May 16, 2011

Scott Cowen Shares Lessons for Success with 2011 Graduates

Scott Cowen
Scott Cowen

A commitment to Case Western Reserve University, love for the city of Cleveland and preparation in the face of adversity were among the topics discussed as Scott Cowen delivered the commencement address to approximately 2,000 Case Western Reserve graduates, plus faculty and staff members, friends and family. Cowen, the president of Tulane University, spent 23 years at Case Western Reserve University, as a professor and then dean of Weatherhead School of Management. On Sunday, he became a graduate as well, when President Barbara R. Snyder conferred an honorary degree upon him.

He used this new degree as a starting point to connect with the students: “For most of you it probably took four to eight years to earn your degree. In contrast, it actually took me 36 years. Obviously, you were much faster in meeting the academic standards of this university than I was,” he joked. “Then again, there may be one or two of you who were also on the 36-year plan. Or maybe it just seemed like that to your parents.”

Additionally, President Snyder presented honorary degrees to former Czech Republic President Vaclav Havel, MIT professor Iqbal Z. Quadir and geologist and mountaineer John W. Schutt.

Cowen’s speech (watch the video here) was a mix of light-hearted jokes and thoughtful life lessons based on his experience as a Clevelander and, now, a New Orleanian.

Cowen was in his seventh year at Tulane when Hurricane Katrina hit, causing $650 million in losses to the university; two-thirds of the main campus was underwater, he said. He used his experiences during Hurricane Katrina to impart life lessons for graduates, starting with “hope is not a plan.”

CWRU commencement

“Hope must be balanced with reality. … I know you have invested much hope in your dreams,” he said. “But you will fulfill these dreams not by merely hoping they come true or counting on someone else to bring them about, but by committing yourself day in and day out to their realization.”

Additionally, when recounting the overwhelming evacuation process from New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina, Cowen taught his next lesson: “face your fears.”

“Is there any graduate sitting here today who can claim to have absolutely no fear of the future? I suspect not,” Cowen said. “It is normal to be overwhelmed and afraid in the face of a huge cataclysm. Once you realize this, self-doubt becomes secondary and problem solving becomes primary.”

Finally, he discussed his third lesson, “know your goal.” For Cowen, his goal for life post-Katrina was to completely re-envision what Tulane and New Orleans could become. He realized it was his responsibility to not only learn from the past but to renew his commitment to the community and the individuals in need.

“You too have a responsibility. Yes, you have worked hard and have earned your place of honor today,” Cowen said. “But your success is also the result of the sacrifices made by others who instilled in you the value of learning and the means to achieve your dreams. Your responsibility as you go forward is to reach out to others in need so you can do for them what others have done for you.”

Posted by: Emily Mayock, May 16, 2011 09:17 AM | News Topics: Commencement

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