Saturday, December 13, 2014 10:00am
Dr. Johnson, trustees, faculty members, graduates, family and friends… It is an honor to join you on this day of triumph, celebration and new beginnings.
University of St. Francis… Class of 2014… You have earned the right to look in the mirror… smile… and say, ‘Hey, I did it!’
And you should know how proud you have made your parents, grandparents, siblings, teachers and friends.
Today is their day, too, to share in the honor… for being there… for standing behind you… for believing in you… perhaps even for paying for your education.
Some of you might have thought this day would never come.
On any important journey, there are always daunting roadblocks.
The doubts might have weighed on you while you felt like you just didn’t have enough time to get everything done… going to class… working a job… tending to your family… and trying, somehow, to find the time to study.
Or maybe it was when you sat in a classroom… and puzzled over some complicated concept or formula that just seemed to be beyond your reach.
Perhaps it was when a test came back with a disappointing mark… and your heart sank and you wondered if your grade point average had just dropped.
Maybe you wondered, deep down, whether you were really smart enough to be here at all.
Well, you are.
And today, you’ve got it in writing!
You proved it to the world. And perhaps… no, definitely… what is even more important… you proved it to yourself. Nobody can ever take away your college degree. Regardless of what happens in your life, you will forever and always be a graduate of the University of St. Francis — not bad for a working class kid!
As you know, it takes more than smarts to get through college. It takes persistence, determination, discipline. These are the qualities that employers covet.
To get to this place, you have demonstrated the strength of character. And that, as much as anything else, will guide you through life.
I am a local boy. I grew up in the countryside outside of Lockport, not far from here. In my family, there were nine of us living in a two-bedroom house. Money was tight. For most of the years of my childhood, we didn’t have a TV. I didn’t have a bedroom.
My parents actually didn’t want me to go to college. My dad… a man who was angry at the world and who drank too much… would call me some very mean names when I was a kid. He was emotionally and physically abusive. My mom who was a waitress thought that college people looked down their noses at those with less education.
I mention this… not because I was special in this regard… but rather… because I am not.
A lot of kids grow up in troubled homes without much money, looking at big obstacles to overcome. You might have been one of them.
If not, then you have surely faced other kinds of difficult challenges… because every single one of us faces adversity… nobody goes through life unscathed.
In my case, for much of my adult life, I struggled to find success as an entrepreneur. Along the way, I moved around the country… I endured plenty of disappointments… setbacks… failures.
I remember vividly the day I had to beg the ‘repo’ man with a tow truck not to haul away my car… I remember getting a foreclosure notice in the mail… I was behind on my house payments and the sheriff was threatening to put our furniture out on the street and lock us out of the house.
I know the feeling of seeing unpaid bills stack up… of getting calls from bill collectors… of seeing credit cards get canceled. They were difficult hardships, but they taught me a lot about what it feels like to struggle… and to understand the tough times that other people are experiencing.
I just wrote a book, “Through the Fires,” that addresses turmoil in business and in my personal life. What do you use as a moral compass to get through the difficult times?
When I was about 20, I asked myself a question — and I encourage you to seriously consider this question: When I am 60 or older, if I am lucky enough to grow that old, will I be proud of the life I have led? Will I have made a difference? A positive one?
The right thing to do, it seems to me, is to always try to do the right thing.
Over time things have come together quite nicely for me. I am now a Fortune 1000 CEO/entrepreneur who has been fortunate enough to have achieved significant success. My company, Heartland Payment Systems, is one of the largest debit and credit card processors in America. We are a company whose value now exceeds $2B and is traded on the New York Stock Exchange. And most proudly of all, my company has created 3,700 jobs and 87% of our employees say that Heartland is a great place to work.
I now own the home that was designed, built and originally occupied by President Woodrow Wilson in Princeton, New Jersey.
And I’m still the kid from Lockport Township High School. Lockport and Will County are in my bones and they will always be there.
It was at Lockport High… during my senior year… that I caught a break. I received a $250 scholarship for college from the Lockport Woman’s Club.
I surely could use the money. But even more important than the money, the award was a signal that, ‘Hey, young Bob Carr, somebody important thinks you are smart and capable and worth an investment.’
And so are you, now a University of St. Francis graduate. How cool is that?
When my business became an overnight success after 25 years of hard work, I established the Give Something Back Foundation. It awards scholarships to deserving students who come from families without a lot of money. It was my gesture of gratitude for that $250 scholarship I received as a senior.
Our foundation now works with three four-year universities, helping deserving students from modest means afford to go to… and graduate from college. Your forward-thinking University of St. Francis, I am proud to say, is one of our partner universities.
Thanks to the foundation, even more students from Will County will be following your path to this campus over the next decade and beyond.
We chose St. Francis for some of the same reasons that might have drawn you here. For nearly a century, it has offered a great education… the administrators and faculty are committed to making a difference… and the students are smart and hard-working people — my kind of people. In many cases, they are the first generation in the family to go to college, as I had been myself.
As this university’s website makes clear, St. Francis devotes itself to essential values that it deems as particularly important:
These are easy words to say, but they are the ingredients for a meaningful life.
