Warner: Do well by doing good

The top graduates of any university, Jack Warner said in his commencement address Saturday, go on to become true leaders. True leaders, he said, assume an even greater responsibility. (Photo by David Lias)

Jack Warner, executive director and CEO of the South Dakota Board of Regents, left a simple message with graduates at 35th winter commencement ceremony at The University of South Dakota Saturday, Dec. 18.

"Do well by doing good," he told more than 480 USD students who received their degrees during a ceremony in the DakotaDome on the USD campus.

"Earning your degree today, whether undergraduate or graduate, will produce great advantages for you, and create conditions for you to do very well," he said. "The research is clear on this – college graduates earn higher wages, they enjoy better health, they are less likely to lose their jobs, are far less likely to be on public assistance, they educate their own children at higher levels, show higher levels of civic engagement, and rank higher on numerous quality of life indicators."

Warner noted that bachelor degree recipients earn nearly double what high school graduates earn during the course of their working lives.

"Those of you who are earning advanced degrees today can expect to earn two-and-a-half to four times what high school graduates will earn during their working lives. And we all benefit when we live in areas where high percentages of residents are highly educated," he said. "Those areas experience lower crime rates, attract and retain more information-age business and industry, have lower unemployment rates, lower health costs, improved voter participation and civic engagement, better education for children and higher aggregate income levels."

All of this combines to create a more robust economy, an improved tax base, improved public funding and social benefits because of that tax base and lower costs for public assistance and incarceration, Warner said.

Saturday's graduates, he noted, were wise to choose to study at the University of South Dakota, an institution focused on offering classes in the arts and sciences.

"It's a wise choice because you can expect to know your subject matter well, and you have developed skills in literacy and communication, critical thinking and problem solving, and scientific reasoning due to the good work of a highly competent and dedicated faculty and professional staff," he said.

Warner, Ed.D., a veteran educator and higher education leader, was named executive director and CEO of the South Dakota Board of Regents in 2009. Previously, Warner served as commissioner of the Rhode Island Board of Governors for Higher Education for seven years where he was responsible for governance and policy oversight of the state's public system of higher education, consisting of the Community College of Rhode Island, Rhode Island College and the University of Rhode Island, which serve a combined enrollment of 40,000 students.

He is a past president of the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators, and he taught in the Boston College Graduate School of Education for 18 years and at two community colleges. Warner received his doctor of education degree in educational administration from Boston College, a master of education from Springfield College in student affairs administration in higher education and a B.A. degree in psychology from the University of Vermont. He currently resides in Fort Pierre with his wife, Celeste. The couple has three children and three grandchildren.

The knowledge that graduates gained during their years at USD "will be necessary for you do well in the modern world of work, but they are not sufficient," Warner said, noting that he learned from human resource professionals in Massachusetts that high technology companies of today need employees with attributes that don't necessarily all come from a university course curriculum.

Today's successful graduates, the HR directors said, must possess skills in collaborative problem solving, and decision making, and must be able to work together with others. They must understand social, organizational and technological systems and how they work, and have critical thinking skills.

To be successful, new graduates must also demonstrate important personal attributes, such as individual and social responsibility, self-management, integrity, teamwork, creativity, enthusiasm, initiative, leadership, global awareness and an appreciation for diversity.

"We know from research that fewer than 5 percent of employees possess these characteristics," Warner said. "We also know that if you possess them, you are going to be the ones who will advance through the employee ranks and become true leaders."

True leaders, he said, assume an even greater responsibility.

Warner told the story of Blake Mycoskie, an American traveler who in 2006 befriended children in Argentina and found they had no shoes to protect their feet.

Wanting to help, he created TOMS Shoes, a company that would match every pair of shoes purchased with a pair of new shoes given to a child in need.

Mycoskie learned that the lack of shoes created more than simple comfort problems for the energetic Argentina youngsters. A leading cause of disease in developing countries is soil-transmitted diseases, which can penetrate the skin through bare feet.

Wearing shoes naturally also prevents feet from getting cuts and sores and possibly becoming infected. And many times children in developing countries can't attend school barefoot because shoes are a required part of their uniform. And without an education, the young people don't have the opportunity to realize their potential.

"He became so concerned that he decided he was going to make shoes," Warner said of Mycoskie. He had no particular expertise in shoe-making, so he turned to those who do, and created TOMS Shoes.

He decided that for every pair of shoes he made and sold, he would donate a pair to a child in need. Blake returned to Argentina with a group of family, friends and staff later in 2006 with 10,000 pairs of shoes made possible by TOMS customers.

"In the four years that his company has been in existence, he has gone and distributed over a million pairs of shoes to needy children in over 21 countries around the world," Warner said. "This is doing well by doing good.

"What better example is there to as you define your own purposes as you commence your professional careers today?" Warner asked. "I say to all of the 2010 USD graduates: Do well by doing good."

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