"Part of what drew me to UNH Manchester originally, and has kept me connected through the years, is the strong community we have here," said Kate Luczko during her remarks at UNH Manchester's 31st annual commencement ceremony on May 19.
Luczko, president and CEO of Stay Work Play New Hampshire, delivered the keynote address at Thursday's proceedings, sharing her experience and insight with the college's 264 graduates.
"Regardless of what jobs I may have, the things I may buy or how often they open those gates for me to travel, it's the people I meet and what we can accomplish together that defines success for me."
Luczko has an enduring relationship with UNH Manchester, graduating with a business degree in 2008 and subsequently serving as a member of the adjunct faculty and the college’s Business Advisory Board. Read her entire speech below:
I am honored to join you today to celebrate this special occasion. I remember sitting where you are eight years ago, though it feels like just yesterday. Thank you to the USNH board of trustees, President Huddleston, Dean Decelle, and the friends and families here this evening.
To today’s graduates, my sincere congratulations!
Within about an hour, you will have graduated college and have finished your current academic journey. You may now be asking yourself: Where has this journey taken me or, even more: Where do I go now?
Having a college diploma empowers you and if you use all that you have learned over the years, the horizon is truly limitless.
A couple of years ago I was asked to write a story for the NH Charitable Foundation. I grew up in Canterbury, the home of Shaker Village, and when I was younger, I wanted to be a Shaker. In this story that I wrote, I talk about how ultimately what I think I was seeking in those ambitions was to feel a sense of community.
One definition of community I found online is that it’s a long-running sitcom on NBC with Joel McHale that was canceled twice, but managed to find a second life with Yahoo. Another more accurate definition is: “a feeling of fellowship with others, as a result of sharing common attitudes, interests, and goals.”
I call NH a “small town” because of the close-knit community feeling it has. Recently I traveled to Colorado with a friend (yes, they opened the gates and let me leave NH), and on a random Friday, in one of many breweries in Denver, I heard my name being called. It still boggles my mind that of all days, times, places, a friend of mine from the NH Seacoast and his wife were all the way across the country in the same brewery as I was. That feeling of closeness and connectedness and the number of small world stories I hear, both astounds and inspires me.
Ultimately I think what I have discovered is that the real community is NH itself. I’ve recognized that I don’t need to follow my childhood dream of becoming a Shaker to feel as though I belong to a community; I simply need to take advantage of the communities that exist all around me.
Part of what drew me to UNH Manchester originally, and has kept me connected through the years, is the strong community we have here. No, we may not have a sports' team that we feel tremendous pride about, or school colors that we wear at every opportunity, and we may not have the typical college town hangouts (other than maybe Strange Brew or Milly’s), but with UNH Manchester we have incredibly caring faculty and staff, like-minded fellow students, a marvelous alumni network, all making up a unique and invaluable community. Some of my best friends today, including one in the audience this evening, were my fellow students during my time at UNH Manchester.
I've spent much of my life on my own path.
As a kid, when the other parents would say "Be Good," my Mom would say, "Be Kate." In that infinite wisdom, I have always been inspired to be true to myself (thanks Mom), and thus I haven't always taken a traditional path.
As Ellen DeGeneres said in a commencement speech she gave, “Stay true to yourself. Never follow someone else's path — unless you're in the woods and you're lost and you see a path, then by all means you should follow that.”
My path was that I left high school halfway through sophomore year to homeschool myself; I then took four years off after high school before going to college; I spent a mere three and a half months at my first job after college, but I have built a life for myself and surrounded myself with a community that is priceless. To me, that's the sign of true success. To find your community. To center your life around bettering and giving back to that community.
Regardless of what jobs I may have, the things I may buy, or how often they open those gates for me to travel, it's the people I meet and what we can accomplish together that defines success for me.
So as you look off into the distance, ponder your next step, and define what success means for you, remember that you don’t have to travel far to leave a huge footprint on the world. In fact, I believe that by staying here you will have a better chance at changing the world.
And with that, I want to give you five reasons that you should remain in this “small town” of New Hampshire after graduation.
Don’t Be Boring
I am almost positive you have heard this at one point or another in your life: “Well, if you really want to succeed you’ll have to move to a big market like Boston, New York or San Francisco.”
You know what I think about that? Boring.
