I would like to start by thanking the University of Redlands for allowing me this opportunity to address the graduating class of 2016.
And to the class of 2016, let me officially say congratulations on a job well done!
Several months ago the University reached out to me and extended this offer to be the commencement speaker at this year’s graduation for the School of Business. I was truly touched to be given this opportunity. Touched for a number of reasons, not the least of which is the fact that I feel indebted to this institution.
Actually, I’m literally “in debt” to this institution as I’m still making student loan payments.
But, I’m also indebted to this institution for allowing me the opportunity to get an education here, an education that opened doors and an education that created opportunity and set the foundation for me to advance in my own career.
Dean Roberts reached out shortly after I found myself in the media spotlight following the terrorist attacks that took place just a few minutes from here, down the 10 freeway in the City of San Bernardino. On that day I went from being a police chief in a busy city with the normal busy schedule and demands that come with being the police chief in San Bernardino to being a police chief in a place where the unspeakable happened. The demands on my time have absolutely exploded in the months since that attack.
There is a process in the law enforcement business following these large scale national events. You have a duty and a responsibility to provide lessons learned to other professionals in the business. Everybody in the industry learns from the experiences of others and seeks to improve and to prepare for the next big event. And although we would like to believe that there will not be another big event we know that will not be the case, there will always be the next challenge and there will always be work that needs to be done.
So aside from my regular responsibilities of running a police department I have been doing a fair amount of travel, talking with other chiefs and professionals in the business and providing insights to the San Bernardino experience.
But aside from those scheduling demands, today’s date has been circled on my calendar since the invitation was extended. An opportunity I was truly looking forward to.
I made an assumption about today that turned out to be wrong.
I assumed I would simply show up here today with my speech and talk. I was wrong. A little over a week ago my secretary tells me that she received a call from the University and they need a copy of my speech. I immediately had a flashback to being in college….
I’m thinking, I have to turn this in as if it’s an assignment?
I ask my secretary—her name is Susie—“Are they going to grade it? Does a speech have to be grammatically correct?”
Then I get defensive and tell her, “It’s not even due for another week and a half.”
Now, Susie is used to my occasional rants, so without missing a beat she says, “Well Chief, should I just tell them your dog ate it?”
Now the truth is I had not finished writing it yet so I’m like, “Yeah, you think that will work?" She just shakes her head at me and tells me to get her a copy when I’m done and she will get it to the University. It’s good to have people around you that keep you on task because I think she reminded me several times before I finally got this to her.
In this process, I sat down and started thinking about what I want to say today. I did what everybody does for inspiration and ideas; I went to the universal how-to guidebook for everything… YouTube! I searched college commencement speeches. There are lots of them there. Speeches by politicians, speeches by academics, by actors, by comedians, by leaders in business, by journalists—people that thrive in the spotlight. Nothing from a police chief.
Then I went to that great research tool that every college graduate uses, and every college professor hates—but uses themselves, Google. (The University turned off my Lexis Nexus access after I graduated). I Googled, “Police Chief College Commencement Speech.” And what do I get? An advertisement for Mens Wearhouse. Ironic, in that George Zimmer, Mr. “You’re Going to Like the Way You Look” was supposed to be one of my college commencement speakers several years ago.
There were no direct hits on that search topic. That made me think that maybe this was not supposed to happen. Does a guy like me end up giving college commencement speeches?
The reality is that I probably have a lot more in common with most of you in the audience and most of you graduating today than I have with all those famous commencements speakers on YouTube—the actors, the journalist, the world political leaders. But, just in case any of you are sitting out there thinking you aspire to be one of those world leaders, the next mover and shaker of our society—let me just wish you good luck!
I’m a regular guy that was born and raised in Southern California. I was an average student in school and when I graduated high school, college was not really in my deck of cards. I didn’t have the money and I really did not have the drive to continue in school at that time. I knew I wanted to be a cop and the minimum qualifications to be a street cop do not include a college degree, so I thought I was good. I married young, had kids and became a cop.
Shortly after starting my career in law enforcement I came to the realization that a college degree was something that I probably needed to pursue if I ever wanted to be promoted. It took me years of taking a class here and there at SBVC before I finally finished my associate’s degree. Then I found myself immersed in a program here at the University of Redlands and within a couple years I had a bachelor’s degree in hand.
