Thank you Grace for the terrific introduction! I’d like to say how happy I am to be here! It feels like only yesterday I was in your position, filled with excitement and anticipation, and ready to celebrate the accomplishment of graduating. Completing one chapter successfully, and getting set to start a new, more independent next chapter. This is a joyous moment! I’d like to thank your Class President, Alex Dietz, for asking me to share a few words of wisdom; and I’d like to congratulate each of you (and your families, and your teachers) on this special day.
I’d like to start by thanking Vanguard for how it helped shape me. I have fond memories of the packet system, the freedom of the “free mod”, and the Senior Lounge, but what I really learned from Vanguard was 3 things: 1) self-motivation, 2) critical thinking, and 3) the confidence to do my best in everything I do. While Vanguard has grown and methodologies have no doubt matured as well, I hope your key takeaways from your time at Vanguard are the same as mine. You see, where you’re headed is no doubt competitive, and Lord knows no one is going to do the work for you, so the talents to motivate yourself, really think critically, and do your best in everything you do will be put to the test. Little did I know when I sat in your place, I would finish SMU, earn a Harvard MBA, work at the highest levels of industry, and now be a middle school pre-engineering teacher. You can’t know your future with certainty, but wherever your journey takes you, trust in the focus and work ethic you honed at Vanguard to carry you far.
I’d like to share with you something I learned in my first major training at McKinsey & Co., and it’s something I wish I’d learned even sooner, and that’s the value of thinking, structuring and speaking in 3’s.
I learned “The Pyramid Principle” from Barbara Minto, author of the best-selling book of the same name. She led us through multiple practice sessions to help us learn and engrain the best way to think, structure and communicate. She stressed research has proven that 3 things (not 2, not 4) are the easiest number of things for an audience (and speaker) to remember, and 3’s should therefore form the foundation of every speech or argument. You should determine your main point or premise and then support it with 3 reasons, and each of those 3 reasons should have 3 pieces of support so your argument takes the shape of a pyramid. She stressed your argument should have “no gaps, and no overlaps”, so if your thinking is sound, your points will flow smoothly. Whether your presentation is organized as “you should do X, and here are the 3 reasons why”, or structured more as a story with “a situation, complication and resolution” (another 3), visualizing and communicating your message as a pyramid with support underneath is the key.
To illustrate, let’s say you were asked to write a paper on why Abraham Lincoln is the best US president ever. Based on the Pyramid Principle, your argument might focus on: 1) his leading and holding the country together through the Civil War, 2) signing the Emancipation Proclamation ending slavery, and 3) showing a man born of humble beginnings could achieve great things.
And once you have your 3, don’t be afraid to add adjectives. I learned to “add adjectives” at HBS when 2 of my best buddies today and I were challenged in a management communications class to highlight Wilmington, DE as a great city to locate a company. If you’ve ever been to Wilmington, it’s truly a bit of an armpit, but I’ll never forget, my buddy Dean started the introduction with the words “Nestled comfortably in the Northeast corridor, Wilmington, DE is a terrific place to work, live and raise a family.” I almost spit out my coffee at the flowery language, but Dean’s reply stuck with me. He said “I use this language all the time, our teacher loves this stuff and I make an E (the highest grade at HBS) every time.” The lesson for me was “it’s great to have the logic and structure behind you, but you need to know your audience and “sell your message”. Throughout my career, in the midst of making really good friends, I picked up nuggets of knowledge, and I hope you’ll make just as good of friends as I have and glean wisdom along your journey.
If you look for them, you’ll spot “3’s” everywhere. Why do you think the Declaration of Independence speaks of the inalienable rights of “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness”? Or the framers of our Constitution established 3 branches of government (Legislative, Executive and Judicial) with checks and balances to uphold the Constitution? Or 1st Corinthians 13 says “these three remain: faith, hope and love, but the greatest of these is love.” We remember and there is strength in 3’s.
So what I’d like to do for the remainder of my time is relate 3 more “3’s” I hope you will remember and take to heart.
I’d also like to share a simple equation:
IQ + EQ – “Book Smarts” + “People Smarts” – the most successful people are both. Everyone is familiar with IQ, but the secret lies in combining book smarts and Emotional Intelligence, being intuitive, reading situations, and truly being people smart. I was one of the most IQ-focused kids when I was at Vanguard, but knowing what I know now, I can’t overemphasize the importance of being people smart as well. I maintain close friendships from Vanguard, SMU, Harvard, and the business world from shared conversations and experiences where we really got to know each other on a personal level. Whether one-on-one or in teams, people smarts and leadership are forged through deep connections, and I hope you build a slew of those relationships in your lifetime. And FYI, people hire and work with people they like, so be likable, responsive, and approachable.
And finally, seek always to be comfortable in your own skin. Don’t let others define you, rather incorporate the best aspects of the people you meet into your makeup, think for yourself and be genuine, and grow in your own confidence. Be the best You you can be! And lastly, please remember your family! You’ll be really busy once you get to school, but just know they really love signs of life and updates!
So guess how many takeaways I have for you as you go out into the world? Of course, 3: 1) think, structure and communicate in 3’s, 2) be a Happy Warrior, and 3) be well-rounded (book smart, people smart, and a really good listener).
Congratulations again on your graduation! Celebrate this day, and best of luck in the future.