Commencement 2010

University of New Hampshire
 Commencement Remarks
May 22, 2010


Bert Jacobs
Co-Founder and Chief Executive Optimist, Life is good Company

Memorial Field

Durham, New Hampshire


Well, all right, UNH, you ready to have some fun?

Is life good?

I gotta tell you, there's two recipients this year, 2010, there's two recipients of honorary degrees. And it makes me wonder what the criteria is, because one of those recipients is a NASA astronaut, who played an important role in building the international space station. And the other one is a guy who played an important role at putting a smiley stick figure on a t-shirt.

It's not really fair, is it?

President Huddleston had captain Morin and I sit together at dinner last night. And I didn't think that was very fair either. That was like putting John Glenn at the table with Goofy. He talked about something called telepresence robotics that could sustain human life in outer space.

I listened carefully and paused and looked back at him, and I said, oh, yeah, we're thinking about putting 5% spandex in our collars.

Thanks a lot, President Huddleston.

I do have a job to do up here. I'm not just going to crack jokes, but at Life is good we like to blur the line between work and play.

Who wants to play some Frisbee? (throws Frisbee to crowd)

That student just exhibited a great life skill, catching a Frisbee. Can we catch two in a row? (throws second Frisbee to audience) I'm going to make-believe somebody caught that. And I'm going to give you another chance. I've actually always been fascinated with the way—with the way—oh, that's a little better—with the way a Frisbee floats through the sky and sometimes just pauses and hovers. It's not rocket science, but I like it.

One more, we're going to see if the families of students can catch. I don't know if I can reach, but I'll try. (throws another Frisbee, past the rows of students, to the audience in the back) Come on, dad!

Intellectually I cannot compete with a NASA astronaut, but I do have something that captain Morin might not be able to compete with. Underneath my robe, my boxer shorts say I'm powered by optimism.

Later, later.

Is this mic on? Can I use this one? Can you hear me okay?

Optimism truly is powerful. It's played a huge role in the life of my brother and I. Many, many years ago we bought a used van and we called it the Enterprise. We told each other we were going to boldly go where no t-shirt guys have gone before.  And that van's taken us many places.

While we were on the road, we had the opportunity to discuss many things. One of the things we discussed is that the media has a tendency to inundate our culture with negative information. We wondered why that was. You turn on the 6 o'clock news, and you really don't get a balance of 6 o'clock news. You get the violent murder report. And it's a little bit of a downer.

We had this conversation over and over, but in the dark, in the gloom of it, we saw an opportunity. We looked at the situation, we said, what if, what if we could create some simple icon that would celebrate what's right with the world rather than what's wrong with the world.

And so my brother went to work with crayons and a magic marker and he drew the very first Jake. We put it up on our wall at a keg party in Boston. And many of our friends, we had a diverse group of friends, showed up that night, and they were all drawn to Jake. My brother had obviously done a tremendous job with this. I will point out, he's still my business partner, that was 16 years ago, and he hasn't done a damn thing since.

But the point is we looked at a gloomy situation, something that bothered us, and we saw opportunity. And my question to you today, at the tail end of a recession, can you see opportunity? Do you see obstacles or do you see opportunity? My question to the class of 2010, do you feel unlucky or do you feel lucky?

I hear it, but I don't hear it loud enough.

Let's first look at the glass half empty, okay? Just to be fair. It is the tail end of a recession. That's difficult. Unemployment is up. And the job market has declined for 2 1/2 years. Kind of a drag, right? So we could focus on that if we wanted to.

But we could also look at the glass half full. For 2 1/2 years you've been here on this beautiful green campus while the rest of us have been fighting it out there. You missed the worst of it. You dodged a bullet. This has been the safest place to be.

I'm jealous. The market is actually rebounding. We have four consecutive months of adding jobs in this country. You will get a job. In 2010, entry-level vacancies are expected to rise by 12%. That's the glass half full.

Now, when we pull back and look at the big picture, that's when it really gets interesting to me. Do you know what percentage of people in the world on planet earth graduate from college?

1%.

You are lucky. You're lucky dogs. You're very lucky to have been born in America. You're very lucky to have been given a base education that enabled you the higher education. 200 to 250 years ago the entire world was poor. If you weren't a king or a queen, you were poor.

Now do you feel lucky?

In colonial America, the average lifespan was 25 years. In 1900, the average lifespan was 49. In 1960, it rose to 65. In 2010, the average person in this country lives to 78 years.

