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Commencement Speakers Exhort Graduates to Be Courageous, Dedicated and Innovative

Echoing themes of courage, dedication and innovation, Old Dominion University graduation speakers challenged students to leave their mark on their community, the country and the world at the school's 114th commencement exercises on Saturday, May 7.

More than 3,800 students received undergraduate, master's and doctoral degrees in three ceremonies at the Ted Constant Convocation Center. The addition of a third ceremony was made this year in order to accommodate the growing size of the spring/summer graduating classes.

U.S. Sen. Jim Webb, the senior senator from Virginia, spoke to graduates from the College of Business and Public Administration and College of Health Sciences. Since joining the U.S. Senate in 2007, Webb has been a strong advocate for veterans, introducing and guiding the new GI Bill, the most significant veterans' legislation since World War II, through both houses of Congress.

During his speech, Webb recalled the day his father graduated from college after a lengthy military career and several decades of night school. "As soon as my father received that degree, he walked off the stage and directly up to me and said, 'You can get anything you want in this country - Don't you ever forget it," he said. "I never forgot it."

Webb praised Old Dominion's faculty and students, noting the school's research in the area of modeling and simulation and its strong military partnerships and programs. "You and your university are harnessing science and technology for the benefit of the nation," he said. Cautioning graduates to take notice of the chasm between the rich and the poor in the country, he challenged them to make a difference with their newly earned degrees.

"Use your education and technology to lift America together," said Webb. "You are off to a good start. Serve others. Your country needs you," he concluded.

Blythe J. McGarvie, CEO and founder of Leadership for International Finance, spoke to graduates from the Darden College of Education and College of Sciences. ODU awarded her an honorary doctorate of humane letters in 2009.

McGarvie, who wrote the 2009 best-selling book "Shaking the Globe: Courageous Decision-Makers in a Changing World," quoted Lily Tomlin's character in the play "The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe."

"Musing about her purpose in life, she says, 'I've always wanted to be somebody, but now I see I should have been more specific,'" McGarvie told the graduates. "Being specific takes courage. Being specific in your goals increases the chance of failure."

However, it also can serve as a motivator, said McGarvie, noting her specific goals of succeeding in a realm dominated by men - finance in the 1980s - and working in Paris as a corporate executive for a French company. McGarvie realized both goals by age 42.

"In my case, commitment to a goal came early. Just as importantly, I recognized that pursuing a goal involved sacrifice," she said.

In her address, McGarvie sought to dispel five statements she says are myth in business. These include statements such as "you will reach a time when you deserve what you get," and "keep your head down and work for success."

McGarvie told graduates they need courage to make a conscious decision to work towards specific goals, courage to work hard, be creative and focus on others. But the payoff is immense. Quoting Gandhi, McGarvie said: "As human beings, our greatness lies not so much in being able to remake the world … that is the myth of the atomic age … as in being able to remake ourselves. Now that takes courage."

Adriane M. Brown, president and COO of Intellectual Ventures, spoke to graduates from the College of Arts and Letters and the Frank Batten College of Engineering and Technology.

Brown's company collaborates with leading inventors, partners with pioneering companies and invests both expertise and capital in the development and monetization of inventions and patent portfolios.

Brown told graduates that she still vividly remembered her graduation day from Old Dominion University in 1980. She said she hoped the graduates were "comfortable" with what they've accomplished so far in their lives. "I know how much work it takes to get here, and how important this achievement is," she said.

In being proud of that accomplishment, Brown told graduates now to "be prepared to let it all go." She noted that we as people have a tendency to seek comfort. "But comfort zones breed conventional thinking and business-as-usual actions," she said.

"The truth is that it's only when we're wiling to think the unthinkable, to take unorthodox action, to set aside our comfort, it's only when we are willing to sacrifice what we are for what we can become, that we can truly unleash the unlimited power of our minds and the endless force of our creative spirit," Brown concluded.

During the day's ceremonies, ODU awarded honorary doctor of humane letters degrees to Jack L. Ezzell Jr., founder and CEO of Zel Technologies, LLC, a professional services firm in Hampton; Paul Hirschbiel, owner and president of Eden Capital, a consulting firm in Virginia Beach; and Harvey L. Lindsay Jr., chairman of Harvey Lindsay Commercial Real Estate, based in Norfolk.

This article was posted on: May 7, 2011

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