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A Message for All Graduates

Jim Correll, director Fab Lab ICC at Independence Community College, Independence Kansas 

It was nice to get back to a “real” graduation ceremony recently at Memorial Hall in Independence for the ICC graduating class of 2021. Masks were highly recommended and there was no limit on how many family members could attend in support of each graduate. The ceremony went well and symbolized our journey back toward normalcy. 

In the regalia room—where faculty and staff struggle to remember how to wear the related gowns, tassels, cords and collars--before the ceremony our new ICC president Vince Bowhay joked with me “Jim, I’d like to ask you to make my graduation speech.” He doesn’t know me well enough to know that I would have gladly taken him up on the offer. I always have something to say. It was a joke, and he went on to do a great job with the ceremony especially considering he’d been on the job as president for a total of two and one-half weeks at the time. 

My message would have been the same as it was back in 2019 when I had the privilege of addressing that year’s group of GED graduates in our Adult Basic Education program. Indeed, the message would be the same whether addressing a graduation ceremony of kindergarten, technical or Ivy League schools. The script for the remarks would go something like this. 

I’m going to tell you the four steps to be successful in your life. No matter what you plan to do or end up doing with your life, following these four steps will make your life a success. 

Step One: Make a Decision to Serve 

Make a decision to live your life serving others and know that the best way to serve yourself is to serve others first. Ultimately, we should view anything we do in life as serving others. If we own our own business, we serve customers. If we work for someone else, our employer serves others and we in turn can help our employer serve customers better. If we work for the government, we serve our constituents (or at least we’re supposed to serve our constituents.) Serve others and let the money take care of itself. The world is full of people who are working only for the dollar that are not happy. Working in service of others and having plenty of money will go much further toward happiness than just chasing the dollar. 

Step Two: Look for Opportunity 

Always be on the lookout for opportunity. Once you decide to serve others, be on the lookout for needs not being met or ways to meet the needs better. That’s entrepreneurial thinking and we can use more of it across all segments of society. Once you develop this kind of thinking you’ll see opportunities presenting themselves all the time. You’ll even develop an ability to view problems as opportunities awaiting your solutions. Your opportunities may come in unexpected ways and involve unexpected changes in your areas of interest, experience and knowledge. Check around with your friends and family and you’ll see there are legions who are doing something very different with their lives than they envisioned when they went to school. 

Step Three: Be a Life-Long Learner 

Become a life-long learner. Along with new opportunities and changes in areas of interest and experience comes the need to become a life-long learner. Whatever you learned in school is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of what you need to know to be successful in life. Some of what you learned in school was irrelevant the day you learned it. Much of the other knowledge you learned will become obsolete as the world continues to change at a frantic pace. Life-long learning comes from having a Growth Mindset; a curiosity about the world around you, how it works and how you might make it better. Learning is definitely not limited to the idea of more schooling. You have our civilization’s accumulated knowledge at your fingertips and, with a little critical thinking, can learn anything you need to know as you move through life. 

Step Four: Do What You Say You’ll Do 

The fourth step to being successful in life is the simplest and most important. Do what you say you will do. This includes everything in life to which you make commitments, your work, your school, your relationships and your family. Demonstrate in all you do, to those around you that when you say you’ll do something, you will actually follow through and do it. 

There you have it. The key to a successful life in four easy steps; easy but requiring hard work and commitment. Follow these steps and you’ll have everything you need, a place to call home, transportation to go places, plenty to eat, some extra money for vacation and leisure and the internal satisfaction and fulfillment of knowing you’ve served others and made the world a better place. 

Jim Correll is the director of Fab Lab ICC at the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship on the campus of Independence Community College. He can be reached at (620) 252-5349 or by email at Archive columns and podcasts at 


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