I retuned a couple years later, immersed myself again at this campus and came away with a master’s degree. All the while my career was progressing and of course I was juggling a family life and raising kids. I never did those things because I thought that someday I was going to be a chief or that I would someday find myself in the center of a media firestorm following a terrorist event. I did it simply to position myself to advance myself and to prepare myself for future opportunities and challenges.
To those of you graduating, I don’t know your individual stories but I’ll bet there are many common themes in my story that align with your story. There are a lot of you that did not have the opportunity to go straight from high school to college, live in a dorm, and have that “traditional” college experience. Many of you are adults and already well-established in your careers. Some of you already have families. Like me, you see this college education as something that will open doors and propel you forward in your career. You have a drive, you had a goal!
It's quite possible that sitting here today was part of your plan, but it probably did not happen exactly the way you once thought it would happen.
The unexpected happens all the time and it happens in all of our lives. Sometimes, you can do everything right, you can plan, you can prepare, but the unexpected still happens. The question is, how do you react when the unexpected happens? For many of you, just being here today demonstrates that you have the ability to react, to overcome adversity and the unexpected.
I’ve always been a little bit of a planner in life and I’ve always been goal oriented. But I’ve learned over the years that the best you can do is prepare yourself to be as flexible as possible in order to react as best you can when the unexpected occurs. Or to ensure that you’re flexible enough to seize an opportunity when it presents itself. The unexpected will happen, opportunities will present themselves—will you be ready?
San Bernardino and our region was not supposed to be the site a terrorist attack. Those things happen in New York, Washington DC, Paris, London—I could name hundreds of cities that would be deemed a bigger target than San Bernardino. But it happened here. And to the surprise of many around the world, our region reacted and responded as well as any community could respond.
Our region never planned for an attack to take place on December 2, 2015. We did not anticipate that a specific location would ever be targeted, never planned that if it did happen it would have a nexus to radical ideological beliefs and take its place among the notorious attacks that this country has endured. Not here.
But, this region and the public safety professionals that serve here prepared for bad things to happen. They seek to make themselves better and to be capable to respond when the need arises. And on December 2, they responded in a manner that made us all proud.
Were they ready for that day? They had the training to be considered professionals, they were respected in their fields, they were good at what they did, but nobody can be completely prepared for what they encountered that day. There are stories that abound from that day about officers that lacked all the necessary equipment they thought they needed, yet they overcame that and found a way to get the job done. There are stories of officers that had trained for active shooter situations but honestly thought they would never call upon those skills and that training—yet they did on that day.
They did the difficult things by training and preparing to be as ready as they could possibly be for an unexpected event to occur that day.
What have you done to prepare yourselves for the unexpected?
Getting a college degree is not easy. It’s not easy when you’re juggling all the challenges of life, raising a family and working full time and it’s not easy as a traditional student trying to understand a strange world around you, knowing that after you graduate you have to get out there and get it all figured out.
But, you did it!
Your challenge does not end today. The future is uncertain. The economy is uncertain, the safety and security of our communities and our neighborhoods are uncertain. Your futures are uncertain. Nobody can tell you with any degree of certainty what may happen in your career going forward, what challenges lie ahead or even what opportunities may present themselves to you in the months and years ahead.
You can plan all you want, and I encourage it, as planning and being goal oriented gives you direction in life and sets a positive course. But I can almost guarantee that the future will not play out the way you have it planned in your head. The most successful people in life will tell you that they ended up being successful after a series of twists and turns that were not expected. But they managed to always adapt, to always react and when necessary they embraced challenges and reinvented themselves.
Your accomplishment in just being here today is evidence that you possessed the skills necessary to adapt to the challenges of working your way through college, working your way through a rigorous academic challenge.
But, as I said, it does not end here today. Hone those skills, train yourself, be flexible to take on the challenges of tomorrow, the challenges of a changing business environment and the challenges of an uncertain world. Be prepared to react when those great challenges come into your life.
Class of 2016: Your families are proud of you, your friends are proud of you, this University is proud of you. Now it’s your chance to get out there and let this world know what you are made of, to make your mark. You are officially part of a proud club, a University of Redlands Bulldog graduate, U of R alumni. Now get out there and be a Bulldog in action!