Steve Jobs documentary soon after he was fired from Apple.  The story was about him shaking off the sting of defeat and launching a brave new venture called NEXT.  At the end of the program I knew…somehow/someday I needed to be in Silicon Valley.

The second story was on Barry Diller who had just bought one of the first cool mac laptops, an early maverick symbol in the corporate world.   He would sit in the boring  staff meetings, secretly typing out his plan to create his own media empire—which he did.  I didnt know how much their stories impacted me then:  Meticulous Steve showing me how to come back from defeat and Bold Barry on how to marshal up the guts to make a courageous move.

Years later, when my phone rang about a Silicon Valley CEO opportunity their stories already put me in ready mode…making it easier to shake off my fear of leaving my corporate confines, jump into the startup world…..and rekindle the entrepreneurial fire I developed when I was a student here.  I had rebooted myself into ready mode…but was not literally ready, never fully trained or qualified.  Truth is we never are!!  But if you wait until you are perfect, your remarkable opportunities will p a s s – y o u – by.  I just needed to be willing and able….and so must you!!

Whatever your chosen career, in the Internet of Everything era, I encourage you to get closer to technology and entrepreneurship.  The two collide at 1871, our startup accelerator in the city that we named after the great Chicago fire.Would-be  Entrepreneurs come there with new ideas …and if they want to learn how to build it themselves… we have classroom based programs, where anyone can learn how to code, design and launch web app companies. People in their 20s to 60s are creating the next-generation of Chicago companies…and I encourage you to visit 1871……..it is an exciting, supportive and contagious environment. Don’t have time to go to a class or hang out with entrepreneurs???  No problem…because we are also living in an educational renaissance where online education and technology is at your fingertips—take advantage of it!

Over the next two years you have a choice: only pursue your major or  discover a dual learning track while at school.  Without leaving your dorm room, you can learn about anything from speaking Arabic to designing a ZEN garden. So when you are tempted to go home on the weekends—don’t.  Use that time to learn about anything that you are passionate about. 

Your lifelong learning will be a rewarding adventure if you stay curious, stay agile and have some fun along the way.So today, I’d like to leave you with three thoughts to guide you as you begin to reboot your always ready life journey:

  1. BELIEVE in yourself—you’re a CLC graduate now and nothing can stop you!
  2. CHERISH your journey—and remember life is short
  3. GIVE more than you take along the way

I know it may be a bit scary…even risky…and your journey will be bumpy as you reboot yourself into the future.  I wish each of you the strength, the courage and the passion to seize the heady times ahead. 

So go fast…go steady…..and when your opportunities come ……….may you be….always ready!


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