Happy Mother's Day!

May 11, 2014

Excerpted from Inauguration Remarks of Clemson University President James P. Clements  •

Delivered  May 9, 2014 at Clemson University’s 9:30 am Commencement Ceremony

This is a very special time for all of us – first and foremost, because it is your graduation day. Second, because in two days we celebrate Mother’s Day.

In my life I’ve had a lot of outstanding teachers and mentors — including my dear father, who turns 80 this fall. But when I take stock of the values that shaped who I am and how I live my life, I realize that many of them are based on the lessons taught by my mother.

My mother was one of the greatest ladies I ever knew.  She never had an unkind word to say about anyone.

And although she never had the opportunity to go to college, my mother – along with my father – instilled in me the value of a quality education.

Today as we stand in the presence of so many supportive parents and family members, I am reminded of those life lessons.

Many of these will sound simple and familiar to you, but I believe they have great worth. I hope you’ll find my mother’s values as meaningful as I have over the years.

First – My mother always told me to be a good person. She didn’t say “Be right all the time.” Good people make mistakes. Good people fail.  However, good people strive to do the right thing – the first time and every time.

Second – She taught me to “Do what you say you’re going to do.” Keep your word. If you make a promise to someone, then honor and keep that promise. One of the greatest gifts that someone can give to you is their trust, but it can be easily lost and difficult to replace.

Third — she taught me to listen. As I look around the Coliseum, I’m pretty sure I’m not the smartest person in the room! We have a lot of brilliant people here today!! The point is — every person has been given great talents and every person can provide great ideas. Every person can make a contribution if they are given a chance to be heard.

One of my favorite books is a small volume by Richard Carlson called “Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff  — And it’s All Small Stuff.”

In the book, Carlson writes that effective listening is more than simply avoiding the bad habit of interrupting others while they are speaking. It’s being content to listen to the entire thought  rather than waiting impatiently for your chance to respond.

My mother put it even more simply:  Jim, she said, you have two ears and only one mouth for a reason.

Fourth — she urged me and my three older siblings  to be passionate about education.

We were the first generation in my family to go to college. We were taught that education was the path to a better future, not just for an individual, but for society as a whole.

And we listened! Between me and my three older siblings, we earned 11 degrees.

My mother would be astounded today to hear people question the value of a college education.

Be passionate about education, and be thankful for the opportunity that you have been given. And never stop learning.

Finally, she told me to “Make a difference.” She didn’t say, “Try to make a difference.” She said, “Make a difference.”

This small distinction instilled in me a sense of urgency. Yes, we must do our homework and we must understand the consequences of our decisions. And we must also be willing to act with courage and conviction if we are to make a difference.

Making a difference requires action. No one understood that more than the founder of this great university – Thomas Green Clemson. For most of his life — Mr. Clemson wrote about and advocated for a scientific institution in South Carolina. He saw that as the path to economic recovery after the devastation of the Civil War.

But 40 years of trying proved to him that desire alone was not enough. He had to take action. He wrote a will in which he donated his estate to the State of South Carolina in order to fund the college. He called the establishment of a scientific institution “The one great desire of my life.”

Making a difference can be hard.

You can be wealthy, you can be famous and you can be successful – and still not make a difference.

Einstein said, we should strive not to be a success, but rather to be of value.

The Creative Inquiry team and engineering students who designed and built a system to bring clean water to rural areas of Haiti are making a difference.

In fact, they won a top international award for their work, because they made a difference.

The students who spend their time building a house for Habitat for Humanity each fall – and have been doing so for 20 years – made a difference.

The students who contributed 100,000 hours of community service this past year made a difference.

Those of us who are privileged to work at universities get to make a difference every day –

  • by teaching and mentoring our students,
  • by doing research and discovering new things, and
  • by taking those discoveries into communities across the state — and — all over the world.

That is the beauty and the mission  of a land-grant university!

I challenge our faculty and staff to always seize those opportunities – large and small — to make a difference. And I challenge the graduating class to do the same.

I hope that in your years at Clemson you learned much more than agriculture, engineering, forestry and science.

I hope that we instilled in you a desire:

  • to be a good person,
  • to keep your word,
  • to listen and learn from others, and
  • to make a difference – in your home, on your job, in your community and in the world.

If we have done that – then we have delivered on the trust that you  and your families  placed in Clemson!

Thank you again for the honor to serve along with you! And, GO TIGERS !!

Clemson University's 15th president, James P. Clements