My convocation address to Ryerson University Graduates June 2013

by Diane Francis

Ryerson University Convocation

Congratulations on your achievement. But I’m sure some of you are anxious about your futures or the future of the world for that matter. And there is a great deal of news noise. I know I write some of it. You grew up during 9/11, the 2008 financial meltdown, the Great Recession, headlines about youth unemployment, income gaps, slow growth, political and business scandals and worries about your future. 

But when I was younger than you, my generation were living during the Cold War which threatened nuclear armageddon and caused many wars around the world. Two billion people were enslaved in military communist dictatorships. In the U.S., the Vietnam war, civil rights, women’s rights, gay rights caused riots in streets and tumult. That war brought me to Canada as an immigrant and there was no safety net. There were few job opportunities for newcomers so my husband Frank and I started a business and prospered. 

Even worse, when my parents – your grandparents – were your age they had suffered as children through the Great Depression with 60% unemployment, foreclosures and starvation. They had no hope of going to university and Hitler had come to power in Germany. The Second World War was about to begin when 7,000 people died every day for seven years and the world economy was destroyed.

The point is each generation has challenges but yours is by far the luckiest in history. Each of you can look forward to an average lifespan of 100 years. 1 billion more people have risen to the middle class in their countries and out of poverty.

And technology in your lifetime promises:

a. cheap efficient solar panels by 2030 to replace fossil fuels, saving the planet

b. food for all thru vertical urban farms and vegetarianism, replacing commercial farming

c. mining of asteroids, ocean cleanup, and tools for global collaboration

d. In three years, hand held devices and medical sensors that will diagnose diseases or problems early and reduce health care costs and improve outcomes

These are wonderful milestones to look forward to, but life will still deliver to you many pitfalls. So here are six pieces of advice:

1. You are only as successful in life as your ability to deal with failure. Everyone will fail or meet difficulties or obstructions. Take inventory of your part, but remember that even if something was your fault that you did what you did because that’s where you were. Then move on.

2. Corollary to that is: Learn fast and fail faster. Cut your losses.

3. Never forget that there are people who have to win and they will trip or hurt you to get ahead. Be cautious, skeptical and avoid toxic people.

4. Don’t be greedy: A person is as rich as the number of things he or she can live without.

5. Find and follow a moral compass: I found one from a rich man I met in Chicago who started with nothing. He said success was when your customers, workers, landlords, bankers, suppliers, partners, shareholders and society were better off dealing with you than dealing with anyone else. “When you can figure out how everybody can win, including yourself, you get rich!” he said. 

6. Have fun, laugh

And remember there are no guarantees but you have made a great start.

You have already demonstrated dedication, discipline and smarts. Now seize your lives. Don’t let anybody else do that for you.

Good luck.