JFK Winner Sam Chandler’s Speech at UMass Boston’s 45th Commencement

Sam Chandler | May 31, 2013
JFK Award Winner Sam Chandler delivered remarks on behalf of the Class of 2013.

JFK Award Winner Sam Chandler delivered remarks on behalf of the Class of 2013.
Image by: Harry Brett

Good morning everyone, thank you Chancellor for those flattering remarks…

It is such a great honor to be standing before you all as the 2013 John F. Kennedy award winner.

I cannot begin to thank everyone who has supported me throughout my studies here at UMass Boston, but it goes without saying that I am only here because of the effort and care of many wonderful people, many of whom are here today.

Thank you Mom, Dad, Monica, my friends, Professors, Gus St. Silva, all the staff in the Campus Center and College of Management, and many others for everything that you have done, I am so lucky to be surrounded by such a group of amazing and inspiring people.

I hope you all are enjoying this beautiful weather – what a great day it is to be here on the ocean and on this wonderful campus…

You know, it is such a beautiful day that I think I can see across the harbor, just about to where some of you have had to park…

I am proud to stand before you today as a Son, brother, friend, United States Marine, and a soon to be UMass Boston alumnus.

During my time here at UMass I may have gotten lost in McCormack Hall, wondered what the heck the first floor is doing above the UL, drove in circles trying to park, and stressed about the Wi-Fi, but today it sure seems like it all worked out.

Class of 2013, I can’t think of a better climate to learn than one where my peers have been so diverse.  I don’t just mean from the south shore of Boston and the west coast, I mean that in every single one of the courses that I have taken, there were students in it from all over the world.  I’ve brushed up on my Spanish with mi amigo Julito in the campus center, and been dazzled by classmates speaking Portuguese, Russian, German, French, Ukrainian, Hebrew, Arabic, you name it! It has been such a pleasure getting to know so many of you over the last four years.  This has been a journey that we’ve all taken together, and, if you’re here today, then we’ve made it out the other side.

I know that many of us have families with us here today, celebrating this great accomplishment and showing their support for us once again. Whether you’ve had ten brothers and sisters helping you along the way or just a few friends and family, lets be sure to remember today just who taught us how to tie our shoes, helped us get our applications in, and went through this adventure by our side.

So when I was growing up, my Mom - who you’re all going to get to know a little bit right now—every time that we went out hiking or even just in the back yard, she’d stop to point out all of the different plants and animals and flowers.  She would always notice the flowers that we didn’t see or the buds on the bushes that were getting ready to bloom. As an eight-year-old I often thought to myself, WOW, how does Mom always spot this stuff?

I realize now what she was really teaching me was more than just to watch out for Poison Ivy and which berries I could eat.  It was the value of paying attention to your surroundings and appreciating the world that we live in. My Mom taught me that it takes time and practice to notice things around you, and not to take nature for granted. Nowadays it’s easy to walk down the sidewalk or through the halls just scrolling through your news feed, but I’m here to say that we should take a page from my Mom. Look up, notice your friends, say hi to people, engage with your world and don’t forget to smile. So thanks Mom, I love you.

When I was about 12 years old my older brother started working on a farm, so as the younger sibling naturally I had to as well.

Spending summers out in the fields and on the farm I learned a lot of things—beyond how to tell when the beans and corn were ready to be picked, I learned a thing or two about hard work. We worked with Bill, whose family had been farming that land for generations. One thing that we always admired about him was that he could fix just about anything with bailing twine and a pair of vice grips. He did everything with nothing, fixing things we may have long given up on.

From Bill I learned that not only is there no substitute for a hard days work, but also that with the right mindset there is no task too large, and no problem too tough, and that with a little bit of creativity and determination there is nothing that you cannot overcome. Bill would encounter a task, scratch his head a little bit, and then get right to it, not stopping until it was done. That type of will and grit is something that that I’ve carried with me throughout my life, often imagining what Bill would say when I was lamenting about writing an essay or doing some chores.  Now I also learned from Bill nothing beats fresh vegetables that you’ve grown yourself, but there is no real parable behind that, its just fact.

In high school I learned from my Father that when you drop your ego, and do things without asking anything in return, you often get more than you could ever ask for.  Whether it be lending a helping hand to someone in need, or putting forth that little bit of extra effort that makes someone’s day better, my Dad showed me how to find satisfaction in selfless acts.   This became a core value of mine, and is something that ultimately led me to answer a call to serve my country.

So after high school I joined the United States Marine Corps. Although I’m not quite sure I realized what I was committing myself too, I knew, much like here at UMass Boston, that one way or another I would come out the other side as a better person.

In the Marine Corps, every time we learned a new skill, we called it “adding something to our toolbox.”  Now, thinking about that, I realize more and more that much of life is about what you can add to your “tool box.”  At UMass Boston, I’ve added a lot of different skills, and had experiences that have taught me what to do (and what NOT to do).

I’ve learned that, just like on the farm, there is no substitute for hard work, which at UMass meant:  Attending class, paying attention, and engaging with the Professors.

I’ve learned that everything you do creates your very own brand, every email that you send represents you, and every conversation that you have leaves an impression. I don’t know about you, but I don’t like to put my name on anything that doesn’t represent who I am and what I stand for.

As I prepare to leave UMass and embark on my next endeavor, I realize that beyond adding tools to my skill set, life is also about USING those tools.  Just like a race car with no driver or an airplane without a pilot, the skills and abilities that we have are wasted unless we put them to use.

A great example of someone who puts his toolbox to use every day—literally and metaphorically—is my friend John.  Working 50 to 60 hours a week and taking night classes at Bunker Hill, John is driven largely by pure love for his Brother, who we lost in 2002. With the intention of creating a memorial scholarship in his brothers’ memory, John realized that an education could be his greatest tool in this pursuit, and set off with a determination that I can only compare with what I’ve seen in the Marine Corps.

John shows me the importance of finding a dream that is important to you.  He shows me that when you pursue a goal that is true to your heart, there is nothing that can stand in your way.  Last November John and I, with the help of many friends and family, hosted the first annual Boston River Run to raise money for our charity. John and I would’ve never been able to embark on this endeavor if it weren’t for our educations.  John’s story motivates me because he shows me that hard work and determination really do pay off, and that when you figure out your dreams then you should do everything in your power to achieve them, because nobody will do it for you.

John F. Kennedy once said:

“Let us think of education as the means of developing our greatest abilities, because in each of us there is a private hope and dream, which, fulfilled, can be translated in benefit for everyone, and greater strength for our nation.  One person can make a difference and everyone should try”

Pursuing your dreams is one of the purest endeavors that you can undertake, whether it means to be the first in your family with a college education, or the CEO of your own company, or both! Determination and resolve are traits that benefit not only you but also everyone around you.

So now is the time to ask yourselves, Class of 2013, what are your hopes and dreams?

How will you use this education that you have worked SO HARD for?
What do you have in your toolbox?

Will you use that to make the world a better place?

Like John, will you work towards your dreams as tirelessly as they deserve?

When you go to bed at night will you be proud of what you’ve accomplished?

When you look back on your life, will today be the day that you set out into the unknown and hit the ground running?!?!

My friends…I hope that you will.  Thank you.  Semper Fi.

Note: As prepared for delivery

Tags: jfk award , jfk winner , management

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