I'd say we're doing something right. It's a heck of a time to be graduating. And those statistics aren't just America.

We only hear the dark side, because there are many difficult things happening in the world, but it's not reflective of the balance. Great things are happening, and humanity is progressing. In 1900, the average lifespan in the world was 30 years. In 2010, it's 67.

I would say that's something to clap about.

Appreciate the wave.

Life might not be easy, graduating in 2010, but let me tell you something, life is good in 2010.

I want to tell you a quick story that I really think illustrates the power of optimism, because pessimists see obstacles when they look at the same thing that optimists do. Optimist look at it and see opportunity. I want you to picture a little girl, second grade girl, and she's drawing a picture. And the schoolteacher walks up and says, what are you drawing? The little girl looks at the teacher and says, I'm drawing a picture of god. The schoolteacher says, well, sweetheart, nobody knows what god looks like. The little girl looks at her, and she says, well, they will when I'm done.

That's optimism. I want you to be an optimist. I want you to be that little girl. I want you to see the opportunity and not the obstacles.

My second piece of advice is that you need to simplify your life. When I was a kid and you wanted to communicate with somebody, you would either call them or you would write to them. Today you have the opportunity to call, but you might decide to text. You might decide to email or Facebook or Twitter.

It's too much.

You have too much access to information all the time. I was at a wedding recently, and it was at a beautiful little chapel, and the wedding finished and we went over to the reception, and 80% of the people at the reception were watching an instant videotape of the wedding we just watched. We're supposed to be having a glass of wine and throwing the bride in the air, right? But we get bogged down because we have the access to the information.

It's too much.

Many years ago two great New Englanders Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson saw this coming, they saw the need to simplify. I think Thoreau befriended Emerson on Facebook, and went on and on about us becoming slaves to machines, and the world was becoming too complex. They saw it coming. He finished his note. Maybe it was a Twitter. He tweeted him, okay? Thoreau tweeted to Emerson, and he said, simplify, simplify. And Emerson one-upped him. He responded, one simplify would have been enough.

Mike Lowell of the Boston red sox, Mike Lowell the 2007 World Series MVP, the comeback kid, he's actually a friend of mine, and he was over at my house the other day, my apartment, and we were cooking burgers. It's got nothing to do with my speech, I just wanted you to know that I hang out with major league baseball players!

Somebody come up with that. Come on, mom! Oh! Give that man a cigar!

Actually Mike Lowell does have something to do with the speech. I did want to brag about it, but I asked him while we were sitting there cooking burgers. I said, mike, when you jack home runs in the world series, and you get the MVP, is that the greatest day of your life?

I thought it was a rhetorical question. But Mike Lowell is a great man. He understands that the little things in life are the big things. I want you to understand that, because if you don't know it today, one day you will.

Mike looked back to me and said, the World Series doesn't come close. The best days in my life are when I'm playing with my son Wiffle Ball in the backyard, or my daughter. When I can play with my kids, that's the best thing in the world.

I love that guy.

So number one, please see the glass half full. It's powerful. Number two, simplify your life. My third and final piece of advice, give yourself. Give yourself to a worthy cause. Give yourself to a cause that's bigger than you.

It's been a hell of a road trip since my brother and I bought that van. It's taken us many places and it's given us much joy. But all of that joy rolled into one pales in comparison to the joy we've received from operating our kids foundation, from helping perfect strangers. It can't compare.

Now, people these days occasionally will ask me, what's it like to be rich? What's it like to be rich?

Well, let me tell you there's more than one kind of rich. And the rich that you get from acquiring things and from earning money, it means nothing to me. It really doesn't.

But the richness that you get from giving, it's priceless.
At life is good we say that takers eat well, but givers sleep well.

Ever since we started that kids foundation I've been sleeping like a baby. You don't have to start your own kids foundation, and you don't have to work in a career of nonprofit, but you can volunteer, you can start today. You can help somebody who needs your help.

Your generation will create more balance in the world than any generation before. And selfishly you should take part in that, because when you give you get. If you want to be rich, give.

I got to give the wave guys a Frisbee. Jump! Sit down, sit down.

I got a killer closer for you. Class of 2010, you are young and strong. I can hear it in your voices, and I can see out in your faces. I wish I could tell you how to stay forever young, nobody's figured that one out yet, but if you see the glass half full, if you simplify your life, and if you give yourself to a worthy cause, I promise you, you will be forever happy.

Thank you! Congratulations!