Secrets to Becoming Decisive, Effective Graduates

Secrets to Becoming Decisive, Effective Graduates

Montrose’s 2014 Commencement Speaker, Alumna Samia Kirmani ’88, gave permission for The Looking Glass to reprint her June 7th speech.

The last time I gave a speech at Montrose was June 1988, when I graduated.  Since then, I have become, well, older.  And I’ve made a lot of decisions.  I have become a college and law school graduate, a wife, a mother, a partner in a law firm, and, of course, on the day I gave that speech in 1988, I became a proud Montrose alum.  So the first thing I’m going to say to you is this.  I’ve been exactly where you are.  And I get it.  Know that you are going to be JUST FINE.

I don’t remember much about my remarks in 1988, but my speech then, like my speech today, was about picking paths, making choices, deciding things.

When Hilary Clinton addressed the Democratic National Convention in 2008, she said “My mother was born before women could vote . . . My daughter got to vote for her mother for president.”  Ladies, look how far we have come.  Never before in history have we, as women, had so much opportunity and so many choices – big ones and little ones.  We are in Board Rooms, we are heads of state, we are leaders in organizations, we are mothers, we are wives.  We really can do anything we want and we are charting our course as we go, like those who did before us.

Having all these choices makes us at once excited and scared.  Because, what, pray tell, are we going to CHOOSE?  HOW on earth are we going to DECIDE?

Don’t despair, ladies, because YOU went to Montrose.

What I decided to do today was to share with you a list – using hashtags no less — of things I know you learned here, which are going to help you be – to borrow a phrase from journalists Katty Kay and Claire Shipman from their article on the “lean in” website – expert deciders.

Number One:  Be comfortable with who you are.  There is only one you.  If you learned anything at Montrose, it was to question, seek answers, find YOUR answers, and find what is true to you.  At Montrose, your uniqueness was honored.

At Montrose, you had the sisterhood.  These girls up there with you on that stage and filling this room.  Montrose taught us that each of us is unique.  Someplace else, you may have been pigeonholed, found yourself in a clique – jocks, thespians, “goth”, skaters, scenesters, hipsters, nerds, mathletes – and then associated with few others.  Here – due in part to our size but mostly to our community of everybody knows your name — you didn’t JUST associate with others like you.

I mean where else would I – [step off one of my heels so my true height can be revealed] – hashtag standing a whole 5’ 3” and decidedly more nerd than jock — not only play on a basketball team, but become its captain?  I became its captain, not because I could play basketball #Still can’t play hoops, but because Ms.Tsiang – our basketball coach (who is here today!) – saw in me the potential to lead.  What a lesson that I was unique – and valued for that unique thing I had to offer.   Remember what is unique to you and use that which is you to drive your decisions.  This will help you be an expert decider.

Number 2:  Persistence Pays.  So I said earlier that we have to make big choices and little ones.  One of the first choices I had to make coming out of Montrose was literally:  what to wear.  Every day.  No more could I pull my relatively wrinkle-resistant uniform out of my gym bag, shake it out, and put it on.  I now had to figure it out.  Sometimes I copied others and I got it way wrong.  Other times, I managed to get it wrong all by myself.  But, I figured it out and so will you.  And now look at me!:  #OOTD. # NAILED IT.

That was a little choice.  You will have bigger ones to make too.  But, big or small, whatever you choose will require you to roll up those sleeves and dig in.  While you may not have learned to dress, you definitely learned to persist at Montrose.  Whether it was through playing sports – hashtag Beat Waring! — performing in the school production of Our Town, or trying and trying and trying to understand AP Calc – you learned to keep at it.  You learned it from your teachers, your friends, from Father Dick.  Persistence will help you be an EXPERT DECIDER.

Speaking of Father Dick.  Keep the faith.  Father Dick helped make that faith so accessible to you.  He taught you that having faith includes being able to forgive, including yourself.  You are going to make choices and you are going to make mistakes.  But, do not be afraid of getting it wrong – learn from those experiences.  And know that there is more than one right path.  A mistake you made, a path you chose, was made or chosen because it was supposed to have been made or chosen.  Once you remember that you have faith, that you are not alone, that everything happens for a reason, that forgiveness is a path, it will make decision-making easier.  Faith will help you be an expert decider.

