About the Speaker:
He earned his bachelor's degree at Catawba and then went on to earn his MBA from UNC Chapel Hill. He is employed as vice president of supply chain at RockTenn in Winston-Salem.
robert kincaid '02
President Lewis, members of the faculty, graduates, families and friends ... I'm honored that I was asked to speak to you today. I'm not exactly sure why. I'm not famous; not a big star ... not even a little star. I'm not a politician, faculty member or great former Catawba athlete. I'm not a local businessman or big benefactor of the college. I do give ... but my name is usually listed in really small print close to the bottom of those announcements. There's no building or classroom with my name on it ... but I will tell you that if heart and soul were brick and mortar there surely would be a Kincaid Center or a classroom named after me. Most folks here at Catawba know that I'm forever interested in this institution; that I love the people here; and that I have an interest in higher education. I believe that all students, regardless of age deserve the best education that they can earn. Keeping a job while going to school at night is a very hard thing to do ... I understand that very well. Let me congratulate you upfront; this was not an easy thing to do.
I came to Catawba back in 1998 after a friend and Alumnus recommended it to me. I earned my bachelor's degree and a year or so after that went on to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill to get my MBA. I make no secret about it ... my time at Catawba has proven to be one of the best things in my life. The work that I did here and the lessons that I learned both academically and socially have helped me live a richer and better life. At first, when asked to give this commencement address I said SURE ... no problem. Then after a few days and some thought ... I said "oh crap." You see most commencement addresses are given to a fairly homogeneous group ... basically a class of young people who will be new to the work force and eager to begin their young adult lives i.e. one speech for one particular group of people. Wind em up and send em out there. Well ... if you look around ... we're not all 21 and in fact I'd guess there are students graduating from this program that span in age from 25 to 60 ... most of whom have been working for years and don't need the "go get em rah rah speech". So I started thinking ... how the heck do I inspire the 20 something's ... mesmerize the 30 to 40 something's ... and pacify the 50 something's until I get off this podium??? Not an easy task ... so let's just see how it goes.
Since my time at Catawba, I've traveled a lot. I've walked on the Great Wall of China, seen Paris from the top of the Eiffel Tower and stood next to the great Buddha in Kamakura, Japan. I've been scuba diving with my wonderful son down the Bloody Wall in St. Croix, I've eaten wild boar in a little village in Germany and seen the cliff divers in Acapulco ... and many other wonderful things ... and believe it or not ... I've been able to do these things in part as a result of my time and the foundation that I received here at Catawba. Earning my degree at this great school allowed me to pursue my MBA at Chapel Hill which then allowed me to advance in my field. So you see ... they are very interconnected. Catawba really did change my life. You have to understand that I'm not a smart man ... . but I do think that I'm clever and hardworking ... both of which are skills you can learn. At times, I've been described as a cross between Doctor Phil and Andy Griffith ... I'll give you tough love but I'll make you like it. You see I'm a left thinking right brainer. I live in a numbers world but I notice the softer side of things. I guess you've heard the theory that analytical people use the left side of their brain and artsy folks use the right. So when I say that I'm a left thinking, right brainer ... that means that I'm all about the numbers but when we're finished ... I want to ask you how you FEEL about them.
