"Engaging in the Fight"
Dec. 17, 2016 Winthrop University Commencement Address

By Dan Mahony, President

In deciding what I wanted to talk about today, I looked at what has been happening in the last year. Regardless of your personal beliefs, I think we all have seen a level of anger, discontent, and anxiety that exceeds any typical year. The natural reaction to all of this is to want to do something.

And guess what? We do want you to do something. We sincerely hope that your experience at Winthrop has prepared you to have a significant impact on your community, your state, your country and even the world.

So, please go forth and have an impact. The question many struggle with is, "How can I best have an impact?"

Focus your efforts. My wife recently shared with me a Jana Stanfield quote: "I cannot do all the good the world needs; but the world needs all of the good I can do." I am sure all of us have a long list of things we want to change, but we have only a limited number of days on this earth, and if we try to address every issue we care about, we will likely go about an inch deep on each and fail to have any lasting impact. While you certainly do not have to limit yourself to just one issue, you will need to have some focus to have an impact.

In the movie, "Biloxi Blues," two privates in training for World War II are talking about having an impact. Arnold Epstein tells Eugene Jerome that he must "make a contribution to the fight." What fight, Jerome asks. "Any fight. One that you believe in," Epstein responds. My advice is the same: Make a contribution to the fight, any fight—the one or ones that you believe in.

Have clear goals. It is often hard to define what will really have the impact that you are seeking. But the reality is the leaders of the successful movements in history all had clear goals, and that was critical to their success.

Make sure your goals are achievable. Don't misunderstand me. I am not suggesting that you shoot low. We want you to think big. However, I have seen some efforts fail simply because the goals were never really achievable.

Take actions that are clearly tied to the goals you identified. I used to be a wrestling coach and had some wrestlers who were very aggressive but rarely won. Their problem was they engaged in a lot of frenetic movement, but it was not really related to scoring points, which, frankly, was the goal. Be precise and efficient with your actions and constantly ask the question, "Will this action really help me achieve my goals?" If it will not, then it is a waste of time and will simply divert energy and resources away from actions that will.

Use your resources and build your resources. Those who succeed are good at growing resources and using them effectively. I believe one of the most valuable resources is people. The more people who support your cause, the more likely you are to be successful. This means when you think about the actions you take, you have to ask the question, "Will this increase those who support my efforts or decrease them?"
All of the successful movements across history have found ways to increase supporters. Also, I think it is important to note you may find supporters where you do not think they exist.

Be prepared that real change — important fights — take time. I understand that this works against the age we live in, where people today expect everything to happen immediately. Always focusing on short-term effects distracts us from the hard work that is needed for long-term change. Again, all of the major movements in history took time, often years, and sometimes decades.

We do truly hope that you will have an impact after you leave Winthrop and that you will make a real, meaningful difference. While it will not be easy, I can guarantee it will be worth it — especially if you focus on your fight, the one you believe in. Good luck!