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2002 Commencement Speech: Stephen Covey, Author

Source: Department of Special Collections and University Archives, Marquette University Libraries

It was a dark and stormy night.

“Captain, captain, captain, wake up.”

“What is it?”

“I am sorry to have awakened you, sir, but we have a very serious problem.”

“What is it?”

“There is a ship in our sea lane about 20 miles away and they refuse to move.”

“What do you mean they refuse to move, tell them to move!”

“Sir, we have, but they won't move.”

“I will tell them.”

The signal goes out.

“Move starboard, 20 degrees, at once.”

The signal returns.

“Move starboard yourself, 20 degrees, at once.”

“I can't believe this, don't they know how important I am? Officer, tell them who I am.”

“This is Capt. Horatio Hornblower 26th, commanding you to move starboard, 20 degrees, at once.”

The signal returns.

“This is Seaman Karl Jones III, commanding you to move starboard, 20 degrees, at once.”

“Ha, what presumption! I mean, what arrogance! Who are these people? I mean, we are a battleship, we could just blow! Let them know who we are.”

“This is the mighty Missouri, flagship of the 7th Fleet.” The signal returns.

“This is the lighthouse.”

That is a true story, by the way. It was found in the naval proceedings manual where they literally interpret the ship to be a lighthouse. But I love the story because it teaches such a fundamental idea.

There are lighthouse principles or values that cannot be broken. We will only break ourselves against them. We also have the power inside ourselves to become the creative force of our own life. We can choose those principles and values upon which we want to build our life.

You heard in the opening vocation the four great values that represent Marquette: excellence, faith, leadership and service. You study anyone who has achieved and made significant contributions, and they are people that deep down inside . . . have a vision and the discipline to help bring that vision into being, and the passion inside their heart and soul and their conscience so that it is based upon principles and upon the spiritual nature of people and of life.

Vision, discipline and passion, when governed by conscience, change and lift this entire world for good. It will last. Study any of the great individuals who have contributed, that you admire, and see if this is not the case.

Take a Nelson Mandela at his own presidential inauguration, when he came down the center aisle and bowed to his warders, his jailers, on the front row and brought in the ANC choir to sing the Afrikaner national anthem and the Afrikaner choir to sing the ANC national anthem.

Take a Mahatma Gandhi, who came to see a vision for the independence of India and the rights of freedom, equity and justice in creating a society that would deal with its own issues and problems and the kind moral authority he developed even though he was never elected.

He never had any formal authority, but his moral authority literally created India, which today is the second largest nation in the world, over a billion people.

You could go down the list of anyone that you admire. How many here would honestly say that your present level of achievement is somewhat a function that someone believed in you, had a vision of you at a certain critical time in your life, when you did not have it in yourself?

How many can honestly say that? That someone else's affirmation and belief in you impacted you so deeply and powerfully? If you were to listen to these people, most of us would come to tears. If you were to listen to those mentors, those other people that influenced them, they would discuss those who influenced them.

I use as a teaching instrument this watch, under which is a compass, to urge you to develop a personal compass in life so that you have a clear sense of your symbolic north. It will always point in the same direction, even though the watch will deal with the deficiencies and the realities of day to day.

Down deep inside your heart and soul is a sense of who you really are, a sense that you have a mission in life that you may have or have not discovered.

I suggest there are four dimensions to life, and that we should think about these dimensions: the body, the mind, the heart and the spirit. I noticed last night that we talked about the Jesuit ideal . . . of the balance between the body, the mind, the heart and the spirit.

To live, to love, to learn, to leave a legacy, the four fundamental needs, the four fundamental dimensions of life.

A comment on living and learning: You take the four eras of mankind, the hunters and gathers, the agricultural era, the industrial era, (and) now the information era, where knowledge work is the key element. You as a graduate of this great institution are at the cutting edge of that, but you are literally just beginning. It is truly a commencement.

I have been inspired by the beautiful book from Mother Teresa, “The Simple Path:” “Out of silence comes faith, out of faith comes love, out of love comes service, out of service comes peace.”

I know for myself God lives and is the Father of us all, and that all of us who have been given such privileges and opportunities have great responsibilities to bless his entire family upon this Earth.

I express my love and my congratulations again and I pray God's blessings upon you all. Remembering the great inspirational words of the great French philosopher, Teilhard de Chardin: “We are not human beings having a spiritual experience, we are spiritual beings having a human experience.”


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