Rob Dyson speaks at Marietta College's 2017 commencement

I applied to one school and was accepted — that was Marietta College.  I can remember during our two-day orientation I walked into Gilman. Back in those days, we wore a ridiculous looking beanie on our heads and carried a sandwich sign that had our name on the front and where you were from on the back. That was the 1960’s version of Facebook — it rapidly brought us freshman together.  

Another clear memory I have about coming to Marietta, was when I started going to class. I realized that they didn’t take attendance, and I thought — Gee, I don’t have to come to class. But fortunately, I did, and made the most of it — just as hopefully — you have.

Attending Marietta College was one of the best decisions I ever made. Like me, in addition to going to class, you made great friends — ones you may have for the rest of your life. You studied hard or as hard as you had to, and you became part of a small, caring community.  And in case you don’t know, you are in somewhat rare company in that you have earned a four-year college degree. Only 30 percent of U.S. citizens have four-year college degree. So now it’s time to take what you learned and pay it forward. Now is the time that your life begins to accelerate. Now is the time to take your college degree and use it to make our world an even greater place to live. 

Next year will mark 50 years since I graduated from Marietta College and I had to think about what I would have wanted to know 50 years ago. What about my experience can I share with you that might be of interest or help you on your journey through life? When I left Marietta, I knew my family was important and I knew I had to get a job. What I did not realize was the significant impact philanthropy and community involvement would have on my life. This made me reflect on the three sides of a triangle that define my life, and I would suggest, should define yours.   

  • One side is family/friends.
  • The second side is profession/work.
  • The third side is philanthropy/community involvement.

This triangle of family/work/philanthropy all lead to a fulfilling life and create a greater good. You can’t forsake one for the other – the triangle is only as strong as its weakest link. 

The first leg is Family — however you define it and experience it. Your family will evolve over time, and will include close relatives and friends.  Be sure you surround yourself with their love, laughter and support and give that love, laughter and support back. Do this every day. Your family is your caring community, where you feel safe.  It is your sanctuary.  Be fiercely protective of it and nurture it.   

The second leg is your profession — your job. What you do for a living wage. As millennials, you get a bad rap by being labeled: “entitled” and “expecting to have things handed to you” and — “expecting to get the promotion without having to do the work to earn it.” Reject those labels, which are the same things said of my generation 50 years ago.  Prove the pundits wrong by having a strong work ethic, working hard, and grabbing the career opportunities as they come. Follow your passion — make work not feel like work. If you are in a position for economic gain, but long-term you do not inherently like what you are doing, then it is not the right thing for you. Get out and do something else, life is too short. Do what you love and love what you do. In many surveys about satisfaction at work, ironically money was never rated as a long-term motivator.  

A friend I know as a Manhattan real estate broker was a former New York neurosurgeon who after 20 years, changed careers. From a brain surgeon to one of the top real estate brokers in Manhattan. It happens. 

So, I’ve asked you to be a good and loving friend and family member. I have asked you to make sure you love your work. Now, I am asking you to give to your community and get involved. This is extremely important and one side of the triangle you may not have given much thought to. Americans practice philanthropy to a degree unmatched by any other country on the face of the Earth. 

Our voluntary and charitable giving comes from our immigrant/pioneer heritage. We learned fast, and should remember, that helping our fellow citizen insured not only their survival, but ours as well. The amazing thing about participating in your community and being involved in philanthropic and civic issues is that you accomplish things you might never imagined being able to do. You meet great people you might not normally encounter in the other areas of your life.  

Like your work, make your philanthropy your voluntary activities match your values and support what you are passionate about. Your community has needs that you can help resolve. You will see and experience aspects of your community that you may not like or see things that can done better — but you cannot and you should not just bitch about what is going on. Do something about it.   

In addition, you must be an integral part of the process of being a citizen of this great country — President John Kennedy had it right — ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country. So, if you do not like the way your child’s baseball team is being coached, become a coach. If you do not like how your town or school system is being managed, volunteer for the planning or zoning board, join a citizen’s committee to assist your school system or run for school board or even elective office. Intelligent, involved citizens is what President Kennedy spoke about. Help make the positive changes you would like to see. You really have the power to make a difference. 

Thousands of soldiers fought and died in major wars, and others gave their lives for your right to vote. So please, vote. This election was won (or lost, depending on your perspective) by just under 80,000 votes. That’s out of 136.6 million votes cast or 0.06%. Or to visualize, if you had ten thousand ping pong balls, six of them made the difference. 

Your generation is now as large a political force as we baby boomers are. Your vote has the power to change the country and how it is governed. In the last two presidential elections, half of your generation stayed home. By not voting, young Americans — and others who do not vote — are silently giving their approval to what goes on in our town councils, school boards, and state and federal government. If you do not vote, you have no right to complain — you left your values behind.   

Please be sure you understand this — even doing nothing is actually doing something. A non-act is an action. So, you’ve all heard the Nike expression, “Just Do It.”   

When your friend or family needs your support, JUST DO IT.  

When your community needs your help, JUST DO IT.   

When your profession demands you stay late, JUST DO IT. 

When I graduated from Marietta College back in 1968, I never dreamed that I would be standing here today giving a commencement speech in a building that in part bears my family name. I say this to reinforce the point that 

each of us leaves our mark on the world wherever we go. Sometimes in noticeable ways (like this wonderful building), but also in smaller, less visible ways such as pulling weeds at the ball park to get it ready for the big little league game. Every action both big and small has a tremendous impact for your family, your work and your community. 

The triangle — a simple structure to use as a guide to your future. Thank you and congratulations on your graduation.