Remarks of Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam
University of Memphis Commencement
May 5, 2012
Dr. Raines, faculty, staff, parents and families who are here to celebrate this exciting
day, and to you the students who have put a lot of time and effort into getting to
this point, I am pleased to be with you and to have the opportunity to personally
It is truly an honor for me to be here today to mark your graduation and to be a part
of this great university’s 100th anniversary. Not only has the university been educating students for the past century,
it continues to make a significant impact on the local community and the entire state
of Tennessee. It generates more than $1.4 billion in local economic impact, has more
than 22,000 students enrolled, and employs 2,500 people.
As an alumnus of the University of Memphis, you are joining a list of distinguished
alumni from CEOs, to scientists, to U.S. Senators, to Miss Americas, to actors, to
professional athletes, to game show hosts, to authors…and the list goes on of successful
Americans who cheer for the Tigers.
I am here today for two reasons: First, to celebrate your significant achievement.
Many of you are the first in your family to graduate. A lot of you have taken on jobs
to help pay for your education. All of you have worked hard to attain this degree.
Secondly, I want to encourage you to be part of a bigger story that is happening as
you graduate from the University of Memphis. As governor, I can tell you that this
school plays a critical role in what we are trying to do in the State of Tennessee.
It’s as simple as this – if Tennessee is going to be a healthy, thriving state, then
it is critical for Memphis and West Tennessee to be a healthy, thriving area. And
honestly, I believe that if Memphis and West Tennessee are going to be healthy and
thriving, then the University of Memphis and its graduates have to play a leading
role in this city and region. I know that all of you will probably not stay in Memphis,
but I truly hope that most of you do. We need your brain power, your energy, and your
commitment to make Memphis a great city.
We recognized the importance of this institution in this year’s state budget, which
includes $10 million for general maintenance on this campus and planning money for
the proposed Biochemistry and Biology facility here along with $4 million for the
university’s Lambuth campus.
Thirty-two years ago I was sitting where you are today at my college graduation. Now,
I know you aren’t really listening that closely because to be honest, I wasn’t that
engaged in my graduation. I actually went online last week to find who the speaker
was because I couldn’t remember. In keeping that in mind, I’m well aware that you
don’t need to hear from me very long, but I do want to leave you with a few lessons
that I’ve learned and have been helpful to me along the way.
First, be a great listener. I made better grades in college than in high school because
I moved from the back row to the front row. I am convinced that the most important
thing I do as a governor is listen.
Second, keep learning. The most interesting, challenging people I know have committed
to being life-long learners.
Third, be a person of grace. A friend once told me that everyone walks with a limp,
and too many people spend their time trying to figure out what makes other people
Fourth, be a person of humility. There are two kinds of people. The first walks into
a room and says, “Here I am.” The other walks in and says, “There you are.” You don’t
want to be the type of person who has to be the bride at every wedding or the corpse
at every funeral.
I often get asked what has been the most surprising thing about being governor, and
it may sound funny, but I didn’t realize what a big deal it is to be governor. I understood
the demands and responsibilities of the job, but I wasn’t prepared for how people
react to the governor of Tennessee - my jokes are funnier, and people stand up when
I get up to speak…it is easy to start thinking you are a big deal. But it isn’t that
they’re reacting to Bill Haslam but rather showing the respect they have for the office.
I’ve also experienced humility in this position. I was at an event and saw a young
boy walking up to me with a pen and paper in his hand and started to bend down to
sign an autograph for him, and he walked right past me to get Daryl Waltrip’s autograph.
Fifth, learn to deal with disappointment without bitterness. Everyone deals with disappointment
at some point in his or her life. Michael Jordan was cut from his high school basketball
team, and the Beatles were rejected by a record label early in their career. It is
a fact of life that your dreams will be broken as many times as they’re realized.
It is how you handle the tough times that shape the victories.
Finally, work hard. Work really, really hard. The truth for both of us is it is game
on. Whether you’re the governor of the state of Tennessee or whether you’re graduating
from college and beginning the next chapter of your life, you’ve likely had a lot
of support from a lot of people.
I believe that life is like a relay race - we all grab the baton at a certain point.
As you celebrate this important accomplishment of earning your degree, all of the
people that have served as your support system over the years (your parents, grandparents,
teachers, coaches, etc.) are handing you the baton today and saying, “You go now.”
Graduates, congratulations on finishing this leg of the race. I wish you the best
as you take off on a new path. And to the University of Memphis, congratulations on
100 years of education success.