Commencement Address 2018 - Preston Callicott

Preston Callicott Chief Executive Officer of Five Talent Software and community leader

Les Schwab Amphitheater
June 17, 2018

Thank you Becky for that warm introduction.

Vice President Johnson, members of the platform party, members of the faculty, proud parents, family members and friends, and most of all, this amazing class of 2018. Thank you for this extraordinary honor.

One note about this speech before we get started. Apologies to the English Department. I write as I speak, mostly in bullet points, and since I want to speak authentically, this is not going to win any speech awards, so please forgive me in advance.

I understand there are 368 of you in this class of 2018, and roughly 290 in the aisles here today. I also heard there are about 2,500 family members and friends here to cheer you on. That’s almost ten people for every graduate. Talk about an amazing show of support!

I’m using the word amazing for a reason. During my discussions with OSU about this class, I found out two amazing facts. So amazing, I had to toss out my speech and rewrite it from scratch.

Fact one: The average age of this class is 30, or about 8 years older than the average university undergraduate.

  • This leads me to believe that many of you in this class re-architected your future and used OSU-Cascades to reinvent yourselves. That’s a pretty gutsy thing to do, to create version 2 or 3 of yourself. Congratulations, and now get ready to do it again, and again, and again for the rest of your lives. More on that later. I’ll mark this as the adapting theme.
  • Like many of you, I had to work my way through college, which wasn’t the easiest thing to do. But I was determined, and I wasn’t going to let a shortage of cash stand in the way of my goal. I'll call this one the improvising theme that we’ll expand on later.

Fact two: 91 of the undergraduates, or roughly 1 out of 3, are the first in your family to graduate from college. Well done you! I'm the first on my dad's side of the family and I remember how much it meant to them.

I think of you as pathfinders, you’ve proven it can be done against all odds, and that a college education is attainable and a viable option for all future generations in your families. Let’s call this one the overcoming theme. You overcame all obstacles and are sitting here today as undergraduates.

A perfect example is Melanie Widmer. Melanie is president of Madras Sanitary Services, so she's a business owner. She's 41 years old, above the class average. She's the first in her family to graduate from college like 35% of your class. She had to deal with school, business, family and a long commute. Central Oregon seems to be filled with scrappy folks like Melanie, who do whatever it takes to get things done.

These two attributes of this class kept ringing in my head, which prompted some deep reflection of my own life, enough to toss out the speech I’d already penned.

First, some personal context: I'm the product of a Colombian mother and a dad from the Ozarks of Missouri.

I'm an Army brat, as we call ourselves. My dad was a career military guy with a knack for languages. He served our country in the Army’s Special Forces for several decades. We were typical of military families at that time, picking up and following him to each new posting, which meant moving quite a bit. Durations ranged from 3 months to 3 years.

I believe growing up with so much change led me down an entrepreneurially-focused path, which suited my bullet-point, fast-moving, quick-decision style of leadership.

Now, if any of you grew up as I did as a military brat, the theme of “Adapting, Improvising and Overcoming” may sound familiar to you.

This happens to be a Marine motto, which we adopted as our family ethos. It came up time and time again throughout our lives.

Our family moved so often, that we got in the habit of leaving everything in boxes for the first three months, because the odds were pretty good we were going to move again. Around month four, we’d gamble, take everything out and finally settle in.

As kids, where we felt the greatest impact of change was at school. Showing up in the middle of a school year was pretty typical and a daunting experience. For any of you who’ve transferred between schools, this is going to sound familiar: “Students, please welcome Preston Callicott to our class. He’s new here, so make him feel at home.”

Two consequences of these class intros happened to me every single time and maybe for you as well:

One, several dozen sets of eyeballs would stare at me as if I was an alien who’d just landed on their planet, and honestly I felt the same way. This was always the moment when I felt the most anxiety, wondering if I would ever fit in.

Two, it would alert the bullies in the class of the presence of fresh meat to chew on, which I would eventually have to deal with.