BTW:  While we’re on the topic of Father Dick.  I urge you to ask him his secret to everlasting youth.  This may mean little to you now, class of 2014, but I promise in 25 years, you’re going to wish you had asked.

Number 4.  Be Bold.  When I was out on maternity leave the first time, I decided I was going to go part time when I got back to work.  During that same maternity leave, I became a partner at my firm.  I was thrilled.  I had a baby, made partner, and went part time all at the same time.  #Overthemoon.

A few years later, still working part time, I became – so I thought – eligible for the next level up kind of partner.  Except, at that time, there was a rule on the books that said to make it to that next level, you have to work full time.  But, I didn’t want to work full time.  So, I said something to a mentor, who happens to be a woman and a member of my firm’s management team.  I wasn’t eloquent, but I was bold:  “How come Erik gets to be the next level up and I don’t?”

Later that week, this mentor and I – we’ll call her Joan, because that’s her name – went to an event, where the keynote speaker addressed a group of professional women.  She urged women who had achieved a modicum of success in their professions to say “not on my watch” to rules that negatively impact women – and others who seek alternative paths –  in the workplace.  While walking back from that speech, Joan told me that she was going to get that rule changed.  And she did.  And so I became the first, part-time next level up kind of partner in my firm, because I was bold and because Joan was bold.  Be bold.  It will help you be an expert decider.

Number 5:  Do The Very Best that You Can.  And Know the very best you can is all you can do.  Get used to not being perfect.  I am constantly beating myself up.  I didn’t get back to that client right away.  It’s the night before the school play and still no giraffe costume.  I also live in fear that someone is going to figure me out.  Figure out that I’m always flying by the seat of my pants.  That I may look like I have it together – especially now that I got that style thing worked out – but I don’t.  I constantly remind myself I’m doing the best that I can and the best I can is all I can do.

So on that point, let me tell you about “Perfectamom.”  Perfectamom lives in my neighborhood.  She used to practice law, but decided to stop when she had children.  She made a different choice than I made.  While she didn’t know it and she certainly didn’t mean to, she made me feel insecure.  Like a bad mom.  ALL THE TIME.  Until one day.  On that day, I had spent the morning baking a cake with my daughters.  Later, we bumped into PerfectaMom.  To my absolute delight, my daughter boasted “we baked a cake from scratch!”  I was beaming.  This time Perfectamom was going to be ME!  Hashtag Notsofast.  Because then my daughter went on to explain just HOW we baked that cake.  She began:  “First you open the box . . .”.  #Poor Me.  #So Much for Being Perfectamom.  #Don’t let your kid think baking from a box equals baking from scratch.

The PS is this.  Perfectamom and I have become friends.  What I learned is that Perfectamom, like me, is not perfect.  We made different choices, we both beat ourselves up, but the fact is, we are both doing our best.  And, when you are doing your best, and know that your best is all you can do, it will help you be an expert decider.

Number 6.  Finally, if someone says “Do you want to build a snowman?”  Say yes.  Right away.  Take risks.  Move outside your comfort zone.  Try new things.  Live life like the other shoe is going to drop.  When you do that, it means that you are thankful for all the blessings in your life and it makes you laugh a whole lot, spend time with people you love, do things and work that you like to do.  Because, who knows when the other shoe is going to drop?  And if it does, you will be ready.  When you live life like this, it will help you be an expert decider.

So, with that, I hope I have reminded you that you have all the choices in the world, get out and make them.  As you make your choices and chart your course, be thankful for the decisions those before you have made.  And, as you make your choices and chart your course, be mindful of the women who will come after you.

Be comfortable with who you are.

Keep at it.

Keep the faith.

Be Bold.

Do your best and know that your best is all you can do.

Build that snowman.

#Don’t be scared.  #There is no need.  #You have what it takes RIGHT NOW to be EXPERT DECIDERS.

Thank you and congratulations, Montrose Class of 2014.






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