David J. Kubacki: From Backpack to Briefcase

by David J. Kubacki | May 17, 2015

De Sales University Trustees, administration, faculty, & staff; parents, families, friends, and, most importantly, the graduating class of 2015 – good morning and thank you for having me here today to celebrate with you. When Father O’Connor first invited me to be your commencement speaker I was in awe that I had been considered for such an honor.

David J. Kubacki Delivers May 2015 Commencement AddressAs I thought about the message I would share, it occurred to me that I had no idea who gave the commencement speech at my college graduation in 1996. What chance did I stand to be remembered by any of you in a decade or two…so I decided it would come down to sharing a message and advice that would stick with you after the excitement of receiving your degrees today.

I was invited here because I am the President of Nativity Preparatory School of Wilmington. Nativity Prep and the Oblates of Saint Francis de Sales helped me realize that working with Nativity’s young men isn’t just my career, it is my calling. Many of the young men, whom I’ve known since they were 10 years old and are now in college – in fact, one of those young men is sitting with the graduates today – that many of these young men have changed my life even more than I believe I have changed their lives. 

About 5 years ago, we created a program for Nativity alums across the country as they transitioned from college to career. The program was called: Backpack to Briefcase… and I borrow that title for my remarks today – so that in twenty years when you can’t recall who gave your commencement speech…. perhaps you’ll recall the “Backpack to Briefcase” theme – for the transition from college to career is not an easy one…you will be challenged, you will have doubts, some days you will feel empowered, and other days you’ll, quite frankly, be freakin’ out a little (or even a lot) - but you’ll always fondly remember these past years at De Sales University as some of the most important in your life. (also, I realize that very few people actually use a briefcase anymore, but stick with me here – it’s a metaphor)

 When I talk to parents or donors or volunteers, people interested in Nativity Prep, I tell them that we want our young men to succeed and graduate from college, have a career, and become a positive statistic rather than a negative one… but secretly, that’s not why I want Nativity’s graduates to go on to college. I want them to choose this path because of the amazing, personal growth that they will achieve by taking advantage of a college education… a college experience. It’s life-changing to have the opportunity to have what you have experienced for the past four years: to live on a college campus (or commute to one) – to have an “ivory tower” where you could make lifelong friends, explore ideas, form opinions, and have your world view challenged and expanded as you grow into adulthood – from Backpack to Briefcase.

A recent New York Times article by David Brooks entitled The Moral Bucket List highlights, for me, the two sets of values that you will focus on as you move from Backpack to Briefcase. It reads and I quote: “there are two sets of virtues, the resume virtues and the eulogy virtues. The resume virtues are the skills you bring to the marketplace. The eulogy virtues are the ones that are talked about at your funeral – whether you were kind, brave, honest or faithful.”

Brooks continues: “We all know that the eulogy virtues are more important than the resume ones. But our culture and our educational systems spend more time teaching the skills and strategies you need for career success than the qualities you need to radiate a sort of inner light. Many of us are clearer on how to build an external career than on how to build inner character.” End quote.

You are beginning your transition from Backpack to Briefcase with a unique advantage because you spent your last few years on a campus managed by the Oblates of Saint Francis de Sales. Whether it was in your required classes, a religion or philosophy elective, or one of the many opportunities to nurture your spiritual side on campus – from daily Mass to the new and extremely popular “Salesian Spirits” – you have had the opportunity to develop your “resume virtues” along side your “eulogy virtues” and achieve a balance that will be of great benefit as you face challenges in your life.

I have four pieces of advice – I believe these four pieces of advice have helped me maintain a balance between “resume virtues” and “eulogy virtues” – it gives me a little bit of “backpack” in a life that is sometimes dominated by “briefcase”. My four pieces of advice:

First – READ.

I know all of you have likely done quite a bit of reading these past few years…but trust me when I tell you that reading is a powerful skill that you need to continuously nurture. I tell our students at Nativity that they should read because reading gives you power – the power to deduce, the power to use your imagination, the power to form your own opinions. I like reading books (the kind with real pages and paper), but reading on a smartphone or tablet or computer screen can be just as effective (depending, of course, on the content). Tweets, texts, and status updates will keep you informed, but these bite-sized pieces of information will not exercise your minds the same way as an article, essay, short story, novel, or non-fiction book. “Reading” is very different from “watching” – reading develops your mind in a way that will empower you to achieve your dreams!

Second – VOLUNTEER.

In other words, find ways to give back. You might accomplish this with time, talent, or treasure. You might volunteer, you might serve on a board of a nonprofit, you might find yourself with disposable income that you choose to give to a charitable cause. I’ll share an example from my life and a quick version of how I ended up standing here before you today. After college, I intended to become a teacher or work in a school. Life circumstances happened and … fast forward 7-8 years … I found myself working in the corporate sector … enjoying a certain level of success, but not feeling totally satisfied by my daily grind. In 2003, I heard about a school called … you guessed it: Nativity Prep. They needed evening tutors – so I signed up, my life was instantly changed, and the rest is history. It was volunteering that led me to discover my vocation – my calling. I stand here before you as the president of the organization that I would have never discovered if I hadn’t volunteered that first night 12 years ago…

Third – LIVE LIFE PASSIONATELY

Living life passionately is very much in line with the teachings of St. Francis de Sales. Give yourself fully to everything that you do. “Be who you are and be that well.” – I’m sure you have heard that most famous of de Sales’ sayings many times – but it’s great advice – I try to live every aspect of my life with passion and I recommend you do the same.

Fourth – ALWAYS BE GRATEFUL

Nativity’s school theme this year is “Gratitude” – George Herbert, a contemporary of Francis de Sales, said: “You have given us much, Lord. Give us one more thing, a grateful heart.” Gratitude can completely shift your perspective from negative to positive. It is easy to get caught up in worries and anxieties and forget to be grateful – but once you shift to a perspective of gratitude you see everything differently.

As I prepared my remarks, I considered that I was speaking at the commencement of a Catholic college and that none of my advice was about prayer – but I believe that all of my pieces of advice are about praying. Whether you’re reading, volunteering, living your life passionately, or being grateful – you are praying – prayer, or meditation if you prefer, can be seamlessly woven into the fabric of your daily life – but do it with intention and conviction. My favorite Francis de Sales quote reads: “Half an hour’s meditation each day is essential, except when you are too busy. Then a full hour is needed.”

Finally, I want to exercise a piece of my own advice by expressing gratitude – I’m humbled to have received this honorary degree from the University, but I believe I share this degree with so many people who have made Nativity and my life what it is today. I believe it is the vision of the Oblates of Saint Francis de Sales that has had and continues to have a profound effect on giving educational opportunities to the kind of young men served by Nativity Prep. I am grateful to so many Oblates who have guided me on my journey. I share this degree with all of the current and past trustees, faculty, and staff of Nativity Prep – as well as all of the students and graduates.

I also want to thank my family – my parents, my sisters, my nieces and nephews, and most especially my wife, Grace, who is here today to support me even though she is eight and a half months pregnant with our first child. All of these people have inspired the advice I share with you – read, volunteer, live life passionately, and always be grateful.

In closing, I want to dedicate these remarks to my unborn daughter, Olivia, who I will spend the next 22 years nurturing on her own journey from Backpack to Briefcase. Thank you.


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Tom McNamara
Executive Director of Communications
DeSales University
2255 Station Avenue
Center Valley, PA 18034

610.282.1100 x1219
Tom.McNamara@desales.edu