The following are the prepared remarks of Sherie Swiess Dodsworth '78, CEO of Securita, Inc. Dodsworth delivered the commencement address on May 21 for the undergraduate commencement ceremony at Saint Mary's College of California.
Good morning....And congratulations to the graduating class of 2011.
Brother President, Christian brothers, faculty, trustees, parents, family and friends and most importantly the class of 2011. I am humbled and honored to have been asked to give this commencement address on this very special day.
As a trustee of Saint Mary's, I have had the honor of participating in the commencement ceremonies for many years and I must say it was always the best part of the job. Over the years I have watched the faces of many graduating classes and realized that the big question they were pondering on graduation day was: "Just how long is this speech going to be?" So knowing you are anxious to receive your diploma and celebrate with your family and friends, I promise to be brief and hopefully insightful.
First I would like to express my continued appreciation to the members of the Saint Mary's community, the brothers, teachers, coaches and staff who have contributed toward your successful education. I would also like to acknowledge your parents, family and friends who have provided you with support and guidance.
My mom, who is here with me today and going strong at the age of 81, still vividly recalls the first time we drove onto the Saint Mary's campus. It was December 1973 when my parents and I drove from Carmel Valley for a campus visit. You have to remember this was way before the internet and virtual tours. Our anticipation grew as we turned onto Moraga Road, a road that seemed to go on forever. But as soon as we turned onto the campus, with the tall trees framing the chapel, I fell in love with the beauty of Saint Mary's and knew it was the right place for me.
When I arrived on campus as a freshman I didn't know a soul, I didn't know what to expect from college life, and I didn't know what I wanted to accomplish during my college days. Does this sound familiar? It didn't take long to get involved, find a job on campus, determine that I was not cut out to be a biology major but learned to love the problem solving involved with an accounting degree.
I do have to share with you that while I was a student I didn't realize the value of Seminar. My freshman seminar teacher was a brother who was endearingly referred to as "Clouds" because we, the bright smart freshman students, could not understand what he was trying to accomplish with some of our discussions. Little did we know that in retrospect "Clouds" introduced us to a learning style which would greatly influence our lives forever.
After graduating, I began a career in public accounting and become a certified public accountant. Continually building on my experiences I went on to achieve senior leadership roles in banking and private industry. I also spent several years running a consulting practice which advised emerging technology companies in the areas of finance, human resources and accounting. I loved problem solving and helping people. I built a successful career once I realized, I knew what I was doing, I liked what I was doing and I had engaged the skills I learned as a Saint Mary's student.
I also stayed connected to the College by joining the Alumni Board of Directors and went on to be the president of the Association because I wanted to, as St. John Baptist de La Salle has said, "inspire and lead others by encouraging them." I also served and had leadership roles on the Board of Regents and Board of Trustees because I truly value the Saint Mary's education.
It is customary that the commencement speaker offer a few words of advice to the new graduates. Having been in your seat and now having the benefit of hindsight, my advice to you is: Believe! Believe in your education! And believe in yourself!
Today is a special day, one for which you have worked for years to achieve. At the end of the day you will be the proud possessor of a diploma. The diploma affirms that you have the ability to learn, but how you learned is the real value, and here's why.
The Collegiate Seminar program, which was integral to your education, has provided you with all the tools you need to make a difference in the world. Saint Mary's graduates, from all decades, have attributed their success to Seminar. During Seminar, not only did you expand your horizons by reading meaningful books but you learned to speak clearly, to listen objectively and to engage in intelligent discourse. Seminar taught you to think critically and to formulate and examine your own opinions.
You also had the benefit of being taught by passionate and committed faculty. Professors and coaches who challenged and mentored you and held you accountable.
You were influenced and guided by teachings of the founder of the Christian Brothers and the great Catholic educator St. John Baptist de La Salle, through which you learned to serve and to help others.
You are a member of a community that welcomes involvement and leadership, celebrates accomplishments, embraces new ideas and change, and encourages you to pursue your passions.
Saint Mary's is a better community because of the fervor and involvement demonstrated by your class. Your passions and talents were animated in athletic arenas, on the stage, in the classroom, in student activities and in your service to others. You thought creatively and pursued ideas that will benefit the Saint Mary's community for years to come. I encourage you to stay in touch with those passions and stay connected to Saint Mary's.
Last November, I was one of 40 female graduates honored by the college. This was a truly an amazing evening because I was surrounded by successful and inspiring alumnae. They were doctors, teachers, business women, educators, lawyers, writers and entrepreneurs, all with a common passion and gratefulness for our Saint Mary's experience.
Some of you have your futures mapped out, while others of you don't have a plan yet. Just remember that life is a marathon and the path to your destination is not always a straight one. As a Saint Mary's student you learned how to be a broad-minded thinker, capable of creative problem solving and meaningful social engagement. So what matters now is that you embark on the journey. You won't know what tomorrow will bring, but this is what makes life so exciting.
Believe in yourself! Sometimes this is easier said than done. I can recall how panicked I was when I started my first job as a staff accountant. Showing up for work the first day, I remember thinking â€“ do I have what it takes to be successful? I got over my first job jitters because I realized I was principled, well-educated and was willing to work hard and learn.
When you trust in yourself you can accomplish anything you set your mind to. But you must act on your beliefs and don't give up. Tenacity and persistence will overcome challenges and failures. When you believe in yourself, you do a job well. And when you do a job well, you get noticed.
Life is a journey and only with hindsight can we reflect on how our actions and decisions are connected and impact our lives. A Saint Mary's education teaches us that when you have faith and you trust in yourself, you will take risks, be more curious, learn from your mistakes and think creatively. In my life this ultimately resulted in becoming an inventor of the PortaVaultÂ® document system and CEO of my own company.
I also have learned that by setting goals which require focus and commitment you can strengthen your resolve. At the age of 50, I set a goal to complete a marathon. During the 26.2-mile race, I kept repeating the motto I had adopted: "If it is to be it is up to me." I crossed the finish line with my arms held high overhead and a smile on my face, feeling like I could accomplish anything.
In closing, I would like to share with you a quote from an unknown author: "All of life is a journey; which paths we take, what we look back on, and what we look forward to is up to us. We determine our destination, what kind of road we will take to get there and how happy we are when we get there."
To the class of 2011, I wish you a wonderful journey! Remember to believe in your education, to trust in yourself and to know Gaels don't fail.