When I started here, Fred Corriher was President, Dr. Karl Rodabaugh was the Dean of the evening program, and the bed bugs had not yet made it to campus. The program was still fairly new and was called Life Long Learning; a name that I'll admit I never liked. It always seemed to mislabel and mislead in my mind. This was college for God's sake! Not a casual stroll through memory lane with a test here and a paper there ... it was COLLEGE ... crammed into a shortened evening format. I'm sure it was given that name to soften the edges and encourage adult students to check it out and enroll. I do apologize to anyone here who helped create that name. I'll tell you that I'm glad it's now called the School of Evening and Graduate Studies. In my mind, a more fitting and honest name that describes what it truly is. When I came here ... I stayed for 5 years. You see I had no credits to transfer. I hadn't been to community college ... I was here for the long haul. I chose Catawba over several other schools like UNCC, Queens, Pfieffer and High Point. I wanted a day school education at night ... and I wanted to be prepared for grad school. I had set my sights on a graduate level education from the start and I wanted to get the appropriate undergraduate education to make that work. Sounds simple huh? What I wanted was as much of the college experience inside and out as I could get. I didn't want to go to school in an office building used for something else ... surrounded by students and faculty that were disconnected from the true idea of COLLEGE. Webster's defines college as: an organized body of persons engaged in a common pursuit. That's what I wanted! I didn't want to be given credit for life experience ... I didn't want to be given anything ... I wanted to be TAUGHT! I wanted to be TAUGHT things that I didn't know. I'll share a little story with you that is a bit embarrassing but illustrates exactly WHY I wanted and NEEDED to be taught. Several years before I came to Catawba, I was a young, hard charging salesman for the Mead Corporation. I had to fill out an expense report in long hand and fax it in weekly. See ... I'm not nearly as young as you thought ... "FAXING"??? After a year or so the company sent all of us salesmen a new expense form in Excel format ... now Excel was a name that I knew but only slightly. So the first week that I had to complete this form I looked closely and there were some X's appearing in the "total" cells after I'd filled in my day to day travel expenses. Instead of the dollar amounts of the reimbursements due to me, I saw these X's and I had no idea of why they appeared or how to fix them. I called IT at our headquarters down in Georgia in a huff and said "hey ... this form isn't working ... instead of totals all I see are X's". After an odd silence on the other end of the phone, the IT tech told me to simply expand the field by double clicking it ... I did ... and low and behold the numbers appeared. I have to tell you that even though I was alone in my office at home ... I lowered my head. I can tell you that now I'm considered a decent Excel man who writes "If statements" and "Look up" formulas. I wanted to learn something ... remember???? I needed to learn something!
While here at Catawba, I threw myself into this thing; went to football games, wrote poetry, attended almost every extracurricular event that I was invited to and a few that I wasn't. I lobbied for an expansion of the evening program and greater inclusion for our students. I helped form the Catawba chapter of the Alpha Sigma Lambda Honor Society and was its first president. One of my black and white photos made the cover of the poetry magazine one year and with the help of Dr. Janice Fuller ... I rekindled my love of reading, writing and photography. Now you have to understand that when I write poetry ... I don't write this "leaves floating gently down the babbling brook" stuff ... I write poems about eating corn on the cob and lamp posts and even wrote one about the Pillsbury Dough Boy getting old. Dr. Fuller was kind enough to take me to the NC Poetry Society meeting once where I read my racy Dough Boy poem to them ... I think they liked it.
I do know that sometimes evening students feel a bit disenfranchised from the school at large; kind of out of sight out of mind ... we do go to school in the dark after all. In the business world we would call this situation "silos with windows" and would consider it functional but restrictive. The day students and the evening students are in separate silos. They are close and can see each other through small windows in the silos but don't and can't to some extent freely exchange ideas and collectively participate in social activities. I realize that there are some natural boundaries with a day and evening program but I challenge both the school and the students in the evening program to open up those windows and get closer. When I was here I actually practice this idea of inclusion and got to work with the day students on assignments as a Junior Marshall. When I got the letter asking me to be a Marshall, I immediately called up the school and said: "hey ... I think that you've made a mistake when you asked me to be a Marshall ... I'm an old guy." They laughed and said no, we didn't make a mistake. We want you to participate but you'll have to commit to the duties and you can't leave us hanging because of work. I said ok and showed up for my first duty at the Convocation Ceremony over at the chapel. When I arrived I learned just how cleaver those 20 year olds were. They had volunteered me for the marshaling of the faculty. Well ... that seemed simple enough. I liked MOST of them. I was given a list of the faculty in the order in which they were to line up and walk into the ceremony. You need to understand that during a procession and recession, there is a specific order that the faculty is arranged in ... based on office held and tenure ... Kind of like rank in the military. It can be a VERY touchy subject. As I started to assemble them in the line outside the chapel ... I had several professors challenge the order that I had placed them in. I tried to show them the list and the order prescribed from the Administration but was challenged again ... finally as time ran out ... and they floundered around like lost children ... I said in a fairly stern voice ... "Look ... this is the order that I was given from the office and I'll have to ask you to line up according to that. If you have problems or questions, please take that up with the office ... but do that tomorrow. OK?" As we finished our duties that first day ... a few of the younger students came up and laughed and said good job ... we wanted you to have that assignment because we'd heard that there were always "skirmishes on the line". We felt that an older and more seasoned person would be able to handle them. I laughed out loud at their honesty and their clever way of handling that situation and I made a few friends that day ... friends who were not my age.
