This past weekend, I went to my baby sister’s grad at Duke. Rather than fly down to North Carolina and run the risk of missed connections, I took a road trip with my Mom and Dad. Now my sister can do the drive to North Carolina in ten hours, but I should have known that she has a road trip rule – “no drinking til West Virginia”. It took us 14 hours, each direction. Did I mention that my parents drive a Prius?
But it was worth it. I have been to Harvard, and it is fancy, but Duke University is a whole other world of beautiful buildings and grounds, and yes, beautiful people (although I am not sure I have ever been surrounded by so much botox). And everything is over the top grand.
We attended three ceremonies for Catherine and four receptions, where there was amazing food and an open bar. As I said, three words describe Duke: over the top. Duke describes itself in two words: outrageous ambitions.
Both descriptors fit the commencement speeches. Three students spoke at the MBA ceremony (My sister got a PhD in Business). One young man described how his sister survived a near-fatal ski accident and shared some of her lessons to live by: have a glass half full but work to fill it up, and life is a miracle that can only be defined by relationships. Another woman spoke about life as a lesbian woman in North Carolina and challenged the group with this question – what would you do if you were terrified and authentic?
Gerald Hassell, chief executive officer of the Bank of New York Mellon, delivered the commencement address. He emphasized the need for students to be persistent and work hard, but his main advice was to take risks. He attributes part of his success on a risk he took in the 1980’s when a relatively unknown man – Craig McCaw – convinced him to invest in a crazy idea. Everyone was convinced that landlines worked perfectly, so why bother investing in wireless technology? He recommended the audience read a new book about unconventional CEOs called Outsiders.
But my favorite was Melinda Gates. I won’t even try to summarize her speech. She’s worth the watch.
In Chapel Hill I picked up a book called 10 1/2 Things No Commencement Speaker Has Ever Said. Charles Wheelan, author of Naked Economics and professor at Dartmouth, includes great advice too, including ‘Your time in fraternity basements was well spent’ and ‘Marry someone smarter than you are.’
There’s a lot of advice being given to young people today – you should lean in; you should choose your spouse at Princeton, etc. I’ve given my own point of view in other blogs, but this time, I want to talk about the journey rather than the destination, specifically, the trip to North Carolina in the back of a Prius, and what I learned from my Mom and Dad:
1. Drive slowly.
2. Drive a Prius. It costs less than $20 to fill a tank.
3. Drink lots of fluids. Take lots of rest stops.
4. Be kind to each other.
5. Laugh at each other’s idiosyncrasies.
My parents are remarkable. They are humble. They do not bicker at each other. They look for the positive, always and everywhere. They are grateful for the people in their lives. As of this weekend, they will be married for 46 years.
It is only fitting that I end with a quotation from Duke. The legendary basketball coach, Coach K, has said this to his team, but could have been describing my parents: ‘When two act as one, two is better than one.’