Commencement Address, Winter 2013

Commencement Address
Winter 2013

Felicia J. Fields
Commencement Address
Saturday, May 4, 2013

Success is Defined by Who You Are, And How Life Makes You Feel

Thank you, President Haynes, members of the Board of Trustees, distinguished faculty and staff.  I am truly grateful for the opportunity to address this great class and humbled to receive an honorary Doctor of Business degree from Northern Michigan University.  

When President Haynes invited me to come speak to you this morning, I was so pleased and deeply honored. I’ve been privileged to travel all over the world and have always been proud to call Michigan my home.  I know that Northern Michigan University produces graduates who are passionate, work hard, and care about the people and the world around them.  Graduates, thank you for allowing me to be with you, family and friends on this special day of celebration.

As we approach Mother’s Day next weekend, I’d also like to take a second to recognize all the mothers, grandmothers and special women who are here today both in person and in spirit… thank you for everything you’ve done over many years to make these outstanding individuals who they are today.  Your job is never done, but today is a major milestone for all families to honor and celebrate together.  

As I was contemplating what words of advice to share with you, I mentioned to my daughter, who will soon be a graduate of Savannah College of Art and Design, that I had been invited to provide your commencement address. In addition to being ecstatic that I was not coming to speak at her school, her response to me was fairly direct:  “Why would they ask you to give the speech?” That’s the thanks I get after carrying her for nine months and nurturing her every need for 22 years!  But her question was a good one, and it made me stop and think for a second, “Will every graduate sitting before me wonder the same thing, why you?”  Quickly, I came to my senses and decided you would be less concerned about the speaker and more worried about how long and potentially boring the speech could be!  To repay my gratitude for the opportunity to be here today, I promise I’ll be brief… and hopefully, not boring.

So what is the relevance of my life experiences to yours and how does that fit with a generation so different from my own?  When I left college, my blueprint for success was clear; land a job at a great company, work hard, do quality work, get along with others, rise up the ranks, and enjoy a great pension after 30 years of work. The plan for my personal life was also pretty clear; marry well, have two kids, live in the suburbs, and get a low-maintenance dog. Even taking into account that my very high-maintenance dog wakes me up barking at 4:30 AM most mornings…I can still say that most of the plan has worked out well.

I’ve been lucky enough to have some success personally and professionally, and I do hope my experiences give me life lessons to share with you as you embark on your next journey. But those lessons are not rooted in a cookie-cutter blueprint. Thank goodness there is no blueprint for success!  Thank goodness we are all diverse, unique and special!  You should feel wonderful knowing that whether you go to work in a suit and tie, high heels and panty hose, or jeans and your favorite Batman t-shirt, some life lessons are timeless and are valuable, no matter who you are or how you chose to live your life.

The best advice I can give you comes from what I’ve learned about living; not from what I did or the jobs I’ve held. Success is not defined by what you do in life; it’s defined by who you are and how life makes you feel.

What I do is lead human resources for an incredible, large, complex, global company that impacts lives all over the world.  Who I am is a proud, third-generation Ford employee from the state of Michigan who loves being a wife, mother, daughter, sister, colleague and friend.  High heels, pantyhose and long work days is what I do.  Loving life, loving challenging work and working hard to leave the world a better place is who I am.

I don’t want to suggest for a minute that what you chose to do with your life, how you chose to express your passions and how you share the gifts that you, and only you possess, is unimportant. What I do want to emphasize is that what you choose to do, is far less important than how you feel about what you’re doing.  

Let me share with you four of my life lessons. 

First, do what you love. Find what you love and pour yourself into it with all your heart. When you can work hours on something that earns you no money or praise and still be happy you did it, you know you’ve found what you love.  I imagine a world where people are free to learn, develop and achieve their greatest capability. I can work all day and never stop if I believe my work is in service of helping others reach their potential and achieve their dreams. That was true when I was your age, and it’s still true today. Knowing what you love is the source of all possibility. When you work from a place of love, anything and everything is possible.  

Secondly, step up to your greatness. Wayne Gretzky said, “You miss 100% of the shots that you never take.” If you’re lucky, more than once in your life you’ll be presented with a challenge that seems insurmountable.  You’ll face a problem that seems unsolvable, a task you’re afraid to conquer, or an overwhelming job that takes more skill or strength than you believe you possess. Have the drive and courage to step up to the challenge and take a shot. 

In recent years, when this country was going through one of its deepest recessions, Ford, like GM and Chrysler was literally on the brink of bankruptcy, with hundreds of thousands of people counting on us. I remember the feeling of helplessness, as problems seemed to fall from the sky – with each problem, more difficult than the one before it. As a team, we had to make some gutsy choices.  We worked together, learned together, and started rebuilding our company one piece at a time.  We took our best shot and knew that failure was always a possible outcome.  In fact, sometimes failure is our best teacher.  Don’t ever be afraid to reach deep and take your best shot.  All that matters is the desire to be more than you are; to never stop learning, growing and trying new things.  

My third life lesson is, do what needs to be done.  Don’t let fear or indifference stand in your way. You have enjoyed the privilege of an outstanding education and you should never take that privilege for granted.  You have the gift of knowledge, and more importantly, the gift of knowing how to learn. The marriage of knowing more and caring more is what fuels progress. Take the gift of education and your desire to leave the world a better place and put it to good use. Decide what challenge will fuel your life’s passion.  Will it be political, economic, social, or environmental?  Will it be for the benefit of this community, this State, this nation, or the entire world? Whatever it is, work hard every day to make a difference… and do what needs to be done.

Finally, enjoy the journey.  Sadly, most of us don’t appreciate this lesson early enough in life.  When we are young, we see our whole lives ahead of us and dream of what we will become rather than enjoying who we are.  It’s not all our fault; society sets us up to focus on the future – our goals, our plans, our next job or next big accomplishment…and that is generally a healthy outlook as we chase our dreams and follow our ambitions.

At the same time, one of the greatest feats in life is to learn to be present and treasure every moment; big moments like this, small moments, happy moments, sad moments.  Everything is a gift to be treasured.  Everything is a gem.  Everything is part of the journey. So I urge you to remember how important it is to cherish your own journey… be present in this moment and never miss what’s right in front of you!

Graduates, this arena is filled with pride and joy as we all gather to celebrate the great work you’ve done, the goals you’ve achieved, and to send you off with love and great hope for your success and happiness in the future.  You are inheriting a beautifully complex, challenging, and interconnected world with endless opportunities. There has never been a greater need or more important time for you to step up to your greatness. Whatever path you choose or passion you pursue, remember that your success will not defined by what you choose to do; it will be defined by who you are and by how life makes you feel.

Thank you so much.