The following remarks were provided by NAWCAD Executive Director Leslie D. Taylor on Jan. 16, during the 2020 winter commencement ceremonies at the La Plata Campus.
Thank you for this tremendous honor to speak to you today. Congratulations to the Class of 2020!
These are always my favorite types of events – getting to see this new generation of educated professionals as you eagerly await writing a new chapter in your lives.
There’s much energy and enthusiasm in this room. And, again, it IS my honor to be here.
I am the executive director of the Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Division – or NAWCAD.
As the “busiest flight test center in the world,” it is our mission to make sure that the aircraft – and everything that is in it, or on it or talks to it — is designed, developed, tested, safe and effective before we deliver it to our Sailors and Marines.
We get things off the drawing board to where they matter most – to our men and women protecting our freedoms and our way of life. I have been blessed to have had this career. But, when I set out for college, I didn’t set out to work for the Navy and Marine Corps or even be an engineer. I set out to be a nurse, but was actually heading to a renowned engineering school. When I got there, I actually changed my degree to engineering during visitation at the prodding of a great woman counselor at the college and the urging of my mom. She seemed to know what engineers did and thought I would be good at it. I had no idea really what an engineer was, but if my mom and this wonderful counselor thought I could do the degree, I would go for it. So many thanks to all you mentors and counselors out there who help guide us.
And by the way — I would have been a great nurse and would have loved that career, too. And, as you heard in my bio, I also love to teach. My message to you, is don’t limit yourself. Try things as you evolve into that next chapter of your life.
I am thankful for my parents! My mom and dad raised my brother and me to think we could do anything. My dad always thought it was due to his career in the road construction field, that actually led to me being an engineer. It was truly my mom, but because of my dad’s work I did choose civil engineering vice one of the other fields of mechanical, aerospace, electrical or industrial. My dad would take my brother and me on the job with him; I did at least have some familiarity. So, again, I am very grateful for both of my parents.
I was hired by the Navy for my engineering, math and physics skills and quickly began to connect with my work and just as importantly my colleagues. I learned quickly that nearly all things are done on a team and “likeability” matters. How many of you have heard of “likeability”? Well, it matters. Be the colleague who everyone wants on his or her team. Be the employee every boss wants to tap on the shoulder to do more and more, because they simply know that you not only have the skills, but that you can work with others.
While it may seem like my career flowed easily from one step to the next over my past 35 years, it only flowed because of the power of mentoring.
I owe much to a former supervisor/mentor who believed in me more than I believed in myself. He was an outstanding leader who recommended me for significant growth opportunities and always challenged me to excel.
His mentorship made a significant difference in my career, and my advice to you is to seek out at least one mentor, but I highly recommend multiple. It does not have to be the same person for every stage of your career, but it should be someone who knows you and your workplace. Allow your mentor to take the gloves off. Ask them to truly advise you on how to improve on not only the things you do well, but the things they see in you that might be career inhibiting.
Another thought to share is to never be afraid of failing, and to keep going. We’ve all heard the famous stories…
…Of Steve Jobs who got fired from the company he founded and said – “I didn’t see it then, but it turned out that getting fired from Apple was the best thing that could have ever happened to me.” We probably wouldn’t have our iPhones if he didn’t pick himself up and keep going.
…Of J.K. Rowling, who as an unemployed, single parent, and – as she said – “as poor as it is possible to be in modern Britain without being homeless” – who didn’t give up after being rejected by almost every major publishing company in the world. Can you imagine never having read about Harry Potter?
… And of two workers at the 3M company. One, a scientist, who was trying to invent a stronger, tougher adhesive for aircraft construction, and one who figured out that the best use for the new adhesive was to put it on small scraps of paper. It took about 10 years from the invention of the adhesive to what we now know as Post-It Notes.
On joyful days like this, it’s easy to forget the difficult days, the struggles, the stumbles, the disappointments, you have experienced. But, it’s important that you remember that those difficulties are what got you here to today. You made it through. By going through them, you grew up, became stronger, and learned how to deal with demanding times. You now have courage and confidence to weather what life may throw your way.
In my work, we talk about resilience, toughness, and agility to go along with the “hard” skills you have learned here at this amazing institution. We also talk about the soft skills of likeability, emotional intelligence, compassion, caring. If you’ve not studied up on that side of being the full professional you can be, read Daniel Goleman’s book on Emotional Intelligence, and (not or) Steven Covey’s book on 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.
Some of you will continue on your journey in higher education and some of you are ready to launch into a job, career, or profession.
Some of you are asking yourself – what now?
You have received the incredible gift of education; you have worked to develop and hone skills that will build your career. CSM is no longer a place you “go to,” it is now a place you “come from.”
Don’t rest on your laurels. Use the courage and confidence you have gained here, because the world really needs you. Give back to those who you can now mentor to achieve the outcome you have achieved today.
No matter where you land — roll up your sleeves and make your community better. Be a good citizen — intelligent, respectful, and active in the community.
Opportunities will be endless, but remember to stay true to who you are. Always act with integrity and kindness. You’d be surprised how much of a difference a small act of kindness can make.
And, finally, remember to …make your bed, eat your vegetables, and call your mom and dad…Yes, call, not text.
You are here because of the support, care, and love of your parents, grandparents, guardians, families and friends. Make sure you stay in touch with them and give back to them.
It is an honor for me to serve our country every day at NAWCAD. And today, it has been an honor to serve as your commencement speaker.
My sincere, heartfelt congratulations to all of you for what you have accomplished.
All the best to each of you.