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Choose Excellence, Class of 2013

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Last week, I attended Arianna Huffington's inspiring Third Metric conference on redefining success. Two days later, I found myself as the commencement speaker for the Class of 2013 at my alma mater, Sewickley Academy in Pittsburgh, PA.

Reflecting back on the last ten years of my career, I know now that I can redefine success beyond money and power, but I didn't know that in high school. My message to graduates was that what really matters is that you must choose excellence, pick a path and master it, and be the most inspiring version of yourself.

Here's a portion of what I shared in the speech:

So, today is your day.

As you look around at the familiar faces you've seen every day in the halls and out on the fields, I want to share the secret for the next ten years of your life: Choose excellence and be the most inspiring version of yourself you can possibly be. Listen to what YOU want, not what your friends want or what your parents expect of you. Make your mark, take a stand and be willing to be different, be controversial and be a leader -- whether of 1 or 1,000.

Even though I've just recently come to know you, I already feel very protective of you.
Because of that, I want to make sure that nothing ever vanquishes your spirit and you never let mediocrity become cool or fashionable. Because the truth is, you don't have time for that. You've got work to do and each one of us here knows you're up to it.

We are the generation that came of age in the post-9/11 world. 2008 began what many economists consider to be the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression. We are now living in a world that is politically charged, economically volatile, culturally divided, polarized by belief and ideology and facing looming security questions. We are arguably the most informed generation and the first to really feel the weight of the fear that accompanies a scarcity of natural resources. Social tensions are also growing around the world, particularly as inequality and unemployment grows. One in eight global youth will be unemployed this year. By 2050, the world will be hotter by 2 degrees. We will have more insects and less agriculture in the world.

You, as graduates, are poised to respond constructively to these global issues and become global leaders. You bring a new way of working, new ways of seeing and the profound understanding that things have to change -- fast. You are the first "wired" generation. 10 years ago, I couldn't text, tweet, blog, Facebook, Google, Youtube, Pinterest, Instagram... I still used a collect card to call my mom to pick me up from tennis practice.

You have the capacity to attack the world's most daunting challenges and to do it in new ways. And here's the key: You don't have a choice. The world as we know it now won't be here for you when you are the elders. So, what world will you have? What world do you want? You have to use your voice to shape the future, for the good of all.

College gives you the best opportunity to meet and bring different minds together. Take advantage of it. Even if you're sitting here today, knowing that all you want to do is be a doctor or a lawyer, be open to playing a bit with your choices in college. What other interests do you have that you could pursue during the next four years that will not only make you stand out when it's time to go to work, but will also make you better at doing that work?

Also, write or blog about what you are experiencing and learning. Leverage the tools you have differently. We've had a front row seat to watch the growth of Facebook and Twitter. We've watched governments fail, companies change and communities save lives and solve crimes online in real time. That's powerful.

Just do yourself and every future dream you have a favor -- don't post anything you wouldn't want your mom or your future boss to see. Fortunately or unfortunately we've been the guinea pigs when it comes to making every aspect of our lives public. And I'm here to tell you that yes, it does matter. What you say, how you present yourself, who you associate with and the boundaries you put in place matter. So use the tools to show your excellence, and allow your curiosity to be your growth point.

So, as you are leaving your beautiful school behind, keep in mind that the success of your 20s depends on your ability to be a starter. Please don't wait for leaders to pick you, don't wait for them to tell you to start the next online app, social enterprise, campaign, business or community group. Instead, call on the leader in the mirror. Tap into your own leadership potential, because the world desperately needs you.

As I look out into the audience, I have an overwhelming feeling of optimism and it chills me to the core. You see, I know you. I see you. I once was you. There is nothing you can't accomplish. I am certain of it. So, when you throw diploma today, take a picture in your mind of that great expanse and make a promise to yourself that your life will be about excellence. And each time you feel lost or unsure or scared, as you all will at one time or another, remember this day and how it felt to look into the sky and let that passion, excitement, curiosity and belief in yourself carry you forward.

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