So how did I apply our family motto to these traumatic experiences?

Adapting – much like you did here at OSU-Cascades, I found my ways to adapt to change. For example, after the first few school transfers, I realized who was the most important person in the classroom, the teacher, typically a woman. She was the one person at that school who would have the most impact on my future, so that’s who I focused on. I would find out what her expectations were, ask her to help me sync up with the class’ studies, and then prove to her I deserved a good grade. 

Improvising – I can imagine many of you had to fill in some gaps in your studies left over from high school. Maybe you chose COCC to do just that. My experience was similar to yours growing up. There was always a mismatch between my previous studies and where the new classes were. I had to improvise and find shortcuts to catch up. For example, after school, my mom and I would read through textbooks and take all the tests to get familiar with the subject matter.

You have all proven your abilities to improvise your way through a four-year college experience, by getting your degree. It probably meant sacrificing time with your families and friends, long nights at coffee shops studying after work, weekend study groups and a thousand other things.

Overcoming – even with my skills of adapting and improvising, often there were obstacles which seemed too difficult to deal with.

I remember as a kid watching an episode of "Superman," and the only path for him was to go through a brick wall. It stuck with me and, today, that’s how I deal with obstacles, I view them as just brick walls to break through.

When the wall was academics, and I couldn't read my way through it, I found my hero in the form of a school librarian, who appreciated when I asked for help and advice, apparently not something that happened very often. It was like free tutoring and they were truly great mentors.

When the barrier was language, I’d either learn it or found other ways to communicate. My mom used to tell a story about when we lived in Paris, I think I was about three, she found me playing with a Chinese boy, a French girl and our Italian nanny’s son. We played for hours, talking up a storm and using our hands and bodies when our words failed us. The super-muscle I developed over those decades of change, which I appreciate the most, is communication.

Finally, dealing with bullies. There’s a reason why many military brats take up martial arts, as we often needed to defend ourselves. A shortcut to “owning the yard” at school was to intervene when I saw a bully hurting someone else, step in, and face them down. This would usually keep bullies off my back later on. On occasion these confrontations led to a visit to the principal’s office, which taught me how to deal with authority, or a nurse’s office, which taught me how to deal with pain.

One side effect for my sister and I was the role we both took on, as “Defenders of the Innocents,” which still operates in our lives today. She’s a nurse and a women’s rights activist and a champion of a thousand other causes. I love to help people, especially entrepreneurs, and provide whatever guidance I can give. Injustice is my hot button, and I tend to dive in and do whatever I can.

One more thing. It wouldn't be fair for me to walk off this stage without sharing one of the biggest challenges my sister and I dealt with, touching on the “overcoming” theme, and that’s our roles as “Hidden Hispanics."

Growing up, we met our fair share of cultural prejudices, mostly based on peoples’ issues with our country. We were occasionally held accountable for our country’s position on some key global argument, but I don’t remember a single instance overseas where our language, ethnicity or color was a point of contention.

Our family never really categorized ourselves based on race back then, as either Caucasian or Hispanic, and I’d say it was the same for most of our military friends and families. We were just the Callicotts, and Americans and Army Brats.

As Americans living abroad, our family had an idealistic vision of America. Truth be told, it was fueled by highly-filtered Armed Forces News and Television programs, like "Superman." Nonetheless, Superman’s “never-ending battle for truth, justice and the American way” theme resonated deeply with us. We felt we were serving a virtuous country.

So, you can imagine the cognitive dissonance we felt when confronted by un-American attitudes, in America. This happened during our short stays here in the U.S. awaiting our next posting overseas.

Since our last name is Caucasian (I mean, how Caucasian can you get with a name like Callicott), most people didn’t know my sister and I were Hispanic as well, hence hidden. This meant we often heard awful things said about Hispanics and other races and cultures, things kids should never hear. When we were little, we were confused by all the vitriol, as it was a totally foreign sentiment and absent in our family. The most confusing part of this was where it came from, fellow Americans.

