Commencement Address, Fall 2008 - Gloria Jackson

Gloria JacksonGloria Jackson, secretary/treasurer and owner of CableAmerica Corp. in Mesa, Ariz., will be the keynote speaker at Northern’s Dec. 13 commencement ceremony. The Marquette native and NMU alumna will also receive an honorary doctor of business degree.

Jackson graduated with a bachelor's degree in business administration from NMU in 1968. She has maintained strong ties to her alma mater, hosting many alumni gatherings at her Arizona home and serving as an NMU Foundation trustee for 19 years.

Her passion for higher education has inspired her support of students throughout the Upper Peninsula. She has established endowed scholarships at NMU, Michigan Technological University and Finlandia University. She has also served as chair, secretary and member of the Finlandia Board of Trustees.

Pride in her Finnish heritage has kept Jackson active in the American-Finnish community and has led her to travel overseas frequently. She has been a delegate to the Parliament of Expatriates in Helsinki, Finland, a former chair of the Finnish Council in America and a member of the Suomi Seura (Finland Society). She is the honorary consul of Finland for the State of Arizona and chair of the Consular Corps of America.

Jackson also is a generous patron of the arts and has helped to build bridges between the arts communities of the Americas and Finland by sponsoring the 2000-03 North American tour of F2F:  New Media Art from Finland, an international touring exhibition showcasing works by contemporary media artists.

She is a recipient of the Alumni Service Award from NMU, the Silver Award of Merit for promoting Finnish culture from Suomi Seura, the Lion Award from the former Suomi College (now Finlandia University) and an honorary doctor of humane letters from Finlandia University.

The family-owned CableAmerica Corp. has been developing and operating cable TV systems since 1971. The company employs more than 200 and operates or has operated in 17 states, including Michigan.

Northern’s commencement exercises begin at 10:30 a.m. in the Superior Dome. They will be broadcast live on WNMU-TV.

NMU Commencement Address - December 13, 2008

Gloria Jackson
My Journey:  1968-2008

Good morning Graduates, Faculty and Staff, Parents and Friends of Northern.

George Burns once said “The secret of a good sermon is to have a good beginning and a good ending; and to have the two as close together as possible.” I think this also applies to commencement addresses and I shall keep that in mind.  Finns do not waste many words and being of Finnish upbringing I am not prone to long orations.  There are numerous stories about how brief Finnish conversations are.  For example: two Finnish loggers went  into the forest  to cut trees.  On the way in they saw some tracks on the forest floor. One Finn said “rabbit?”  A week later they returned and passed the same tracks and the other Finn said “yes”.

When Northern contacted me about this morning’s ceremony I was asked to make some remarks on a topic of my choosing.  I have decided to talk about my forty year journey from where you are sitting today  to where I am standing today. 

First I want to congratulate the graduates on your achievements.  You have acquired an asset at NMU that no one can take from you.  It is not the piece of paper that you will receive attesting to the fact that you have graduated from Northern Michigan University, but the knowledge that you have acquired and stored in your RAM over the last few years. Your professors have worked diligently with you to help prepare you for your journey following graduation. On this journey you will arrive at junctions where decisions must be made regarding the path you will follow.  Sometimes the decision you make may be very small, but the impact on the rest of your life may be huge.

Yogi Berra once gave a commencement address with five pieces of advice to the graduates.  His advice included the following:  “during the years ahead, when you come to a fork in the road, take it.”  I believe the advice suggested in Robert Frost’s poem “The Road Not Taken” and Dr. Scott Peck’s book The Road Less Traveled”  are more meaningful.

To begin, I would like to share with you Frost’s  poem which is my favorite.

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence;
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I ---
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

I believe we can equate our life’s journey with Robert Frost’s poetic journey. Dr. Scott Peck in his book The Road Less Traveled, also addresses the same ideas:  known versus unknown and acts of conformity versus totally free choices.  Life is relatively safe and secure when we make known choices or conform to what others expect of us.  There is a much greater challenge and a great deal of risk when we pursue the unknown by making totally free choices independent of what those around us expect or think.

Frost’s poem reminds me of three philosophical sayings that I have made a part of my life’s journey:

  1. To dream about the person you would like to be is to waste the person you are.  Be true to yourself.  You are who you are.  Do not try to be what someone else thinks you should be.  You have your own unique strengths and talents.  Capitalize on them and you will be sure to succeed.  If you really would like to change, don’t dream about it, do something active about changing.
  1. Footprints in the sands of time are not made sitting down.  Dare to be involved: involved with your children and their activities,  your family and friends, your church, your community, your country, your political party, charities, your alumni association.  To sit down and not be involved is a lot easier but a lot less rewarding.  And you will have no right to complain if things are not going the way you think they should be. 

