Binghamton University Commencement Spring 2015 | Don Greenberg: “Greatness”

Binghamton University Commencement Spring 2015 | Don Greenberg: “Greatness”

October 15, 2019 1 By Stanley Isaacs


So, this is awkward I know this is sort of an interesting
arrangement. But, I wanna first and foremost express
my tremendous gratitude to the school, for making it happen. Right after hearing that I was chosen to be the walking commencement speaker . . . My wonderful girlfriend asked . . . “Hey, isn’t that ceremony on Saturday?” Yes, Danielle it is on Saturday. Great! The problem is that Saturday is the
Jewish Sabbath. A day that as a central part of my
Orthodox upbringing . . . is free of all electronics like say, a microphone . . . as well as writing, driving, cooking and lots of other things. It’s a time to relax with family and friends and forget about the week. And, it’s a big part of my life. My family walked here this morning. And, we walked to Chabad at noon . . . for the traditional Chabad lunch. So, I contacted my high school principal Rabbi Heartstark, who consulted with other rabbis and Jewish sources . . . and we talked through my options. Apparently, some microphones are allowed, but we would need to ensure that no lights or circuits would be engaged as a result of my speaking. I contacted Katie Ellis in Communications
and Marketing, to tell her that I would love to speak . . . but that I had some slight restrictions. Immediately, she began exploring the matter and it turns out that we could get the right kind of microphone . . . But, there’s no way to way to ensure that no lights are being engaged on the sound board, as I speak. Thankfully, the school then offered to
pre-record the speech . . . And, show it at graduation, which I agreed would be tasteful. So, right now it is Wednesday and I still
have a final tomorrow. But also right now it is Saturday and
I’m standing awkwardly at the podium . . . wondering if my voice always sounds this
high. I’m inexpressively thankful to the school
for going above and beyond to accommodate this central part of my life And, for ensuring that I could still
deliver a meaningful speech to the Watson Class of 2015. I know it’ll be meaningful because I get
as many tries as I want. On that note, I’d also like to thank the faculty, staff and leadership at this University . . . for everything they’ve done for us. I always tell people that Binghamton is the absolute best place . . . if want to do something really different
with your education . . . And need a college crazy enough to support you. I also want to thank the class of 2015
for sharing this beautiful moment with me. And, to the friends and family who made
it happen. I always thought the parents deserved
more congratulations on Graduation Day . . . because I went through hell for four years
and you went through it for 22. Thank you, sincerely. I want to speak today about being great. Early on in my college career, I faced a question about whether I could be great or if I was just normal. Not in the sense of social skills, or personality or anything like that. I think that ship has sailed. But, what I wanted to know was whether I could be truly great in my accomplishments in my career. Looking around at the vasity of people my
age, this seemed like a simple unlikelihood. Unfortunately, we can’t all become
superstars, like Kevin Federline. Or, the children from Spy Kids, my
favorite documentary. I know this seems like a sort of empty question. But for me, it was by far the biggest
factor in how I thought about my future. If I was truly exceptional, than I should
ignore the past with my peers and pursue the road to greatness, as I saw fit. If not, then I may as well relax and choose a safe major, as if anyone is safe. And, enjoy life. From the ground, it just seems risky and delusional to set out for success . . . by ignoring pretty much every piece of conventional career wisdom. It even sounds really stupid to say. You can imagine, how stupid I must’ve felt to be the one trying to ignore this constant outpouring of warnings or self-doubt . . . depending on your results. There’s a powerful phenomenon and
suggestion I think plays a key role in developing these doubts. The analogy I like to use is that orientation alcohol training we had before freshman year. It asks you if you’ve ever been so hungover, that you had to take a shot the next morning, to feel better. And freshman me, is just sitting there
like that is a great idea. Does that work? I think it’s kinda the same way with how we’re brought up to think about ambition. Don’t you think it’s kinda weird that
Disney Channel is always saying, . . . “Don’t listen to what other people are saying. Follow your dreams.” And, it’s like I was going to follow my
