December 2016 Graduation Address by Mr. Donald Godwin - an outline
Thank you, thank you Dr. Rudd for the wonderful introduction, to the trustees for inviting me here today, and to all who are in attendance, I would like to also recognize my wife Carmen over here, who has been with me for thirty nine years, for joining me today. Thank you so much, I appreciate that honey. We have with us today our daughter and son in law, they will come to the afternoon session, and our two grandkids, eight and five years of age. I can assure you would not be nearly as quiet after about fifteen minutes if they were here this morning.
I have, I have some comments I would like to make to you today. But first I would like to say to all the graduates Congratulations. This is a special day to you and I am just so pleased and proud to be a part of this. I want you to reflect on your journey, if you will for a moment, graduates. It is obvious to me, and probably all others here, that you will have made a decision to change your life by attending the University of Memphis and earning your degree. You have made a decision that you want to do something better with your lives and perhaps what you have experienced to date. I want to ask all of you graduates, if you will, to, as you reflect on your journey, just close your eyes for a moment and just think about some things that I am going to say to you, and just think privately about things that matter to you as you sit here today on this very significant day in your lives. Just imagine, just imagine what your life would be like if you were not graduating today. Just imagine your life if you had not decided, and committed, to go to college. Just imagine if you could, just imagine your life if you were not here right now, just imagine what your life will be like now that you have graduated from the University of Memphis, and you have worked hard and tirelessly for all these years to accomplish this goal. This reminds me of a quotation from one of our famous presidents, President Calvin Coolidge, the thirtieth president of the United States, where he talked about what it means to achieve, what it means to, to aspire, to accomplish something that others never thought possible for you. Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not. Nothing, nothing is more common than unsuccessful men and women with immense talent. Genius will not, unrewarded genius is almost a proverb, education will not. The world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone will control the outcomes of the world, and the outcomes of your lives. The slogan press on, press on, has solved, and always will solve, the problems of the human race. Think about what that means in your lives, graduate, that on those days when you thought there was not much going to happen that was going to be for you, you just had to press on. And you see where you are today. I would ask you to consider, graduates, this is just the beginning.
Although congratulations are certainly in order for your accomplishments, it is important to you, today is the starting line, not the finish line. Your journey continues past today as you continue to proceed toward new goals and great accomplishments. Nothing is accomplished by living in the past. Nothing is accomplished by sitting back and, and reveling in all the things you have done. It is the dreaming about what you are going to do in the future that is important, based upon what you have done to get to this point, and to the point of where that dream can become reality. I am hopeful for each of you, that you will achieve many more accomplishments and celebrations like the one you are accomplishing and achieving here today.
Your journey is a marathon, it is not a sprint. Just imagine what your life will be like if you never give up, you never give in. You will have many ups and downs in life, as you all know, as you know, you will wake up many days, and you will wonder what is life, what does life have in store for me today? You have to keep striving, and, and seeking to achieve every single day. You can not give up to be successful where you are in attaining these degrees, you have had to work hard every day, not four days a week, not three days a week, you do it every day, some more than others obviously. It will take hard work, but just imagine what your life will be if you recognize, seize, and take advantage of every opportunity that is presented to you. They are out there, is just a matter of recognizing them, and when you do, what are you going to do with it? Now just imagine what your life will be like if you do not take advantage of these opportunities, of the opportunities that you have earned the right to. Now that you have these degrees and you go forward. You are going to be given opportunities that your family, your friends, and others, who are not graduating, and maybe never have, will never be able to take advantage of, but for what you have accomplished, and you should be congratulated for that. There will be many people as we all know, in your lives, who will not necessarily be in your corner. Not everybody is going to be a cheerleader for everybody else, we all know that is human nature. There, but there also be many, many, many more people who are willing to give you a helping hand and want the best for you. You have to be able to recognize these people, and remember them as they provide you with opportunities that will give you the ability, ability to challenge yourselves to do more than you ever dreamed possible. Do not let anybody pull a glass ceiling on you. You have to be able to earn peoples trust, and instill in them a confidence in you, as when you are out in the real world, where you are working, or you are a teacher at a university, or wherever you may be in your life, you are going to be working under people that you are going to impress, and if you impress them and work hard, it is going to give them not only the ability to do things for you, but it will help their careers as well. And what is more, what is more satisfying that to see others benefit from your hard work? When you can work hard and do well for others, whether it is your family or your employers, and you see them benefit from it, that should be very gratifying. Never ever forget those people in your lives who give you a helping hand along the way. Do not ever forget it. Do not ever, as my mother used to say to me back in North Carolina, Don, do not ever forget where you came from. Do not ever forget where you came from, because as you go up that ladder of success in life, remember there is going to come a time when you are going to have to come back down, and you are going to pass those very people that you passed on the way up. Be respectful and mindful of others, always, no matter where you go in life, no matter what you achieve.
