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Commencement Address 2013

Read Dean William W. Keep’s remarks to the Class of 2013


Good Morning and thank you for joining us. I am Bill Keep, Dean of the School of Business. It is my pleasure to welcome you today to celebrate the success of these fine young men and women.

Before we do that, however, I will ask all of the graduates to stand…

You have worked hard to get here, and I know you appreciate that many people contributed to your success. Please join me in thanking your family, friends, and the faculty and staff of the School of Business for supporting you.

Please be seated.

Four years ago, I arrived at The College of New Jersey shortly before a new group of freshmen – the group that would be the class of 2013. This is the first class I have had the pleasure to work with during their entire four years. You have accomplished much – winning competitions and academic honors, conducting research with faculty, and forging close relationships within the TCNJ community. From what I hear, you also somehow managed to squeeze in a bit of fun along the way.

As you now go off to start your careers, I want to share a few of my own experiences. One of my first memorable business lessons came when as a boy I worked with my father on his potato chip truck, selling to grocery stores, restaurants, gas stations and the like. One neighborhood tavern had a sign on the back bar that read “In God We Trust – Everyone Else Pays Cash.” The words were unambiguous about expectations, and said a lot about the bottom line of business. The large glass jars on that back bar also taught me that just about anything can be pickled and sold.

After high school, I served in the Coast Guard for 4 years and my first job after that was as a technician in an electronics factory. Because I worked on components that someone else assembled and the person after me worked on what I assembled, I quickly learned the meaning of interdependence. Whether working in a factory or in a trading room, whether managing a team or making a sales call, the best of what you do will depend on, and be used by others.

Later I worked as an assistant to the vice president of operations for an electrical distributorship. I was responsible for pricing and inventory control. After a couple of years, I spoke with my boss about moving into sales. He responded, “You can’t; Ralph hates you.” Ralph was VP of Sales and, as part of my job, each month I gave him a report showing errors made by his sales people. After two years of monthly reports, Ralph wanted nothing to do with me. From that experience, I learned: 1) do not be the one who always delivers bad news and 2) never underestimate the ability of a sales person to sell something that the company does not have in inventory.

I next worked for an industry trade association, where companies and suppliers collectively try to advance the interests of the industry, while individually trying to advance their own interests. Each member of the trade association competed with one or more of the other members, and each member had his or her own agenda. They built consensus in association meetings around industry priorities and competed against each other on the trade show floor. Here I learned that cooperation and competition are not mutually exclusive.

We have here, four general lessons: like the tavern owner, be clear about what you expect of others. Like the factory worker, know that you benefit from and contribute to the work of others. Like a good manager, never confuse the messenger who delivers bad news with the news itself. And, like a member of a trade association, understand the inevitable and often beneficial roles of cooperation and competition.

Thomas Hobbes, writing in the 17th century, would have seen all of this as necessary for what he called “social contracts” – his label for the process whereby groups of people with individual interests achieve shared goals. Sometimes we understandably will be a bit more selfish in our interests than at other times, but ultimately, businesses, organizations, and even countries advance their interests through our combined efforts.

When you and I arrived in 2009, we became part of the TCNJ social contract. Together you students, along with faculty, staff, internship supervisors, alumni, and others worked to advance your education. No written set of rules, no course syllabus, and no job description can capture the energy and effort it took to get you here today. You, more than anyone, decided what you would contribute and how best to benefit from the efforts of others. Thank you for choosing TCNJ and the School of Business to be part of your efforts. Whether adding your unique perspective to a company project or helping a community group redo a neighborhood baseball field, you have many social contracts ahead. We all wish you the very best.

As has been our tradition since my first graduation ceremony as Dean, today we have a student speaker to represent the graduating class. Our speaker, Kaitlynn Zolnay, majored in Interdisciplinary Business with a minor in Law, Politics, and Philosophy. While law school may be in her future, her entrepreneurial spirit is already evident. In 2000, she founded “Bandit’s Biscuits,” a maker of all-natural pet treats that has grown into a family business. And, because she was not busy enough, in 2007 she started “Orchidaceous Photography,” a canvas-printed photography business with photographs displayed in regional and international exhibits. On the TCNJ campus, she has been a student manager in Residential Housing and Education and has worked with our Small Business Development Center. Kaitlynn Zolnay….