Producing Leaders the Old Fashion Way: Grit and Tenacity

Persistence and Completion Achieved!

The Road Through

Years ago, there was a popular television commercial in which the late John Houseman ended his advertising pitch by declaring that the investment firm, Smith Barney, makes money the old fashion way by earning it. The commercial ran successfully for some time because it struck a responsive cord in television audiences. Here was a company asserting that while other investment firms might be using fancy approaches to moneymaking, Smith Barney held to a time-honored notion that investment success could be achieved the hard, tried and true way; namely, through painstaking hard work.

Granted the Smith Barney commercial plug was contrived largely as a marketing ploy to set itself apart from the financial investment pack, but there was nevertheless something in that quip that had resonance and verve. It struck a cord because people fundamentally respect and admire those who reach their mark through the rough road of sacrifice and persistence – grit and tenacity - rather than the easy street of personal connections and bedazzlement. Those who climb the ladder of self-development oftentimes possess greater staying power than those who enjoy the fruits of inheritance without labor. In retrospect, the Smith Barney commercial carried so much appeal because it reminded us that nothing worthwhile comes effortlessly.

Few things require more effort of us than the taxing work of thinking and concentration. In an age of instant gratification, it is hard, really hard, to commit to the oftentimes slow and arduous work of learning something new. It takes time and persistence to acquire new skills, knowledge and competence. Thinking is hard work. If it were not so, every ditch digger would possess a Ph.D. The point I am making is that there is something truly uplifting in pursuing a certificate or associate degree at CCD that you know but may not stop to savor. The end of an academic year is a fine time to pause, take a deep breath, and congratulate yourselves on your incredible grit and tenacity.

It Takes Hard Work

As a parent as well as an educator and college president, I know it takes hard work to transform yourselves into a refined, well-spoken, and well-read scholar. Nevertheless, as inquisitive high school graduate or a seasoned worker or homemaker returning to schools after a long time that is exactly what you are doing. Year after year, for almost half a century, CCD faculty and staff members have joined you in your resolve to becoming America’s finest by doing the hard, unglamorous work of accepting the rigors that all students must accept on the path to achieving success.

Some of you will be graduating from CCD next week, while others will be preparing for summer CCD classes or other endeavors. To all, I send my best. To those who will be completing CCD as earners of certificate and associates degrees, I urge you to participate in the May 12th Commencement. I will be an event you will remember the rest of your life. Here’s why. You may or may not realize it, but by Commencement Day, your verbal and written skills will have improved dramatically. You will have gained the skill of speaking and writing by practice. By the time you graduate, your ability to meet and converse with people from all walks of life will have substantially improved. Bravo!

Whether you’re graduating on not, by being at CCD you’ve sharpen your talent at conversation through reading widely, listening carefully, and speaking plainly. Continue to read as much outside your field of study as within it. For example, if you are a science major, read as much literature, poetry, and essays as possible. If you are an accounting major, know the distinction between nuclear fission and fusion and the contributions of such scientists as Charles Drew and Edward E.

Just to our collective knowledge. Listening skills are enhanced through meditation and by adopting daily quiet periods which allow you to hear your inner voice and the whispers of the universe. Listen for what people mean as well as what they say and you will be beloved. At all times, develop the knack of expressing complex ideas in simple language.

The hallmark of a truly educated person is that person’s ability to use a simple rather than flashy word. Study the writing of Abraham Lincoln as an example of eloquence through simplicity. Lincoln never sought to elevate himself over others through language inflation. 

Finally, look homeward. Forget the adage that you cannot go back home. Even if you in fact plan to leave Denver to return your hometown in another land or attend a four-year institution elsewhere, stay grounded in all things CCD as well as the sources of strengthen that are yours from your childhood homestead. Share with everybody you meet the grit and tenacity that you perfected here at CCD. Always remember that the learning enterprise is one of the greatest experiences of a life time. Keep at it. Enjoy it. Excel in it. And now you know what precisely how Leaders are produced; namely, through old-fashion grit and tenacity!