Never let your circumstances limit your goals and expectations that you have yourselves. Just imagine breaking free from, and exceeding, the expectations your circumstances in life, or other people have placed on you. Now imagine if you do not let yourself dream. If you do not let your expectations and hope succeed others wildest dreams. I suggest to you, in life, dream big. Small dreams do not accomplish very much, dream big. Whether you get there or not, the fact is, as long as you dream big, and you plan to do great things, you will accomplish great things. If you do not get up to bat, and you do not swing to knock a home run, you are not likely to knock a home run. Whatever you do, whatever you do, you strive to do more than anybody ever thought possible. There are many in this building here today whose families never thought they would have the opportunity to walk down this aisle and come up here and get a diploma, and I congratulate all of those families that have kids here today that are getting degrees, which you never had an opportunity to get. My Dad to the tenth grade in school. My mother was a graduate, my dad was a mechanic, and then later a car salesman, worked hard all his life, a God fearing man, my mother was a great lady, she took in, when I was young, washing and ironing in order to help us be able to get by if you will, but they talked to us repeatedly about get an education. As my dad and mom used to say, if you do not get an education Don, and my sister and brother, you are not going to have the opportunities come your way that those with an education will, and they were great people, and they worked hard, but they came from the farm, they came from a background where they did not have the opportunity to do what we did. I came from a small town in North Carolina, grew up, certainly not from a privileged family, and was able to meet some folks, actually, going to make me embarrassed to say in some ways, but when I got out of high school, we could not afford for me to go to college, so for the first year I stayed out, and I worked at Winn-Dixie food store, and I thought that is all I was ever going to do, and when I was asked what I wanted, it was to be a manager of a Winn-Dixie food store. Well that was a long time ago, and I felt a lot of pride in taking that position.
I met a young man who was a professor at University of North Carolina-Wilmington after I had attended there on a scholarship, and he was a graduate of the University of Memphis. His name is Robert Appleton. He had his masters degree in accounting from here, and he was there at Wilmington, and he said to me when I was going to graduate, Don, what would you like to do with your life? And I said, well I would like to go on, I had passed the C.P.A. exam, and I am in my senior year in college, and I would like to go to work for Winn-Dixie in their home office. He said why don't you go to graduate school? I never dreamed that big, I never thought of that being a possibility. He said let me help you. I did not apply to any school but the university, excuse me, to Memphis State University. I got a scholarship, I came here, I was here for a year and a half. I never thought I would be here.
At that point my life, I had never been on an airplane. I had only been to three states, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Virginia in my life, before I came to Tennessee. What I am talking about is opportunities and seizing those opportunities when they are presented. As I was about to graduate with my masters degree, having been a graduate assistant for one of the most kind human beings I ever met, Dr. Jesse Spiceland, I was asked by then Dean James Thompson of the business, accounting school, what would you like to do now Don? I said I would like to go on back to Winn-Dixie and maybe go to Jacksonville, Florida and work in their home office, I thought I had earned that right. I thought I had earned that with a masters degree. So Don, we think you need to do more than that. This was a mentor, this was somebody did not owe me anything. He said to me, no, you need to go to law school. I said what are you talking about law school?
I grew up in North Carolina, and I went to the Baptist Church, the lawyers and doctors sat on the front row, we sat on the back row. What would I know about lawyers? I never met one. He said I want you to meet one, he introduced me to a wonderful gentleman here in town named John Kimbrough, and from there, they arranged for me to go down to S.M.U. and Texas, where I had never been, an interview with the Dean of the law school down there, and as I did that, I was, I took the exam to get in, was given a scholarship there, but you will find it interesting, that when I went into the Deans office, I sat down, he said, Don, I see you worked long and hard, you did not go to college with your friends, but you graduated in a four year program in three years and you did well, he said Son, you took advantage of the opportunities that came your way. You went on and graduated high your class in undergraduate school, passed the C.P.A. exam, done extremely well here at the University, at Memphis State University, and he said why do you not go to law school? I said we do not have the resources to go.
I never thought about being a lawyer. I was not dreaming big back then, because I was dreaming what I thought was realistically. He said to me, Don, today may be your lucky day. Here comes another one of those angels coming my way, like will come your way, graduates, and may have already been there. He said Don, I want you to listen to me, Son I have always wanted to do something good for some kid from my hometown, Wilmington, North Carolina. This was the Dean of the Law School that could influence my going to SMU. You never know when they are going to show up, but as they say, they may not always be there when you want them, but they will always be there right on time. Right on time. And it was there right on time for me. I went to SMU, I graduated, and the rest is history. I have been practicing law for over forty years, little over forty years. I have tried lawsuits to juries all over the United States. I have been in, in cases in foreign countries, and I have been so far, the benefit, if you will, of having tried the largest lawsuit ever tried to verdict in the history of the world, and that was the BP blowout litigation down in the Gulf of Mexico, where over four million barrels of oil were lost into the into the Gulf, and many, many other cases along the way. I have had a lot of people help me. It is not about what I have done, it is what others have given me an opportunity to do, and what others have allowed me to do, and help me do. But I seized those opportunities. I saw, in them, a desire for me to do something more that while I might have seen for myself. You must set your own goals and strive to achieve them, and be thankful for all those graduates who have been there for you, while those mamas and and daddies were having to sacrifice to come up with the money for you to go to school, do not forget them when you start doing well.
You must imagine what you can accomplish in life, just imagine exceeding all expectations. All of you in this building graduating, have had in my judgment, similar limitations put on you, by not only yourself, but about others. Show those people that you can break through those glass ceilings and you can accomplish what no one, including yourself, ever dreamed possible. If you do not go for it, nobody is going to go for it for you. If people give you an opportunity to do well, take advantage of it and make them proud. Your life, your life, your lives, to all of you, depends upon you and what you do with it. We can not sit back and blame others for not accomplishing, in life, what we would like to have accomplished. We have got to strive every day to work to the best of our abilities. To do even better than we ever dreamed possible. You can do it, but you must do it. I want to congratulate all the graduates, and I want to say, I wish everyone here a happy, healthy, and blessed holiday season. God bless all of you, each and every one of you, and thank you for giving me the privilege and the opportunity to come up here today. I will tell you, and having spoken to juries and groups all over the world over forty years of somewhat of a successful career, no day has made me more proud, and no group to whom I have spoken have I felt better about speaking to, and more proud to speak with to today, than the group I have here. Thank you so much.