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Marcia Bullard GWU Speech: Former USA Weekend Editor Urges Grads To Volunteer

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Marcia Bullard, who served as editor, president and CEO of USA Weekend in her 25 years there, spoke at George Washington University's School of Business graduation May 14. Below is the full text of her speech.


Congratulations, graduates! It's an honor to share this exciting weekend with you, your family, friends and faculty. Your graduation tonight from the School of Business is a tremendous accomplishment. You've put in a lot of hard work -- and suffered a lot of sleep deprivation -- to reach this goal. You should take great pride in this moment!

Yesterday I was at a business retreat where, coincidentally, one of the topics was about you -- the Millenial generation -- and the impact Millenials will have on the American workplace. Now that you're going to have jobs and some money to spend, the demographers and marketers are starting to slice you and dice you. So I learned a few interesting things about you guys -- such as: 40 percent of you sitting out there have at least one tattoo. And if you have tattoos, 70 percent of you claim we won't be able to see them when you are dressed for work!

But there were a few more serious facts, too: You are the most diverse generation in U.S. history, politically tolerant and proficient with technology. The most meaningful research to me are the studies that show you graduates are off the charts in terms of your sense of social responsibility.

This strikes home with me because it matches up with some thoughts I'd like to share with you as you start out on your careers. I've been thinking about careers a lot lately. I've worked for 36 years in the media business, and I just took an early retirement so I can turn my management skills to a second career in the nonprofit sector.

You have probably spent the past month applying for jobs, writing business plans and answering the question: "What are you going to do?"

I have spent the past month going through 36 years of stuff in my office -- there is a lot of 'stuff' -- and asking my own questions: "What did I do? Did my career make a difference?"

I never could have imagined the career that I've had. My mother thinks it's kind of glamorous. I grew up as one of 6 kids in a middle class family in Illinois. I put myself through college, and got a job as a newspaper reporter. I covered murders and floods and elections. I did investigative stories that exposed wrongdoing. I was asked to come to Washington to be a founding editor of the first-ever national newspaper in the U.S. And then I got to run a business, USA WEEKEND Magazine, which now reaches 50 million people every week. Along the way, I got to do some pretty cool things. I traveled all over the country. I sat in the Oval Office and interviewed President Clinton. I talked politics and charity with Paul Newman over lunch in his New York apartment. I got kissed by Bon Jovi.

But the most meaningful event of my career started on Leap Day in 1992 when we ran some articles in the magazine asking our readers to spend their extra 24 hours doing something good for their neighbors. Well -- 70,000 people did volunteer projects on that one Leap Day. I was stunned. We published many of their stories. Then we heard from hundreds more readers, who asked us keep doing this. We were smart enough to listen to our customers. And now, 18 years later, Make A Difference Day is the nation's largest day of volunteering. ] More than 3 million people turn out every October now to volunteer. That experience changed me, and it changed our magazine.

Last month we published our annual Make A Difference Awards issue. Out of the blue, I got an e-mail, and here is what it says: "I am 17, a cancer survivor and the co-founder of a nonprofit foundation. I was not supposed to be these things . . . but I am. I was diagnosed with a rare cancer when I was 6. I don't remember much about the treatment but I remember being scared, I remember the isolation. I knew when I survived that I could not forget the kids that were still in treatment, and I learned about [your] wonderful day of service called Make A Difference Day. I wondered if a little kid like me could really make any kind of difference to anyone, and I learned quickly that I could. I touched the lives of hundreds of hospitalized kids that first year with my service project."

This letter came from a boy named Nick Marriam, who gave out gift bags in a children's cancer ward when he was 7. We wrote about him in the magazine and he's continued every year since. His letter continues: "The Make A Difference Day Award changed me. It showed me that . . . other people thought what I was doing was important. [It is] the reason I started The Nickelby Project (his foundation). I am thankful every day for being here to make a difference."

Well, if I could keep just one thing from my 36-year career, I would keep that letter.

What I learned from that experience is this: In every job and in every business, we can find ways to connect in positive ways with the communities we serve, and to make a difference. In the best cases, doing good can even help drive the business.

I admire your generation because you are creating this kind of change in our society right now You already have an ethic of community service: You might even be texting to help Haiti at this moment! And on Sunday First Lady Michelle Obama will speak to you because you met her challenge to perform 100,000 hours of public service.

If the demographers and marketers are right that you are the most socially responsible generation yet -- and I sure hope they are -- I urge you to carry that ethic with you and use it to change American business for the better.

As you start working -- whether you are an employee or running your own business -- help your workplaces to be good citizens to the community. More and more companies today are creating offices of Corporate Social Responsibility, forming partnerships with nonprofits, and doing community outreach. You can be a leader for your company in this area -- whether it's a big company or a small one.

I'll offer one last piece of advice that will be good for your career, as well as good for your soul.

No matter what kind of job you have, find a nonprofit organization that you like, and volunteer to serve on its board. You will get all kinds of benefits from this: You will learn about another business with a different set of problems and different customers, you will meet other business leaders serving on that board, and you will learn a lot from them. That will make you better at what you do in your day job.

It is also a way that you -- as a business expert -- can give back. The pressures on nonprofits are increasingly great. They need people like you, people with financial skills, technology skills, marketing skills -- and social values.

You are starting out on a great journey. I hope that when you look back -- say, in about 36 years or so -- that you will be able to say:
· You worked hard, and had some good luck.
· You cared about the people you worked for and with.
· You helped create something -- a program, an event, a business -- that made our nation and the world a better, more enjoyable, more fair, place. That you made a difference.

Thank you, and good luck!