The latter two were published on little plaques by anonymous authors.  The following one is my version of behind every cloud there is a silver lining:

  1. When something bad happens to you something good will come out of it. It may not immediately, but eventually it will.  In the midst of a crisis, it’s hard to imagine that something good could come out of it.  But, if you hold onto that thought, it will help you get through.   A recent example in my life happened last summer.  I was flying to Hancock on a flight that left Phoenix at 6:50 a.m.  I set the alarm for 4:15 a.m.  I awoke with a start at 6:20 a.m.  I had inadvertently set the alarm for 4:15 p.m.  I have flown over one million miles with Northwest Airlines and had never missed a flight before.  I was able to change my flight to an afternoon flight with a connection that arrived in Hancock close to midnight.  What is the good you ask.   It turned out that the morning flight was three hours late and I would have missed my early connection in Minneapolis, arriving in Hancock on the last flight anyway.  Instead of spending four hours at the Phoenix Airport and another six to seven hours at the Minneapolis Airport I had a good night’s sleep, spent only a couple of hours in Phoenix and a couple of hours in Minneapolis.

I have been accompanied on this journey by my husband Bill.  What better combination for business than a Michigan Tech engineer and an NMU accountant.  Tech’s President calls it a mixed marriage, of which he says there are many.  Together we have  been involved in several different business enterprises.  We have owned an electronic parts distributorship, an industrial equipment sales business, an antenna installation business, a local origination TV station, and  a gourmet cookware store.  In 1971 we entered the cable TV business when the Air Force decided that the government operated cable TV system at K.I. Sawyer  AFB should be run by a private contractor.  We placed a bid and won the contract.  Following that we have had systems in seventeen states and are currently in two.  Since then the Cable TV industry has gone from offering twelve channels to hundreds of  channels,  internet service and telephone service.

Along this journey one of the most interesting and rewarding experiences has been my service to Finland following my appointment by Finland’s  Foreign Ministry and confirmation by the U. S. State Department as the Honorary Consul of Finland to the State of Arizona.  This brought me into contact with thirty other diplomats in Arizona, some honorary and some career.  Following service to the Corps as Treasurer I was elected Chairman.   Because the Arizona Consular Corps has an endowed scholarship at Thunderbird School of Global Management the Chairmanship brings with it appointment as an ex-officio member of Thunderbird’s Global Council.  Thunderbird  is a private graduate level business  school with affiliations in Mexico, China, Switzerland and France  and is currently working on programs in Russia and Saudi Arabia.  With these two connections my interest in international, or global, issues has reached new levels, especially in the area of global education.

One of Thunderbird’s programs is called Project Artemis.   The program was started in 2005 and each year brings to the campus fifteen business women or aspiring business women from Afghanistan for a two week crash course in business.  Even after Taliban rule has ended, conditions for women in Afghanistan are nowhere near what they are in the West.  In many places they are quite grim.  I sponsored one of the ladies  for the recent class in October and had the opportunity to meet all of them.  They had with them one of the previous graduates who now runs a business in Kandahar called Kandahar Treasures.  She employs about five hundred Afghan women to do hand work at their homes.  She then sells their work worldwide.  She told me that ninety-nine percent of the women are illiterate, they can neither read nor write and cannot even sign their names. The very intricate work they do takes their minds off the situation  and the money they earn, about twenty U.S. dollars a month,  goes a long way toward improving their living conditions.  I applaud these business women for their courage and vision as they are helping rebuild Afghanistan one women owned business at a time.

Plans are to expand Project Artemis to bring in women from Jordan for the same kind of education.

Goldman Sachs in New York is partnering with fifteen schools, including Thunderbird,  in what they call the 10,000 Women Project.  The goal is to educate 10,000 women from developing countries in business skills.  

With the world shrinking as it is today, it is vital to include an international, or global, component to education.   When Dr. Wong told me about his plans for an international experience for students at Northern I could not have agreed more enthusiastically.  I am happy to see it included in NMU’s Road Map to 2015 and Beyond.  We plan on assisting students gain the experience through an endowed scholarship.

I think “The Road Not Taken” and The Road Less Traveled also applies to NMU.  It will arrive at diverging paths and the choices made by the Board of Trustees and the Administration will have a great impact on the future of Northern Michigan University and its students.  To quote from the Roadmap “Most of the destinations are planned and desirable, and some will surprise us as interesting and newfound opportunities.”  Those are the roads less traveled.

Once again, congratulations on reaching this milestone.  When you walk out of here today you will no longer be students at Northern Michigan University; you will be alumni.  Stay in touch with the University and keep the Alumni Association up to date on what is going on in your life.  Finally, I wish you all the success in the world as you take the road less traveled by, which will make all all the difference.