dreams before you told me that everyone says, “I suck.” I literally had never heard that until
you told me just now; that everyone thinks I suck. So, my question remained. Should I follow my gut instinct path to greatness? Or, do I reject that path as unlikely, and
try to emulate the past successes, that seemed to work well? I think it’s tempting in college look up
at the job hierarchies and speculate as to where we might land. Busy executive, balanced middle manager . . . lovable old person who faxes everyone
inappropriate jokes. The hierarchies themselves seem to establish as a universal truth of industry. That everyone ascends to the rightful
place. These hierarchies are everywhere;
business, academia, the food pyramid. I’m not here to tell you if you work
hard you can increase your place in the pyramid. I’m here to tell you that you have no
place at all, but in a good way. In a way, that the biggest thing stopping
you from winning a Nobel, is the belief, that you probably won’t. Here’s a general rule: If you decide ahead of time, you will like where you will likely end up . . . you’ll end up there. Not in a good inspirational way; in a bad way. Let’s say, I arbitrarily latched on to the idea of working in a hedge fund. I’ll probably network. Study finance to get there. Do the requisite steps, but more importantly, I’ll do nothing more, when I feel like I am on track . . . It certainly won’t feel as worthwhile to study physics, biology, art or any other interest . . . that doesn’t directly push me toward a hedge fund. I’ll have already opted out of my instinctive path to greatness, because I’m guessing, it’s unlikely. And, I’ll be fine with the idea of working at a hedge fund, because it seems doable. I figure I’m just not a Nobel Prize
kinda guy . . . So, I might as well relax and act the part. This is one of the interesting lenses, through which we see the world. Why do we see great opportunities before us and ask who am I to succeed? Why do we see genuine walkways to greatness and ignore them . . . doubting the truly exist. Why? Because there isn’t room in the greatness boat for everyone. Is my greatness boat, exactly the same
greatness boat as everyone else’s? I’m not telling you to latch onto a
crazy dream and pursue it, I’m telling you to latch on nothing. Loosen up. Let your instincts guide you. Deep inside, you know you what you need to do next to achieve your greatness. Listen to that voice. It might be buried deep, but I know it’s in there. Because that voice is just you, minus the rankings and insecurities and assumed likelihood. That voice is twenty plus years of
experience and it knows you, better than you know you. It will never tell you to cruise. When I was a freshman, I wanted to add a finance degree, onto my computer science degree. But, I was freaked out by the idea. I didn’t
know anyone who had already done it. And, everyone I spoke to give me stern
warnings against it. If I remember correctly, a peer advisor
told me that I would die. And, I am 90 percent sure that they were
not correct. Also, I do not believe that is in the
peer advisor employee handbook. When decision time came, only one thought pushed me over that hurdle. I can do this. I’ve looked at the curricula.They seem alright. I’m gonna gonna go with what I feel on
this one. In junior year considering a math major . . . I heard the same warnings and moved
forward with the same thoughts. This feels doable. This is what I need to
do. I never had any master plan, so I could feel extra great about my degree
program. It just sorta happened. I reflected every
few weeks. It just felt right in my stomach. This is the reason I listen to the voice in my head. The voice tells me when to read up and when to act quickly. It tells me not to drop out of school and start distributing my mix tape. It tells me when to ask for help and when to try something for myself. The voice also tells me how I need to strive for my greatness, no matter how my peers pursue theirs. I know you pretty well. I know that deep down you strive for
greatness. And deep down, you know that you’re
different from everyone else. Binghamton is a petri dish for our kind of people. My friends at the ivies said four years have been pounded into them and they probably aren’t the best. It’s hard not to just cruise in that environment. We have it. Binghamton is a place that cultivates that deep ambition. That, I’m different from other students; I want to show them what I can do kind of scrappiness. My message to you is two-fold. First, remember the college that made you this way. The faculty, staff and students who opened you up to your own greatness. Second, remember how lucky you are to live in a world that’s afraid to pursue great. Go out and take yours. Good luck and Shabbat shalom.