Outten & Golden: Empowering Employees in the Workplace

The Commencement Speech You’ll Never Hear

June 21st, 2010 | Bob Rosner

Image: Bob RosnerIn 1989 I gave my first Commencement Speech at the University of Puget Sound. Even though I wasn’t asked to speak to graduates this year, I decided to not let that hold me back. Actually the speech below is much less for the graduates and really directed at the corporations that seem to value these graduates so highly—much too highly. Without further ado…

Dear Graduates—after wandering the halls of academe for 16, or more years, congratulations. The good news, no more homework. The bad news, say goodbye to summer, your ten-month year is about to come to an end.

My undergraduate years were a valuable time for me. I learned how to do my own laundry, how to drink Jell-o shots, how to use a cafeteria tray as a sleigh, how to kiss with one leg on the floor, how to cram all night for a test and how to forget everything the moment that the test was over—all helpful skills to possess.

Okay, I did learn a few things along the way. Unfortunately none immediately leap to mind. (Lest I seem like a total slacker, Dear Reader, what information do you remember from your college years?)

Which is exactly my point. I think that all graduates deserve congratulations. But this is not about you. I’m concerned that far too many corporations hold the lack of a college education against employees who want to get into management.

Just last week I talked to a woman who had run an office for two U.S. Senators, been a successful entrepreneur and was currently thriving in an entirely new career. She accomplished all of this without a college degree. Yet, there are many jobs that she cannot apply for.

This isn’t coming from a place of envy. I not only have a B.S. degree (a perfect description of my undergraduate years). But I also have a Masters of Business Administration (and isn’t that what the business world needs today, more administrators?). And I’ve served as an Adjunct Professor to MBA students on four separate occasions (in case you are wondering, “Adjunct” is Latin for “poorly paid”).

So my criticism comes from a person who has “paid his dues.” I’ve got the degrees. And I think college is a totally B.S. test for how you’ll perform in today’s workplace. There is nothing wrong with a college education. To use a dessert analogy, the degree is the icing, the cake is the person’s other experiences, expertise and insight.

That does leave us with a problem. If we are going to level the playing field in terms of those with, and those without a college education, how will we decide who is the better person to hire? We’ll have to look at the person and not use a convenient, and inappropriate, yardstick.

A few considerations: What has the person accomplished at work? How do the people they’ve worked with feel about their contributions? Has the person traveled abroad? Have they done volunteer work? Do they speak another language? Do they know what’s going on in the world? Do they understand your industry and its competitors? I would argue that all of these are more reliable measures of what a person can contribute to your organization than a tired, old piece of sheepskin.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t have a beef with college. I just believe that the life experiences and minds of many who have not graced the hallowed halls of academia is a terrible thing to waste. So enjoy your degree. Just don’t look down on people who don’t have one. Heck, you just might be able to learn something from them.

About The Author: Bob Rosner is a best-selling author and award-winning journalist. For free job and work advice, check out the award-winning workplace911.com. Check the revised edition of his Wall Street Journal best seller, “The Boss’s Survival Guide.” If you have a question for Bob, contact him via bob@workplace911.com.

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