UMUC Commencement Keynote: Christine A. Ross ’06 & ’08 – Saturday Afternoon, Dec. 15, 2018

UMUC Commencement Keynote: Christine A. Ross ’06 & ’08 – Saturday Afternoon, Dec. 15, 2018

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[ Applause ]>>Christine Ross: Thank you, President Miyares. University of Maryland University
College faculty and staff for having me here this afternoon. And thank you to University System of Maryland
board of regents member William T Wood, and student urgent Langston Frasier. To be asked to speak at commencement
today was a genuine honor. And a very unexpected honor. Because in truth, I am no more
interesting or special than any of you. I consider you all to be a rare breed. The multitasking, tightrope walker that can make
dinner for the family while reading a paragraph or two about consumer behavior
probably thinking, “I wish these little consumers
would hurry up and finish dinner so I could get back to my marketing homework.” Or those going through military
training prior to deployment. Using a short break to compose an executive
summary on organization management, wondering where are the instructions
for putting up these tents? Or the most intense multitasking UMUC student
of all, those that are deployed in a war zone and a high-risk area such as [inaudible]. Where they live with the constant threat
and risk of IDFs, IDEs, and ambushing. Imagine carving out time in that environment for
a group capstone project discussion via Skype. During my years of studies at UMUC, those active
military students always put my exhaustion into perspective. Those achievers actually made me feel a little
bit guilty as I sat in my cute little Victorian in the Berkshires of western
Massachusetts, near a wood stove with a lot of home cooked food right at my fingertips. Today if you’ll indulge me, I would like
to tell you a little bit about my story. Along the way, you will see that the key to my
current success was how I responded to adversity and overcame my fear by choosing
to take an unfamiliar path. I grew up in a large military family, go Navy. [ Cheering ] Sorry, ranger. I was one of eight children,
five boys, three girls. I was number seven with a bevy
of boys on either side of me. My siblings and I played team sports, in fact I learned to play
baseball before I played softball because the home team was duly
on one side, full of boys. We did our chores with military precision. We went to church every Sunday
and depending on which time of year it was, sometimes multiple times a week. Let me answer that burning question all
of you are thinking, yes, we are Catholic. When you’re part of a big family, there
is pressure to stand out and be noticed, hopefully for something good,
in my case only something good. Some of my families went to college,
others went to trade schools. One brother is an architect, one sister
a beautician, one brother a fireman, and one brother, every family has that one
overachiever, one brother is an astronaut. Isn’t that annoying? After that, you might wonder how are
you going to impress your parents? Well, by golly, I said to them, I can sing! So pretty amazing, a little bit
intimidating, but it always sets your course. The reality is that this part of my story is
meant to tell you that I was lucky by birth, lucky enough to be raised in a middle
class environment by a mom and a dad where family participation, religion, and
learning was valued and a natural thing. Oh, and I bet one more thing
you’re all thinking? How do you feed eight kids at dinner? So dinner was generally a scrum, and you had
to go quickly or you wouldn’t get anything, and yes, my mom is truly a saint. After college and a degree in music
education, I worked for a few years. In 1987, I got married and
had three beautiful sons. I was happy and grateful to be able
to choose to be a stay at home mom. I was in heaven, putting all of my
teaching skills to work with my boys. Now most people who interact with me today
would never guess or expect me to tell them that I stayed home for ten years
until my youngest was in kindergarten. They look at me and they think that I’m
a single minded, career driven woman. So a lesson for you, as you encounter new
people in your workplace, do not assume anything and do not judge a book by its cover. Find out about your coworker’s journey. Make time to talk to them. It might provide you with an opening to a richer
conversation and some great insights about how to define a new opportunity for yourselves. The next part of my journey is where things take
a little turn and adversity enters the scene. It was a painful and unexpected experience. In 1993, when my boys were one, three,
and five, I was headed for divorce. Suddenly I was a single parent. With a music degree. Who had been out of work for years. To say that I would be panicked
would be an understatement. I wondered what would I do for work? How would I provide for my family? To increase the pressure,
whoops, excuse me one minute. Technical error. How would I provide for my family on my own? What qualifications did I have? They were as follows. For the previous six years,
I had been the bandleader of toddler pot and pan parades in my kitchen. Artistic director of sidewalk chalk
installations curated in my driveway so my middle son could burn off some
energy riding around the train track. And I was a super user of the local
library’s system’s child department. I wondered who in the heck would hire
me with such a large gap in my resume? My business contacts contacts consisted of the
other mothers at the park and my play group. Tamping down my fear in the
light of day, I knew one thing. Becoming a parent requires
you to set the example for your children, so I needed to step it up. Graduates, this lesson also applies
to you in business and in life. When you are presented with adversity,
look at it as an opportunity. And remember, someone is always
watching you, how you behave, to see how you respond to these obstacles. So I stepped it up. I started volunteering in order to network and eventually got my first contract
for some public relations work. Getting that first contract
took courage and gumption. That same courage and gumption that
got all of you to where you are today. You have to take a chance, you had to divide
your time, and make room for studying. To increase the pressure on your daily
lives in order to achieve good grades and this accomplishment, even when you
knew your plate was already really full. Your families had to sacrifice too. With a little less attention and
maybe some missed activities. Thank you to all the families and
friends who helped along the way, we could not have done it without you. Let’s give them a round of applause. [ Applause ] So right about now, you might be wondering
how my sons were faring with this new reality. Well for the life of them, they could
not understand what I was doing, typing on a computer, to
produce a press release. They wanted to know just what
