Excerpt from the commencement address to the Sydney Lewis School of Business at Virginia Union University, May 8, 2021
To our graduates, Congratulations! Now let’s have a discussion about creating your legacy. For starters, I suggest you do not listen to Cheshire the Cat in Alice in Wonderland.
“Alice: Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?
The Cheshire Cat: That depends a good deal on where you want to get to.
Alice: I don’t much care where.
The Cheshire Cat: Then it doesn’t much matter which way you go.
Alice: …So long as I get somewhere.
The Cheshire Cat: Oh, you’re sure to do that, if only you walk long enough.”
You are too old to be getting life advice from fairy tales. Your student loans are real, it cost money to have your own place, and your newfound independence comes with a price.
Since this is the era of redefining who we are, let us extend this to how you define your career success. Booker T. Washington is quoted as saying, “Success is not measured by the heights one attains, but by the obstacles, one overcomes in its attainment” Why did I pick this quote? It is not my intention on being a party pooper but to relay the harsh realities about our national economy.
Due to the cyclical nature of our economy, you can bet your last dollar that downtown turns in the economy will affect your career during your working years. I survived the Reagan recession of 1983; the white-collar recession of 1992; the Great recession of 2008; and, most recently the recession brought on by the coronavirus. So, Booker T. Washington’s words have meaning.
Let me suggest that there is a way to minimize the impact of our cyclical economy by establishing and sustaining a personal legacy.
Yes, it is never too early to begin thinking about your legacy because time has a way of slipping away. May I suggest the following:
The first legacy is the legacy of fortitude. Fortitude is the virtue that allows us to overcome fear and to remain steady in our will in the face of all obstacles-physical and spiritual. Prudence and justice are the virtues through which we decide what needs to be done; fortitude gives us the strength to do it. Your fortitude commits you to your purpose. As my mother use to say, your fortitude gives you a backbone. Not only will it allow you to speak to injustice it will give you purpose. My fortitude has sustained me when seasons in my life were not always bright.
The second legacy I suggest is financial independence. Financial independence is important because it increases your ability to structure work to suit your personal and professional goals. A byproduct of financial independence is the ability to make decisions without the pressure and stress of the consideration of financial impact — or at least a reduction of those concerns.
The third legacy is the legacy of relationships. There will be two places where your legacy is written: on your tombstone and on the hearts of those you love, engage with, and network. What do you want to communicate to them and what do you want to be remembered for through the ages? I know a lot of professionals who think of only themselves and what it takes to get by, get promoted and get recognized. This is a myopic view of self. The biblical belief of when you bless others you in return will be blessed is true. Leaving a legacy is about connecting and creating relationships. The cornerstone of networking is built on trust and mutual benefit.
The fourth and final legacy is the legacy of providing value to the organization you work for. Employers want to see their employees succeed and would prefer to avoid losing top performers. By adding value to your employer, not only are you displaying a strong commitment to your team and the business, but it also holds you in good stride when it comes to career advancement.
Choosing to define your legacy in terms of overcoming will provide you the self-gratification needed to sustain yourself in unpredictable times. This has allowed me to pick the road I prefer to travel and it is a road I will continue for a bit longer.
Over the next several months, the Edwardsville NAACP will be providing programming on Black Wealth Accumulation. Specifically, our programming will focus on the dynamics of wealth accumulation over time and the structural impediments. This programming will help our members determine if the income gap can be remedy by legislation or personal decision or a combination of the two.
The Edwardsville NAACP Educational Grant is awarded to deserving graduating Edwardsville High School Seniors. Applications are being accepted NOW!!!!
Our organization is only as good as our members. Luckily, we have the best people in the world working with us to help us succeed.
Creating a better world can’t be done from the sidelines. Take action, and help our city improve! Raise your voice for change.
The mission of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People is to ensure the political, educational, social, and economic equality of rights of all persons and to eliminate racial hatred and racial discrimination