Keynote speakers at both of Terry’s Convocation ceremonies urged graduates to use the final moments of their college careers to consider their futures and the good they can do.
“A couple of things allowed me to enjoy the thrills of victory as well as failure and defeat,” said John W. Jackson (BBA ’76), who spoke at the Terry Undergraduate Convocation. “No. 1, be willing to pay the price. Today’s preparation determines tomorrow’s achievement. In your chosen field, find out what it takes to be the best of the best. Time, patience, commitment, sacrifice — there is a price. Success is never on sale. It’s just a matter of deciding how much you want to pay.”
Jackson, executive vice president and market president of Cadence Bank, first came to Athens in the early 1970s as one of the first black students to integrate UGA’s football team. His experience at the university, particularly in classes taught by former Dean of Students William Tate and accounting professor Don Edwards taught him lessons that propelled him in the workplace, he said.
“Define success in your own terms. Many people spend their lives climbing the ladder to success only to find when they hit the top, the ladder was leaning against the wrong building,” he told more than 1,400 undergraduates in the audience. “Set some goals. This is not the same as being disciplined. Discipline is setting your alarm clock for 5 a.m. and making yourself get up. Goal-setting is knowing why you set the alarm in the first place.”
After 30 years in banking, Jackson left a stable job to co-found Bank of Atlanta in 2008, just before the Great Recession hit. Despite its start date, the bank survived the economic downturn and prospered during the recovery.
“I gave up job security and comfort to start Bank of Atlanta. I’m a better person and a better banker because I took that risk,” he said. “Did I almost fail? You bet I did. Did I think about giving up? Not for one minute. The state of Georgia had more failed banks than any other state. Sixty-seven bank failures in total, but Bank of Atlanta was not one of them.”
Jackson said he had a special connection with the Class of 2019 because his daughter, Jenna, was part of it. She graduated with a Master of Public Administration degree from the School of Public and International Affairs. He gave the same advice to Terry students that he gave to her: “Go out and conquer the world.”
More than 1,400 bachelor’s degree candidates attended the Terry Undergraduate Convocation on May 10. The day before Jackson spoke, Ted McMullan (MBA ’93) delivered the keynote address at the Terry Graduate Convocation. It was Terry’s first-ever graduation ceremony just for master’s and doctoral degree candidates. More than 300 graduates from departmental PhD programs and six master’s degree programs marched across the stage.
As a real estate entrepreneur, McMullan spoke to the assembled graduates about the importance of a personal moral foundation.
“Early in my college days, I was inspired by a number of mentors to develop a personal code of conduct by which I would strive to live each day. It’s been tweaked over the years, but for the most part remains the same: a steadfast reminder of who I aim to be,” he said. “While my Terry College MBA has been invaluable to whatever success I have enjoyed since graduation, I believe it is this code and my efforts to stick to it that deserve the most credit. You need to write your own code.”
While his code contains ideals such as generosity, focus, humility and spirituality, McMullan asked graduates to pay particular attention to joy and gratitude.
“There’s so much joy to embrace in our lives, including this very special day, and the best way to do it is through gratitude,” he said. “When your personal code causes you to pursue joy through gratitude, your fear of failure melts away. My code tells me I’m going to find joy in even the most stressful of days, and that’s given me the courage to pursue challenging opportunities that I wouldn’t or couldn’t have otherwise.”
He left graduates with one question.
“What would you attempt to do if you knew you could not fail? What big, audacious goal would you pursue if success were guaranteed? Start a technology firm and sell it later for big bucks? Birth a charity that changes the world? Be a servant leader in everything that you do? When you get good at finding gratitude, I’ve found, especially in lessons you can only learn through struggle, failure is just not scary anymore.”