If you want to leave a footprint, sometimes you have to step off the path. If you don’t think there is greatness waiting for you here in New Hampshire then create it. Being young means that you don’t need to follow the rules. You don’t need to take the safe route. It means that if you really want to be original, if you really want to be different, then you’ll become a townie. Any one can run away in search of something better. Only a brave person would stay and make it better.
Size Does Matter
Yes, size does matter and in this case smaller is better. New Hampshire is a small state. This can be a very big deal in a world where networking and connections can play a major role in career progression. I’m sure you’ve heard “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.” And while that is not 100% true there is some validity to it.
Being small means that you have access to people you wouldn’t normally have access to in other states or cities. In New Hampshire, you’ll have the opportunity to know your elected officials, meet with business leaders and, really, anyone with whom you would want to meet.
It also means that you can have real influence and enact change. Stay Work Play was just an idea by a few people and now it is helping to retain more and more of NH’s young people. That is exciting. Living in New Hampshire doesn’t mean you’ll be a big fish in a small pond. It means you can be a fish who changes the entire marine ecosystem.
One of my favorite parts about New Hampshire is that you can have an impact here; you can make a difference. I became an Executive Director at the age of 27. That couldn’t happen just anywhere.
You Can’t Import Mountains
There is a popular idiom that goes: “If the mountain will not come to Muhammad, then Muhammad must go to the mountain,” which is used to teach the lesson that if one does not prevail they must submit to an alternative. Well guess what? Starting your post college life in New Hampshire should be your first option and you don’t have to move any mountains because they’re already here… as are the 1,000 lakes and ponds, the ocean, the longest zipline, the NH primary, well over 50 breweries, the fall foliage, and all the other natural beauty that surrounds us.
People in New Hampshire have a wonderful quality of life and that is an important thing for you to think about at this moment. So much of your days have been on preparing for your future that you may not have asked: What kind of future do I want? If you want to find work you enjoy, maybe build a family, buy a house, and live where you can work and play then New Hampshire is for you!
You Won’t Drown In Rising Tides
By its very definition, youth means energy. Young people want to work in an exciting, vibrant atmosphere. They want to be part of something special. More often than not that means within a specific company, but working in New Hampshire means that you can be part of something bigger. The New Hampshire ecosystem is thriving. Right now there are new and exciting companies that are changing the way people solve some of life’s oldest and newest problems. People may try and lure you away by saying if you want to work on something meaningful you have to go here or there, but what is more meaningful than playing a role in the transformation of an entire state? There are a lot of opportunities to do big things right here in New Hampshire.
The last thing you can do is get your head out of the sand. It is time to wake up and realize how lucky you are to have lived in New Hampshire. This state is a rare combination of quality of life, natural beauty and urban opportunities. No, maybe you can’t get exotic street food at 3:30 in the morning (unless you go to the Red Arrow and I’m not sure if that would be considered exotic), but you can breathe in fresh ocean air, scan majestic vistas atop the presidential range, and discuss politics with your neighborly congressman. Instead of lamenting on all New Hampshire doesn’t have, maybe take a moment to appreciate what it does. Embracing the positives instead of fixating on the negatives is a very useful skill for overall life happiness (I hope you’re taking notes).
So I have made my case. I hope you have realized that your next great adventure has been in front of you the whole time.
I’ll end with the only way I can, by sharing one of my favorite quotes: “A couple hundred years ago Benjamin Franklin shared with the world the secret of his success. Never leave that till tomorrow, he said, which you can do today. This is the man who discovered electricity; you'd think we'd pay more attention to what he had to say. I don't know why we put things off, but if I had to guess it has a lot to do with fear. Fear of failure, fear of rejection, sometimes the fear is just of making a decision, because what if you're wrong? What if you make a mistake you can't undo? The early bird catches the worm. A stitch in time saves nine. He who hesitates is lost. We can't pretend we haven't been told. We've all heard the proverbs, heard the philosophers, heard our grandparents warning us about wasted time; heard the poets urging us to seize the day. Still, sometimes we have to see for ourselves. We have to make our own mistakes. We have to learn our own lessons. We have to sweep today's possibility under tomorrow's rug until we can't anymore. Until we finally understand for ourselves what Benjamin Franklin really meant. That knowing is better than wondering. That waking is better than sleeping. And that even the biggest failure, even the worst mistake, beats the heck out of never trying.”
Congratulations! I can’t wait to see the communities you build and how you impact and shape the Granite State of tomorrow.