Gustafsons tell grads to make choice to be happy, make decisions, take resulting risks

Gustafsons tell grads to make choice to be happy, make decisions, take resulting risks The University of South Dakota campus was bursting with activity May 12 as four different graduation ceremonies were held at Slagle Hall due to roof replacement at the DakotaDome.

Jeanne and James Gustafson, of Vail, CO and Tucson, AZ, addressed USD's spring graduates. Both are USD alumni.

Mrs. Gustafson, a Yankton native, shared several lessons she learned from her mother.

"My mother always said when you get up in the morning, you have two choices; you can be happy or not," Mrs. Gustafson told the graduates. "I remember complaining that sometimes 'that's very hard.' She said, 'Oh, yes, but it's still your choice'."

Breast cancer brought her mother's message home to Mrs. Gustafson last year.

"Through three months of chemotherapy and 33 radiation treatments, I had to work hard to choose to be happy," she said. "But I had a lot to be happy about. I had great doctors, I could work, exercise and go to dinner parties."

But losing her hair was another challenge.

"When I lost all my hair it was harder than I had expected," Mrs. Gustafson said. "When I looked in the mirror, I wanted to scream, but I chose to remember a time I visited my mother shortly before her death two years ago. My hair looked awful that day and after my father died, my mother was a beautician. I apologized for how bad my hair looked. She said, 'Oh, honey, I'd think you were beautiful if you were bald.' So instead of screaming, I laughed."

Mrs. Gustafson told the USD graduates that being happy is a choice that "makes me responsible for my own success and motivates me to accomplish my goals," she said. "Life is too short to waste any time being unhappy. Life is too short to waste any time waiting for someone else to make us successful.

"You each made many choices to reach your graduation," Mrs. Gustafson continued. "You chose to go to class ? you chose to do your homework and to work hard. If you continue to make similar choices, you'll continue to be rewarded."

Finally, Mrs. Gustafson compared working toward to success to everyone's sweet tooth desires.

"There's a sign in my kitchen that says, 'Life is uncertain. Eat dessert first.' If you choose to be happy and work hard to accomplish your goals, you'll get your dessert," she said. "I've been extremely lucky. I've already had a very large helping. I hope you will be as fortunate."

Mr. Gustafson spoke to the graduates about risk and decision making.

"I truly think that how you deal with making decisions, and the risks associated with those decisions will have a great impact on your future � your personal life, your career and your contributions to society," he said.

He reminded the graduates that they are living in an ever-changing world, "and it seems to be changing at an ever-accelerating rate," he said.

"Living in this world creates risks and forces us to make decisions whether we like it or not," Mr. Gustafson continued. "Our challenge is to maximize our control over how we maneuver our way through this changing world."

Mr. Gustafson encouraged the graduates to develop the ability to comfortably make decisions and then take the risk that comes from those decisions.

"One of the most important lessons I learned came early in my career," he said. "I had to make a decision whether or not to terminate a long-term client relationship that had become troublesome. Being young, new to the business and not yet having developed a comfort about making decisions, I decided to punt and defer making a decision for six months � to see how things worked out. An experienced colleague pointed out that I was fooling myself. I hadn't really put off the decision � in fact I'd made one. I had opted for the status quo. He said that didn't make it a wrong decision, just that I needed to understand that not making a decision is, in fact, a decision itself."

Mr. Gustafson added that to become comfortable decision makers, the graduates must gather information. And if decisions seem too big to make, he suggested breaking them down into a series of smaller decisions.

"Another vital ingredient to being a comfortable decision maker is self-improvement," Mr. Gustafson said. "I'm sure you feel it has taken a lot of hard work to get where you are today � and it has. But if you stop learning now, your ability to make decisions in an ever-changing world will never develop."

Finally, Mr. Gustafson told the graduates that they must develop a personal moral compass � stick with their values.

"Most of the terrible decisions I've encountered, whether personal decisions, business decisions or even governmental decisions, have come when people use what I call situational or transactional ethics," he said. "By that I mean adapting values to fit a situation. When decisions are made that go against your moral compass, they have a tendency to go wrong.

"The thought I'd like to leave you with is that if you can get comfortable making decisions, understanding and taking risks, you will have a great chance to navigate through this changing world. You have a great start with what you have learned here and I wish you great success in the future."

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