Don't ever confuse your life and your work. The second is only part of the first. Remember "No man ever said on his deathbed I wish I had spent more time in the office." I decided years ago that I want my epitaph to read: "Rob Kincaid: Good Son, Father and Friend and Good Man." Nothing else ... what else is there? What else would there be? You walk out of here this afternoon with only one thing that no one else has ... charge of YOUR life. There will be hundreds even thousands of people doing what you want to do for a living. But you will be the only person alive who has sole charge of your life. Your particular life. Your entire life. Not just your life at a work or your life at home, or in a car, or on the computer. Not just the life of your head, but the life of your heart. Not just your bank account ... but your soul. People don't talk about the heart and soul a whole lot anymore. It's so much easier to write a vitae or a resume than to describe a spirit. But vitae's and resumes are empty comfort on a cold night, or when you're sad, or broke, or lonely. I have tried never to let my profession stand in the way of being a good person. I've stopped thinking that I'm the end all be all; no longer the center of the universe. I show up. I listen, I try to laugh and make others laugh. I am a good friend to my friends, the few that I have. Without my constant introspection and ability to look at myself squarely in the mirror, every day ... without flinching and turning in disgust ... there would be nothing to say to you today, I would struggle to find the words.
So here is what I wanted to tell you today: Get a life, a real life, not a hell bent pursuit of the next promotion, the bigger paycheck, the speed boat or the larger house. Do you think you'd care so very much about those things if you collapsed with chest pains one afternoon, or got a call that your Dad had died? Get a life in which you notice the smell of the back of your husband or wife's neck ... you know that little place close to their ear? Live a life that lets' you be silly and laugh at yourself ... out loud. Live a life that lets you sing in the car to a song on the radio ... so loudly and with such emotion that those in the car next to you know that you're singing just by your facial expressions and head motions ... not the sound.
Get a life in which you're not alone. Find people you love, and who love you. And remember that love isn't easy; it's really a lot of work. Each time you look at your diploma, remember that you are still a student, still learning how to best treasure your connection to others. Pick up the phone. Write a letter ... yes a letter ... not an e-mail. I'm sure there are some of you here who've NEVER written a letter and may not even know where the stamp goes. The post office will help you get it located properly, trust me. Kiss your wife or husband for no reason ... and not one of those dry-lipped "close call" kisses ... I mean a kiss like they do in the movies ... you know all sloppy and wet. Hug your Dad ... whether you're man or a woman ... even if he is one of those "traditional non-affectionate" men that you hear so much about. Get a life in which you are mindful of the small and simple details. Look at a full moon, round and bright, perched high in the sky on a winters night. Just stand out there in the cold quiet and take some deep breaths and imagine how hundreds or thousands of people are outside at that same moment doing the same thing. Do these things and realize that life is the best thing ever, and that you have no business taking it for granted.
