Tuesday, June 29, 2010

2010 Commencement Speech: Life Happens

Charter Oak State College was created to serve adult students, second chance learners, who were balancing work and family while they worked to complete their degree. As I look out at your happy faces, I can see that we were founded on solid ground.

Let me begin by congratulating each and every one of you on the successful completion of your degree program. As you know better than I do, today did not happen by accident. It most likely began a number of years ago... in a few cases, more years than you care to admit... and I suspect it didn’t go smoothly. Things happened that derailed your first efforts at college. Life happened.

In some cases it was money—it ran out. In others, children. In a few others, it was bad grades or doubt about what major to choose. Maybe you got married or enlisted. Lots of you have moved around, collecting credits from a variety of institutions, but a degree from none. Some of you soured on higher education and others just got too busy.

In other words, life happened, and your degree hopes were put aside. But that dream of a degree didn’t die when you turned 25. It is true that many of you had your education derailed by life events, but it is equally true that each of you is here because some other life event drove you to start back up and persevere until you finished.

That life event might have been a missed promotion. Or the sight of your kid graduating from high school. It might have been an inheritance that put some extra money in your pocket, or more likely a pink slip that put more time into your hands. Maybe you finally picked your major or the graduate program that you want to pursue. Maybe you just stumbled across Charter Oak. Life happened.

And I bet that your decision to reconnect with college wasn’t made alone. Look around this auditorium, listen for a moment: Our students come to us a part of a family package. When you began to make your plans to finish your degree, I bet there were other people at the table. How many of you graduates have children in college? How many of you in the audience took on extra responsibilities so your significant other could study?

Well these are all examples of life happening as well. It is certainly true that life can interrupt us, but it is equally true that it can set up back on our path. And each of you is here today because your life happened—both the good stuff and the bad, and it all led you here.

So what words of wisdom do I have for you? Just this: Never doubt that you can accomplish great things. You have. And never doubt that life will happen while you are trying. It did and it does. But today you graduates are proof to yourselves and to the rest of us, that we can all achieve great things not in spite of what life throws at us but because life happens.

So I send you out into the world, Charter Oak State College graduates, life tested, degree in hand, confident that you will find new goals and that you will achieve them. And I ask one thing of you: The next time you hear someone say, Life Happens, you answer that it sure does. And it led you to this special moment.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Charter Oak's Vision Statement

As part of its ongoing strategic planning process, the College has created something we call The Visioning Team whose mission is to keep all entities within the institution focused on achieving the strategic goals we've established for ourselves. Creating a vision for an organization, then linking subsequent decisions and strategies to its realization, is much more difficult than corporate management textbooks make it sound. Often, vision falls victim to daily pressures, sudden crises, and a variety of other pressing concerns. But in reality, nothing is more important to the health of an organization than a shared vision and the feeling, by each participant, that he or she is making a key contribution to achieving it.

So we created a visioning team comprised of a nucleus of staffers who were already spending time on activities related to the strategic goals of the College. These were the folks who were measuring progress and then imagining what needs to be done next. The Charter Oak Visioning Team is comprised of four executives and three key directors. Those three directors selected a faculty representative and an additional staffer to bring our total number to nine. We meet every two weeks.

The team's initial challenge was creation of a vision statement. I was more than a little nervous about this. I worried that we wouldn't agree on content, or that we might not be able to find the proper language to clearly express the vision. Well, my worries were for naught. After only two meetings the group created this insightful statement:

Charter Oak State College: A dynamic community of online learners, advancing the nation's workforce one graduate at a time.

This statement is both internally and externally directed. It is aspirational, which means it is meant to be a reach; and it is specific, which means we are trying to grow along a specified path. That is why the team used the word "workforce." If we were a liberal arts college, we would have used a word like "citizenry." But as an adult-serving, degree completion institution, the best descriptor we could find for our audience and for our niche in the world of higher education is WORKFORCE.

We have shared this phrase with students, alums, staff and our faculty. We shared it with the Board at the May meeting, and we will begin using it in our communication. As you receive more of these communications, you will see that we are trying to organize our efforts to make this vision a reality. For example, we have just chosen a company to help us research academic programs so that we can develop new programming that really does "advance the nation's workforce." And the new document scanning system we are purchasing will move more of our work online, making our goal of becoming a "dynamic community of online learners" more accurate within our administrative walls.

You will hear more about both the Visioning Team and our progress in achieving our vision in future posts.