A Graduation Speech Worth Hearing, Part Two

Last Friday night, I heard a terrific commencement speaker at Loyola University Chicago, where I teach part time. The speaker for the School of Communication ceremony was John McDonough, president of the Chicago Blackhawks. Under his leadership, the Blackhawks achieved what Forbes Magazine has called “The Greatest Sports-Business Turnaround Ever,” re-energized the fan base and won the Stanley Cup for the first time since 1961. Before that, he was president of the Chicago Cubs with a reputation for marketing savvy and innovation.

At the beginning of the speech, he candidly acknowledged his less-than-stellar high school career. His advice was exactly the kind of rubber-meets-the road pointers that a young graduate needs. Here’s part of what he said:

  • First and foremost, no matter where you go from here, we’re all in the people business.
  • Personality and warmth will take you further than any other skills.
  • Preparation and persistence give you a chance to be lucky.
  • Be well-read. Information is the engine of the mind.
  • Be interesting and interested. Reading makes you interesting, listening makes you interested.
  • Have the confidence to laugh at yourself. It disarms others from doing so.
  • People like to surround themselves with happy people.
  • Be humble with your successes and treat failure as an incentive.
  • Express sincere compliments frequently.
  • Call people by their name. It adds a classy touch.
  • Ask others about themselves. That is their favorite topic and will inspire conversation.
  • Look people squarely in the eye when you speak to them and give them a firm handshake.
  • People are impressed with a broad vocabulary.
  • There is genius in brevity. Get to the point.
  • Please have big dreams. They just may come true.

These no-nonsense pointers make a lot of sense to me. And if the graduates remember even a few of them, they will have walked out of that ceremony with something just as valuable as their diplomas.

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  • All good points. Thanks for summarizing the graduation speech. I liked how you made the article in two parts.

  • Stephanie Photakis

    i love john! I was lucky enough to hear him speak a few years back right after he decided to take the reigns of the Blackhawks. Amazing marketing genius he is.