LL Bean Chairman Shawn Gorman ‘89
Commencement Remarks, Durham 2018
And in case I forgot to thank my own family after my graduation, I would like to do that now – since they are in the audience celebrating among you today. Mom, Dad -- thank you for everything... then... now... and for everything in-between.
Not too long ago I was sitting where you all are (slight pause) – ok, it was kind of a long time ago since most of you weren’t born yet – but the memories are so fresh it almost feels like yesterday...
Of course, when I think back to my own graduation – the images that come to mind aren’t the things that are so vivid to me now – like this stage and the prominence of the UNH emblem, or the thousands of you graduating seniors and your family and friends who have come to celebrate this milestone with you...
Yes, I have those memories, too...but when someone asks me what my college graduation was like, the first thing I share... (well, confess actually) ...is that I nearly missed it all...because I overslept.
Shockingly, I’d been out late the night before...so what I remember most about that morning was having to run – at a full sprint all the way down Main Street to the field house...arriving just minutes before my class was to take the field.
I made it, but just barely – although not in time to sit with my peers from the College of Liberal Arts, but rather with the students from the College of Engineering and Physical Sciences. A late shout-out to those folks – thanks for letting me blend in…
Not the case this morning. Just a heads-up to you graduates: In the spirit of things to look forward to, the ability to sleep in, let alone “over-sleep” will become a thing of the past...Case in point...I was up at 5 in anxious anticipation of today’s festivities.
But, before we look too far into your future selves, let’s take stock of where you are today:
College graduation...you made it...four years of classes, papers, labs, and finals – and here you are – transitioning from student to alumnus, undergrad to graduate, unemployed to unemployed, but looking for work. Well done!
The funny thing about graduation is that we often view it as an ending...and to a certain extent that’s true. Yes, your lives as college students are coming to an end...but, there’s a good reason why this event is called a “commencement” – because it is more about what’s beginning than what might be ending.
What’s beginning is your next chapter – and everything in your lives that is yet to happen, but will be shaped by what you have experienced, shared, and learned as UNH students.
As you all embark on this next chapter, no matter what your plans are or where they may take you – I wish for you to lead an adventure-filled life.
What does leading an adventure-filled life look like? Well first off, it will be different for each of you – because the first rule of leading an adventurous life is that it must be yours...and yours alone...to chart.
But that doesn’t mean you should (or even can) do it all alone. Everyone who helped to get you to this point, will still be there to support you on your journey.
So, as I was thinking about what I could share as you prepare for what’s ahead, I compiled a few lessons from my own journey – a path...that began with a 22-year-old kid nearly missing his own graduation...that has wound its way back to Durham on this special May morning ...nearly 3 decades later.
The lessons I’ll offer for your consideration are framed by three small, but powerful words – Outdoors, Values, and Balance – each of which I’ve found to be key to living an adventurous and fulfilling life.
Let’s start with the Outdoors...
Whatever you do, wherever you go, let the outdoors be a part of your life – in whatever form or expression that speaks to you.
My great-grandfather...Leon Leonwood Bean...or L.L. as he was known -- was famous for a lot of great sayings, but one of my favorites is about the benefits of spending time in the outdoors. He said:
“One thing I learned throughout my lifetime...is the fact that outdoor recreation, such as hunting, fishing and camping, has added years to my life span.”
And since L.L. lived to be 94 -- I’m pretty sure he was on to something, something I suspect you already understand.
Like me, I imagine the location of this beautiful campus, nestled in the great state of New Hampshire, was a draw for many of you when choosing a college. From the ocean, to the lakes and mountains – spending time in the outdoors is an unofficial part of the curriculum here at UNH.
The outdoors to you might mean hiking in the White Mountains or simply walking to class across campus. Where and how you choose to be outside doesn’t matter. What is important is recognizing that being outdoors is a critical antidote to this hyper-competitive, hyper-stressed, tech-driven world we live in. Yes, technology powers our lives in all sorts of wonderful ways – but it will never fill your soul like a sunrise in the mountains.
So, part of living an adventurous life is knowing when to slow down and to take in the beauty of the world around us. Because you will find that as your lives pick up steam and everyday stresses take hold – spending time outdoors becomes even more important, and more precious.
