The Allure of Success

Wake Forest University Commencement
By Nathan O. Hatch
Hearn Plaza, Wake Forest University

Wake Forest President Nathan O. Hatch
Wake Forest President Nathan O. Hatch

Class of 2007, a day like today is a magnificent touchstone in your lives. It is an opportunity to celebrate your time and your achievements at Wake Forest, a day to share with family and friends, and those here who are dear to you. Savor the moment, take note of this milestone and reflect on its significance. It would also be appropriate to stop and thank your parents and other family members for their love and for all they did to make this day possible. Would all of our graduates please stand and take a moment to salute the members of your family here today.

Class of 2007, today I have a simple word of parting advice. Take note of the allure of success. For the next few years, the most formative influence in your life will be the vocation you choose. Your occupation, or the education leading to it, will likely embrace you with a grip powerful and alluring, rivaling family and friends, church and synagogue. It is your management training group, your investment bank, your advertising company, your legal or medical, or doctoral education that will consume most of your waking hours and exact your most creative energies. Your profession will whisper in your ear when to get up in the morning, telling you what neighborhoods you should live in, what to wear to work, where to take clients to lunch, and what kind of clubs or organizations you should join.

This kind of professional formation — in management, in law, in medicine, in education — is a wonderful thing, necessary to the kind of expertise required of leaders. But take note of its formative power; and be wary that the quest for success — being pressed into a certain mold — comes with at least one assumption that it is worth using your Wake Forest education to question. It is a siren song that lures you to believe that a person’s worth is based strictly on your achievement, that success is the measure of all.

In a culture that worships success, it is far too easy to applaud ourselves when we succeed and reproach ourselves when we don’t. And by these same standards, we tend to measure others by their relative position and influence.

I trust that your education at Wake Forest reinforced a different message, one first conveyed to you by your families so many of whom grace this occasion. That message is that your value and meaning in life is worth infinitely more than whatever credentials, promotions, and bonuses come your way. Your life, for each and every one of you, is a priceless treasure, before which fame or fortune fall away as mere trinkets. Take joy in the gifts that you have; and do not equate performance with your value as a person.

It is for this reason that Wake Forest, as an alma mater, strives to know her children one by one. Today, we salute each of you, our graduates. We are honored that in this place you have lived, and learned, laughed and cried, struggled and overcome, made friends and reached out a helping hand. Today we rejoice in each of your accomplishments; but even more we rejoice that each and every one of you is an honored graduate of Wake Forest University.

As we bid you leave of this place, go forth to achieve great things, yes, but not achievement as an end in itself. May you know the grace not to envy those persons more gifted than you; and the grace not to look past those persons who seem more ordinary. Take joy in the person you were created to be. In doing so, may you find your place in that train of Wake Forest graduates which, for over a century and a half, has leavened every walk of life for the common good.