As you embark on careers, you will be confronted with many choices.
What is truly important to me?
How will I spend my time and energy on this earth?
Not long ago, I talked to a young woman who was one of our first Give Something Back Foundation graduates. She was weighing a job offer with a big salary increase — a 50 percent increase in fact! She was currently working for a company that treated her well… and operated with a high standard of ethics.
But along came this other competitor company… offering her REALLY big bucks. She would be making three times the annual salary that her single mother ever earned in her entire life!
But she had some misgivings. She heard the owner of the company… the one offering the big raise… had kind of a sleazy reputation. As she sat in the interview, she said her head was telling her one thing… Go for the big money… while her gut was telling her something else. She didn’t believe the new employer would do right by her clients.
Still… we’re talking a lot of money here. And she was only 25 years old. She had every excuse in the book to make a very costly mistake.
As a member of the Give Something Back family, she knew she could call me for advice.
She explained it this way: When you grow up having money problems, the first question tends to be how much can I make?
She knew that I had grown up in similar circumstances, and she wanted my perspective.
No amount of money, I told her, is worth working for a company that you don’t believe in… and that won’t do the right thing. I told her that nobody can take away your self-respect but you can ruin it all by yourself. Are you going to be able to respect yourself if you are working for a company that cheats its customers?
Besides that, you’re probably not likely to be as successful, simply because you won’t believe in what you are doing. You will lose your passion and that is one of the things that makes you so very special!
She passed on the offer. Just last week, about three years later, she wrote to say that some of her friends thought she was insane to turn down that kind of money.
I see it otherwise. She is a person with talent and principles. She has done just fine in her career these past few years… she continues to be proud of the company she represents. And she can sleep well at night knowing she’s not compromising her ethics. Does it get any better than that?
I’m proud of this young woman. What’s more, I have a lot of respect for the Millennials, in general.
Young people seem to take a lot of guff these days. The bashing is tired and familiar. And I’m sure you’ve heard plenty.
Young people feel entitled. They lack work ethic. They are self-absorbed. They are apathetic.
I am here to look you in the eye and tell you… “This is just so much bull!
The young people I see joining our company demonstrate a sense of purpose… a superior set of technological skills… and an eagerness to get along with other people.
When it comes to credit card use, young people today don’t handle financial debt quite like the mature folks a generation before them.
The ‘kids,’ it turns out, behave much more responsibly!
A Federal Reserve Bank report in 2014 found that people under twenty-one were significantly less likely to be delinquent in credit card payments than were those in middle age.
According to one study, people in the age group forty to forty-four were 12 percent more likely to be at least 90 days delinquent on credit card bills than were nineteen-year-olds.
You heard that right… young people as a group have shown greater financial discipline than older people.
As I don’t have to tell you, young people leaving college today bear a heavy burden in student debt… it now surpasses $1.3 trillion… more than all credit card debt combined. More than all auto loans in America!
It is unfair that such a heavy burden has been placed on young people. I support efforts to reform loan programs to forgive such onerous debt. And I urge companies and foundations throughout the United States to do more to fund scholarships for college.
At the Give Something Back Foundation, we are willing to share all details of our scholarship model… and to help others set up their scholarship programs.
It is my goal to put 1,000 deserving kids through college. We have 25 percent of this number identified… either in our high school program or in college or through college, having earned the same degree you are receiving today.
Young people should be commended for the good work you are doing… for the ways you are contributing to society… and for the promise you hold as the emerging leaders of this society.
Compared to their parents’ generation, young people today are less likely to smoke cigarettes, engage in risky sexual behavior or drive while drunk.
You are the most racially and ethnically diverse generation in American history. You have grown up being more accepting of differences… a wonderful attribute in a world where people need to learn to get along with one another.
Young people today bring a genuine commitment to a shared well-being, whether it is promoting a thriving workplace or a healthier planet.
A recent Pew study identified the top three priorities of the Millennials: Being a good parent; having a successful marriage; and helping others in need.
At the bottom of the list, registering a scant 1 percent, was the desire to become famous.
I applaud that kind of thinking.
Yet another study points to numbers that show the Millennials have more social consciousness than any other generation. More than 70 percent of young people believe they can derive happiness by working for a firm that makes some sort of positive social impact.
Get this: 65 percent of young people would take a cut in pay to work for such an honorable organization. I guess our young scholarship winner — the one who turned down the 50 percent pay raise from a shady outfit — was not alone.
Still other studies show that more than 80 percent of Millennials say that making a difference in the world is more important than professional recognition.
And 92 percent believe that businesses should be measured by more than profits.
As much as I have confidence in our new generation of Millenials, I also want to acknowledge those graduates who have come back to school at a more advanced age to receive their college degree today. My hat is off to you because you were not deterred. You kept the dream alive. I can only imagine what you have gone through in your life, but I am certain that you have each had struggles of your own. You have overcome them and, as I want to repeat, no one can ever take away what you have accomplished here today — earning a college degree!
Class of 2014: Keep the faith. You are changing the world for the better.
I congratulate you. I admire you. And I am pulling for you.
Enjoy your day. It is a special one indeed!