One of our recent advertisements tells that story. It opens with a man standing in the doorway of a remote log cabin, looking outdoors – greeting a day filled with sunshine, lush greenery, and birds chirping. He then bends down to view his welcome mat and spins it around so it’s pointing to the outside – in effect, welcoming him to the outdoors and to a great day of adventure.
Now, think of today...this moment...as your own welcome mat to the outside world...to the world beyond this campus...to the one that is calling to you to begin your adventurous life...
You may be wondering if you’re ready. You are. Because joining you are the values that have enabled you to reach this important milestone, and will continue to carry you forward.
Values like kindness, respect, and honesty that your parents, coaches, teachers, and this highly-respected university have ingrained in you.
To be happy in your adult lives, just as you’ve found here on campus, you’ll need to seek people, organizations, and affiliations whose values are aligned with your own.
And trust in those values to guide your decisions – but don’t be alarmed if they take you places that you never expected.
This might surprise you, but when I was in your shoes, my initial job path didn’t include L.L.Bean. In fact, it was the furthest thing from my mind. Yes, it is my family’s company – but that wasn’t exactly a draw for me back then. I had my sights set on an advertising career, which meant New York or Boston, not Freeport, Maine.
But as fate would have it, my graduation coincided with a recession – so when the doors didn’t open on Madison Avenue, I took a sales position in Portland, Maine. The job was okay, and I was having some success – but at the same time, the fit wasn’t quite right, I wasn’t passionate about the work, and eventually I realized I needed to make a move.
So, I took another look at L.L.Bean, and I was hired into an entry-level role in our advertising department. That was 27 years ago, and I can say with 100% certainty that I cannot imagine working anywhere else.
In fact, within just a few days, I realized working at L.L.Bean was completely different from what I’d envisioned. Rather than being locked in a cubicle pushing paperwork around, I was part of a community with hundreds of like-minded people, who all shared a passion for the outdoors, and doing right by our customers and each other. In fact, it was everything I could have hoped for in a workplace – a company that matched my values, and a culture built around those values.
So, as you begin your career search, I encourage you not to just look for a job, but rather search for a role, an industry, or an organization where you can imagine doing great work, and having fun, with people who share your values and your aspirations.
I’m not suggesting that you wait for the perfect job – I’m pretty sure that doesn’t exist – but what I am saying is that it’s possible to find a job that brings you joy and a paycheck.
And if you don’t find it right away – don’t despair. Course corrections are all part of the plan...the secret is to keep going, and to keep searching. Remember: it’s an adventure, and adventurers never settle...
And that brings me to my final word – Balance – which is best explained by a story; a story that is actually about being out of balance.
Soon after I graduated, I felt it was time to make the transition to so-called adulthood. So, I took on a rather singular focus or goal of “checking the boxes” -- finding a job, making money, and starting a family. All good and important goals – goals I’m sure many of you have for yourselves.
Unfortunately for me, one of those goals took on a little too much importance. And over time, I became so consumed by my career and achieving success at work, that I forgot to prioritize the things in life that matter most – my family, my friends, and time in the outdoors…the things that I had in abundance when I was a student at UNH. This went on for about a decade...eventually I knew I needed to make some changes, but I wasn’t sure how.
Ironically, what helped me to get my life back in balance was a fishing trip with friends that I didn’t think I had time to attend…or honestly didn’t want to attend, because no one I was going with knew how to fish.
I went (rather reluctantly), but that reluctance quickly melted away. And there I was...for five days...tying flies for my friends, teaching them how to cast, taking in the quiet beauty of a northern Maine stream, and most importantly, having fun. (pause)
And this is when I came to the realization that we work to live, and not the other way around.
So, from that moment, everything changed. I put my family, my friends, and myself first. I made time for the outdoors. I was happy...balanced...and much to my surprise...even more productive at work.
This experience helped me to see that true success comes from living a life where your personal and professional goals are tended to with the same amount of care and attention...so all the important aspects of your life are in line, or balanced, with one another.
I actually share this story with my kids all the time – and they never listen to me, but I’m hoping I’ll have better luck with you this morning...perhaps you can let me know in 20 years or so...
So there you have my three small words for your consideration – Outdoors, Values, and Balance as you each prepare to leave this great university behind, and turn your welcome mats around -- away from the formal learning you received at UNH and towards the life-long learning that is just beginning for you.
Class of 2018 – congratulations on all you have achieved to reach this point – but the outside is waiting, and it’s time to go be adventurous.