We became more aware of our “Hidden Hispanic” nature as teenagers, when we frequently confronted prejudice head-on, calling people to account for it.

We felt, more than any other institution, the Armed Forces represented the ideals we held dear, the ideals we felt were enshrined in American culture, at least our outside-in view of it. The military was the melting pot of all cultures, creeds, colors and sexes. It blended them all together towards a common goal, protecting the United States and the high ideals we all imbued it with.

For us, Truth, Justice and the American Way meant there was no room for disrespect, which I believe is at the core of prejudice, hatred, abuse, harassment and all other petty acts. There is no room for dishonesty, which is at the core of fraud, fake news, and unscrupulous business practices.

Disrespect and dishonesty, and their ugly brood of prejudice, abuse, fake news and greed and all the others, are un-American. No excuses, they’re un-American.

No matter how people try to justify any of them, they are un-American.

If I were to ask this amazing class of 2018 to take one thing away from this speech today, it’s to proudly hold high ideals front-and-center in your minds, to call out all disrespect and dishonesty for what it is, and walk your talk, even when you feel you are in the minority. Please, as you leave this amphitheater, be a beacon for your ideals.

And now for another living, breathing example of someone who is older than the average college graduate, who’s had to cope with change, and dealt with obstacles students from other universities may not confront.

I’d like to embarrass the heck out of one member of this class, I believe she’s here today, Danielle Bower. Can you please stand?

I first met Danielle when she interviewed for a paid internship with my company, Five Talent, and she’s been an amazing addition to our team.

She exemplifies someone who, despite the odds and obstacles, decided to re-architect her life through OSU-Cascades.

After graduating from high school, Danielle pursued a college degree at Western Oregon University. During her junior year, her fiancé was deployed to Afghanistan with the Army Infantry. Upon his return, he was stationed in Fairbanks, Alaska, which meant Danielle had to put her degree on hold and left Oregon in 2012.

When he mustered out in 2013, they moved to Bend to start a family, where Danielle decided to finish her degree through COCC and the new OSU-Cascades campus. She was determined to attend full-time to complete her bachelor’s degree, with the added pressure of a new baby.

Now, she’s sitting here today, receiving her bachelor's degree in Business Administration.

Oh, and by the way, her second baby is due any moment, so don’t be surprised if you see her dashing off to St. Charles.

After graduation, with a toddler and a newborn, she’ll be returning to work at Five Talent full-time as an employee. At 26 years old, she’ll be a mother of two, and a college graduate with a great start on her career path.

To sum up her experience in her own words,

“Sometimes life doesn’t go according to plan, where you hope to graduate from high school, finish your four-year degree, start a career, then think about starting a family. For me, it was slightly backwards, but OSU-Cascades made it easy for me to balance my family, school, and work to complete what I started many years ago.”

Adapt, Improvise and Overcome.

Congratulations, Danielle.

Let's recap the themes so far and see where we are.

One - Change is constant. Be prepared to reinvent yourself over and over again.

Two - Adapt, Improvise and Overcome. These are the tools to help you live and prosper in a rapidly changing world.

Three - All forms of disrespect and dishonesty, prejudices and hatred, are un-American. We MUST blend together, like the Armed Forces, and focus on what we all have in common, a desire to protect our American ideals.

Now to my bottom-line:

This amazing and unique class of young and old, pathfinders and chameleons of change, I feel you’re more prepared than the rest of our nation’s graduates. More prepared to face the reality of the accelerated pace of change. More prepared to deal with the massive impact of innovation on our society.

I believe the most valuable skill you’ve obtained from this outstanding institution is how to learn. After you leave this ceremony, be prepared to adapt and improvise, to stretch and challenge yourself, to re-architect your future every few years and, most importantly, to embody the ideals we all hold dear, Truth, Justice and the American Way.

I hope most of you choose to stay here in Central Oregon and help our community and economy grow. We need your talent and your energy here. I wish you all good luck and good journeys... and thank you.