I find myself learning and relearning to live ... all the time ... and what I keep learning from these awakenings that I have from time to time is what today, seems to be the hardest lesson of all. It's not the destination ... it really is the journey. I know you've heard this before but I want to expand that thought just a bit and use a yardstick as an analogy. I believe that it's the small marks on the yardstick of your life that matter, not just the big ones. I look at a yard stick and think of the 1" segment on the left as my birth and the 35" segment on the right as the end of my life on this earth. Now ... I'm not going to stand up here and tell you that you are about 1/3 or half of the way through your life depending on your age. That's kind of morbid and may make you mad ... and that isn't my point. The idea is the importance of the individual marks on that yard stick between the 1 and 35. Think about this ... if you live your life from foot mark to foot mark ... it's not long and would be really simple. But if you live your life experiencing lots of things, through travel, friendships, new work assignments and furthering your education ... as you've done ... the small marks are where you live ... not the big ones. As you look at that yard stick you have to notice all of those small marks ... the 16ths and 32nds ... not just the half inch and inch marks. Do the math ... there are only three foot marks, 36- inch marks ... but there are 72- half inch marks, 144- quarter inch marks and so on. An active, involved and caring life will cause you to see those small marks. Don't just live your life from "foot to foot" ... or " inch to inch". Live your life in the details and the wonderful world of the small marks. Counting the small marks, I'm convinced, will make your life seem longer ... no doubt that part of this analogy is very apparent ... but my challenge to you is that if you live your life counting those small marks; it will be much, much richer. The details of those "small marks" that you've lived in your life will forever paint pictures in your mind and give you a context and perspective as well as a contentment that will stay with you forever. Live your life; don't let it live you.
I found one of my best teachers of this philosophy while I worked in a tobacco shop in the mall maybe 25 years ago. A retired couple, Harry and Miriam Cress, walked around the mall every morning for exercise. Harry would walk one time around and then his wife would park him with me while she went a few more rounds. We'd always chat while I got the store opened up. We'd cover politics, religion and all topics in between. One day we were talking about life in general and he said: "You know I've had about 8 chances in my life to either travel or invest or take a chance that would have made me a fortune or changed my life dramatically ... and I didn't do a single one. He told me that once he was offered a chance to invest in a new race track owned by a man named Bruton Smith ... and he didn't. Once he had a chance to travel to the Far East ... and he didn't. He told me that he'd had several chances in his life to step outside the box and do different things and he didn't. "Now I'm just a miserable old man sitting in a rocking chair thinking about what could have been" he said. Don't do what I did ... take a chance or two". Harry wasn't telling me to do crazy or reckless things. He said: "If the new job doesn't work out, get another ... if you go to Japan and they don't speak English ... just smile a lot ... if you go broke ... just make some more money ... those things can be fixed. What can't be fixed is the regret that you feel when you're my age and haven't tried them. Now I sit in this rocking chair every day and regret ... and I can't fix that."
And that's the last thing I have to tell you today, words of wisdom from a man who knew the taste of regret for a life not fully lived and was kind enough to clue me in. The words that he spoke to me when I was 22 still ring in my head. Don't be an old man sitting in a rocking chair wondering what might have been. Take a chance or two and live in the small marks of the yardstick of your life. What you've gotten today is a liberal arts education which, in my humble opinion, is the best education to get. A liberal arts education is why you had to study music, poetry, and other subjects that have very little to do with business, criminal justice or education. I believe that a liberal arts education is part of the small marks of the yard stick that I just described.
When you leave here today, be happy and know that when you make others happy ... when you make them smile or laugh ... that feeling will stay with them ... and you for eternity; chiseled ever so slightly into heads, hearts and souls ... the small marks of your yardstick and theirs.
OK ... for you 50 something's ... I'm done. I‘ll close with words by Ralph Waldo Emerson ... .
"To laugh often and much; to win the respect of intelligent people and affection of children; to earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; to appreciate beauty, to find the best in others; to leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch or a redeemed social condition; to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded. "
I thank you for your time and again, congratulations on a remarkable accomplishment.