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Dr. Jeffrey H. Toney Headshot

Class of 2012: You Need to Fail More

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2012-06-20-Keen_Grads_2012300x200.jpg
Photo: Kean Commencement

At my Commencement Speech to the Class of 2012 at Carteret High School this Thursday, I will deliver something like this:

Class of 2012: You need to fail more .... take chances .... reach.

Let me explain.

After hearing my bio, some of you might think of that person who has succeeded at anything. You may know someone like that. He can earn A's without much studying, letter in a varsity sport without much sweat. Life seems easy, because he never faces defeat or failure. I am not that person. I am lucky enough to be a leader in higher education because I work hard, never stop learning, and have a high tolerance to failure. Think of it this way. If you've never failed, you're not reaching high enough. And it can be easy to fail -- but how you respond to that failure will make all the difference. Turn every challenge into an opportunity, because opportunities open up for the prepared.

I want you to embrace failure, get to know it, understand the opportunities it brings. Become failure's friend, a frequent companion in the exploration of the unknown -- that level of achievement that right now you can only imagine. With each failure, ask yourself: "What could I have done better? Was I reaching too high, or in the wrong direction?" What you learn from these answers will make you a better person. Sure, you'll be disappointed, maybe even depressed, with each failure. But never let it get to you. Once you understand the value of failures, successes will come naturally.

Soon you will be a high school graduate, poised to take on many challenges and become the person you want to be. Your diploma marks a milestone. Now create a new milestone for yourself. Imagine who you want to be, the way you want the world to be, twenty years from now -- 2032. Take a moment and really think about that person -- just the thought of what you will be doing makes you feel good, feel proud. Write it down, post it on Facebook. Now work your way backwards -- what do you need to do to reach that goal? You know, Carteret High School has some impressive alumni. Do you want to be the next Jim Babjak? He formed the rock band The Smithereens. Do you want to be the next Jason Worilds? He plays for the Pittsburgh Steelers. After all, you've got a really good football team!

You can start this summer. Look for internships at a local company, volunteer at a hospital or a nursing home. Whatever you do, go in asking "How can I help?" If you need to earn money at a local store or business, volunteer to do something extra; get to know the manager or the business owner. And if you'd like to do something at Kean -- let's talk.

Education is the great equalizer -- it cuts across all boundaries -- race, sex, socioeconomic. Last week, Gov. Tom Kean spoke at our University's Gala, and said "In America, we are all free. But we are not all wise. The educator's job is to help people become wise, to better govern themselves." Yes, that's my job. Whatever path you choose, do what makes you happy -- follow your passion. Don't ever let anyone tell you that you can't do it, or that you should reach lower. Promise me that once you find it, share it as widely as possible, giving back to your community. The payback will be enormous.

Let me finish with the wisdom of the great poet Herman Hesse, from "Stages."

Since life may summon us at every age
Be ready, heart, for parting, new endeavor,
Be ready bravely and without remorse
To find new light that old ties cannot give.
In all beginnings dwells a magic force

Ask yourself this evening: What will I do with this magic force?