John Gaal

Remarks at Commencement - May 22, 2016

Good morning.

Congratulations to today’s graduates, and to all the parents here today who have waited for this day even longer, and with perhaps even more angst, than the graduates themselves.

Having sat through more than one graduation myself, I promise to be brief!

I have to begin by thanking the University for this incredible award.  It is an understatement to say that I am both humbled and honored by this recognition.  To you,  President Fox, and members of the Board of Trustees, my heartfelt thanks.

To you, the graduates of the class of 2016, I wish you much success as you move on beyond St. Lawrence.  I also wish you the wisdom to understand what success really is.  Too often we look all around us to determine how to define success, when in fact we need to look inside of us.  Success is not something to be measured through someone else’s eyes, but only through your own.  It comes in all shapes and sizes, and success for one person may not be success for someone else.  There is nothing wrong with that.  You need to determine for yourself where success lies for you– whether it focuses on career, family, service to your community, or some combination.  And recognize that your definition may change – should change -- as your life progresses.  But success, when properly defined, will undoubtedly help make you happy -- but only when properly defined.

There are many thoughts about what traits are important to achieving success (however you come to define that term).  In my experience the trait that stands out the most is determination or, as described by American psychologist Angela Lee Duckworth, “grit.”  In a 2013 Ted Talk (and for those of you with short attention spans, Ted Talks is definitely the place to go), she described the results of several studies she had conducted which showed that the most significant predictor of success was not talent, not social intelligence, not good looks or good health, and not IQ, but “grit” – which she described as a passion and perseverance for long term goals; living life like a marathon and not a sprint.  While she studied this concept and made her observations in a more traditional context of academic and workplace success, my own experience over these past 40 plus years (since I was a graduate in an audience like this one), suggests that these observations apply in all contexts and facets of your life.

Understanding what is important to you, and then having the determination or grit to stick with its pursuit, promises you much success in life.  And that is what I wish for all of you.

Finally, I would be remiss if I did not offer this closing observation, about St. Lawrence itself.  Unlike each of you, and so many others in attendance today, I did not attend St. Lawrence as a student.  My connection to the University came a bit later in life.  Yet I have had, what for me at least, has been an enduring relationship spanning more than 35 years.  My legal practice has a very heavy focus on higher education, and that has given me the opportunity to see many colleges and universities up close and personal, sometimes up too close and way too personal.  I can say without reservation or hesitation that I have found no institution with a greater commitment to its students than St. Lawrence.  In time you will come to appreciate just how much that commitment, and all of your varied experiences here in the North Country, have shaped your lives for decades to come.

Congratulations again and go make your mark on the world.