Tom Lange Commencement Address | Webster University

Tom Lange Commencement Address

ST. LOUIS (May 12, 2018) – Thank you very much.Tom Lange at podium at SOC Commencement

I want to start by saying, to Dean Rothenbuhler, faculty, parents, family members, friends, and especially you graduates, that I am sincerely honored by the invitation to speak to you today. Most of my immediate family is here, and I want to thank you for coming.

I also want to acknowledge Communications and Journalism Chair Gary Ford, who was instrumental in helping me complete my B.A. in Public Relations as a 40-something adult. There were times back then when, upon entering the classroom, many traditional students presumed me for the instructor. That was humbling. Let me say, though, without hesitation, the Webster experience was transformational to my career.

My journalism career started, in a way, as a sophomore at Vianney High School here in St. Louis, ascending to school newspaper editor my senior year. I enjoyed only certain aspects of school in those days: sports, writing for the paper, the 2:45 dismissal bell. I did not really enjoy classes related to math and science, so my goal was simply to remain academically eligible for extracurriculars.

In the years immediately following high school, my multiple starts and stops at pursuing a college education always seemed to culminate in one of two outcomes: taco station meister at Jack in the Box, or hardware store Renaissance Man.

Those are admirable jobs, no doubt, and where the term “honest day’s wages” is exemplified. But they did not involve writing, which I viewed as my destiny, at the time my unfulfilled destiny, and, today, remains my professional passion.

No worries, Dean Rothenbuhler and faculty members. I did learn to fully appreciate the importance of dedicating oneself to academic rigor, and earned my way onto the Dean’s List at Webster. But, I still have a touch of passion for those Jack in the Box tacos.

Graduates, what is your passion? I believe we’re all on a lifelong journey to find our passions on many fronts. Love. Our faith. Service to others. A cause. Today, I’ll focus on passion in, and for, our careers.

The world is changing faster than it ever has, and there is no better field in which to experience this rapid evolution than communications. We are living in the information era, and more than ever, the world needs articulate, authentic and inspiring communicators. Your hard work at Webster has prepared you to be just that.

My message today, graduates, will center on the things I believe vitally important to your first job, your next job, your career path, and, ultimately, fulfilling your professional passion.

First Job

Let’s be honest. There is almost zero chance that your first job, or company, is going to be the only one of your career. For the most part, that concept does not even apply to my generation, much less to you graduates here today.

Yes, I am bringing up the tail end of the baby boomers. It was baby boomers, keep in mind, who invented the artificial heart, the USB port, DNA fingerprinting, the World Wide Web and, critically perhaps, at least for me some day, the automated external defibrillator, commonly known as the AED.

Many of you here today are at the front of the Gen Z line, though likely some Millennials and Gen Xers are also here. Only your imaginations can put boundaries around what you and your classmates might invent. Regardless of your socially assigned generational moniker, at Webster University we all are part of a culture that transcends generations, and that supports and embraces diversity of thought. This is a real game changer for Webster graduates.

For just a moment, close your eyes and think back to when you were in eighth grade, and you ruled the school. Now fast forward a few months to your freshman year in high school, where you were at the bottom of the food chain. For many of you, your first job will be like that, especially if anywhere in your job description are the words “other duties as assigned.”

Fear not, however. You have nowhere to go but up and you get there by doing a ton of things to endear yourself to your new colleagues and your boss. Make the coffee – or at least the occasional coffee run. Ask people for their advice – they love to give it and you’ll probably learn something along the way. Raise your hand for the project no one else wants – and put in the time and effort to absolutely kill it.

Raise your hand again – this time to share your ideas. Your diversity of thought. People will most definitely learn something from you. Bring positive energy every day – it will rub off on everyone, even the most cranky coworker, and you’ll be a hero.

Soon, new opportunities will emerge because you are smart, creative, friendly, hard working and dependable. You’ve made the coffee, asked for advice, crushed that big project, and gotten the most out of your first job. Whether it’s at the same company or a different one, it’s time for your next job.

Next Job

Now, you cannot take lightly this next job. This is where your career can begin building some serious momentum. The most important part of your next-job decision is that you move toward it, and not simply move away from your first one. It’s a mindset, and it’s significant, so, choose wisely and thoughtfully.

You can read Buzzfeed or The Muse to find myriad lists of the top 28 things to do to in your next job search or interview. But I am here to tell you, there is only one tip that matters.

Be yourself. No matter what. No matter where. No matter who is on the other side of the table. No matter anything.

Because if you are a Fortnite ninja but your new gig is part of a Donkey Kong culture, you may as well surrender your Battle Pass. I’ve hired, fired and seen people simply tap out during my time leading communications teams. It is painful, for everyone, when it doesn’t work out and in almost every case, the person on the other side of the desk was not true to herself or himself during the interview process.

Conversely, it’s fantastic when you are excited about what you do from 8 to 5. Every single person on my team today is in a great spot, for himself or herself, for the team, and for the company. We love the work we do, and it is demonstrated by how we collaborate on projects, debate strategies and tactics, and, most importantly, the genuinely creative products and positive impact we deliver to the business. Nothing is more professionally fulfilling than sharing with others the passion for your performance. Be true to yourself, and it will come back to you many times over.

Career Path

You are graduating from the School of Communications because you excel, and in most cases, at least, enjoy your field of study. In practice, many of us veer from our expected career path.

Tom Lange and FamilyTake it from a former news media guy who made the leap to PR – the dark side, in news media parlance – you are likely to encounter opportunities in fields or industries of which you never dreamed. Some of which likely don’t even exist today.

Yes, you animation graduates may very well wind up at Disney or DreamWorks; many advertising and marketing communications majors will have long and successful careers leading agency teams and promoting world-renowned brands; and I truly hope some of you Journalism grads go on to win Pulitzer Prizes.

That said, I strongly encourage you to be receptive, even seek out, opportunities beyond your comfort zone. These opportunities could come in the form of a parallel path, a drastically different industry, or a geographic relocation.

During my 35-year career, I have held many roles, worked for six unique organizations, and lived in three different cities. With each choice, stepping outside of my professional and geographic comfort zones afforded me experiences I otherwise would have missed.

Examples include launching ground-breaking Super Bowl TV commercials, being part of an Olympic gold medal soccer delegation, and working for an iconic American company with roots connecting to Abraham Lincoln. I poured myself into each role, and in return gained insights from exceedingly talented people, experienced new learnings, cultivated important business connections, and made some very close friends.

Fulfilling Your Professional Passion

It’s interesting how our lives, our careers and our expectations change over time. As kids, some of us perhaps dreamed about one day being an astronaut, an actress, a professional baseball player – that was me – a doctor, a police officer, or, the most honorable of all, a teacher. Think about your own childhood memories, and then consider the degree you earned from Webster University’s School of Communications. How aligned is that dream with this degree?

For some of us, it might be hard to see a direct connection between the two. That is what is so fantastic about a Webster communications degree. The opportunities are nearly endless. The Webster experience prepares us to learn new things along our journeys. The world changes. What we are passionate about, changes. That we are passionate about something, does not.

In closing, my sincere congratulations, graduates. The degrees conferred on you today are to be prized. Display them with pride. And, recognize it is time to channel your passion for academic achievement into your career aspirations. After all, you have a destiny to fulfill.

Thank you.