the heck a press release was. And why did I have to get a
baby sitter to go to a meeting? This was when I had to gently explain
to them that the BC that they learned about in catechism really didn’t mean
“before Christ,” it meant “before children.” Before children, I had a life,
and a job, and a paycheck. So in 1997, I started interviewing, getting
my first AC full time job, after children. I was blessed with a weeklong
trip to the US Chamber of Commerce’s Institute for
Organization Management. A program focused on chambers and associations. That classroom time got me motivated and excited to restart my education but
there was a big barrier. I was living in the Berkshires of western
Massachusetts 90 minutes from any institution of higher education, and with my
children being my first priority, there was no way I was going
to get to a classroom. My number one priority was the boys and so I
also knew that I needed the business training to get me to where I would have the
credentials in order to be able to compete. And I want to mention one other giant
obstacle, I was petrified about trying to take the GRE and the GMAP test. You see I am not a good test taker. I am permanently scarred from the preparations
I had to go through in high school for the SATs. But then an opportunity came my way. I was introduced, like you all were, to UMUC. Where as you know, you do
not have to take the GRE. And that became the opening that I needed. Yeah, don’t ever change that part of the rule. I knew I could work hard, so I took a leap
of faith and took the unexpected path. I got an A in my first class and instantly knew
my brain still worked, that I could do this. On the home front, this new
path became a family affair. I set up my computer in the middle
of the family room and the boys and I would do our homework at the same time. While not perfect, things
were going fairly well. As I reviewed the breadth of the curriculum
for the master’s of marketing and the MBA, I quickly realized that there were
going to be some major hurdles. Think about it. My undergraduate degree was in music. Music arranging, music history,
music composing, you get the picture. How in the heck was I ever going to
get through accounting and statistics? My one undergrad econ class, my
father called me every single week to ask me how it was going, was a disaster. But out came the faculty at UMUC
with support and assistance. My professors went out of their way to
connect me with classmates who had the math and financial background to tutor me. At this time, I’d like to pause in
the address to thank Texas Instrument for designing the TI-86 financial calculator. Without that, I would have been eviscerated. Another important note, please remember this,
there is no valor in suffering silently. I learned to realize when I
needed help and I asked for it. There is no pride. That humility informs my leadership to this day. I never think of myself as the
smartest person in the room. Yes, I’m definitely good at some things,
but I also know where my weaknesses are. And when I’m struggling to solve
a particularly naughty problem, I don’t hesitate to ask an expert for help. So now back to my story. This is where the path changes course again. In 1998, with three young boys
at home and graduate work, I was not socializing much
and definitely not dating. Someone talked me into a blind date. Cue the theme of “Taking Chances,”
you’ve heard me talking about that today? And low and behold, I was suddenly and
unexpectedly blessed with a new secret weapon. An Army ranger came into our lives and took
on the mission of being my study champion, my personal cheerleader, and after three
and half year courtship because man, I really wanted him to make sure he knew
what he was getting into, stepdad to my boys. If I thought I wasn’t going
to make it through accounting, he would stand there and
tell me that I could do it. If I had a big paper due, off they
would go to the movie theatre. He was really good at picking out
exciting boy-centric double features. I’d get a call midway through and he’d
want to know “Do you need more time?” And I’d say yes, of course I always
needed more time for my paper, right? And so he might add some arcade time to that. They thought they were in heaven
and I was getting my work done. He made sure I had the time I needed
to concentrate and complete my work. You remember fondly those Sunday
night deadlines, don’t you? Smile, because it’s all done. [ Cheering & Applause ] I want to thank Robert Ross, who’s
here with me today, you are my hero. A proud moment for me as well along the way. My sons have since told me that watching me go
back to school was a defining moment for them. When they began to look at
me in a different way. I inspired a little competition along
the way and when report cards came due, I would review theirs and look at their
comments and they would ask to see mine. So I had to keep my game up high. This UMUC opportunity allowed my sons
to see their mom with renewed focus and dedication striving for my goals and
like you, overcoming adversity to achieve. So congratulations. [ Cheering & Applause ] The next challenge for me meant
competing for career advancement. Much like the military, to move
up in the world of chambers of commerce, you have to move around. And in my case, you have to
have a spouse who’s willing to uproot their career and put yours first. Once I completed my two degrees in
2008, we finally had a family meeting to discuss job opportunities
that were nationwide. With everyone’s support, I looked
beyond the state of Massachusetts. Now let me paint this picture for you. Working for a board of directors at a chamber
of commerce is a very different animal. It is risky. If the board members don’t mesh with your
personality, you can be shown the door. To uproot your family and then get
fired would be a huge problem, right? The board sets the budget,
the CEO is responsible for making sure she brings in the revenue. Sometimes board members think it’s
their job to run the day-to-day. During the great depression, I nearly had my
chairman of the board move a desk into my office because he thought he could
do a better job than me. Now you have to understand, it
was 2009 in southwest Florida, the epicenter of the real estate crash. Because of this severe downturn, I had to lay
off half of my staff and put the remaining folks on a rotating pattern of furloughs. Let me tell you. You never forget what it
feels like to fire someone. I learned the true meaning of humility that day. But I also felt grateful. Grateful that my UMUC professors and studies
have prepared me with the leadership skills that I needed for firing someone with kindness
and dignity and everything else in between. Change management, check. Crisis communication, check. Continuous improvement, you bet. Graduates, you too are now fully armed and
prepared to face adversity and a new path. Take the one less expected. Use your new knowledge and skills
to strive for that new position, to take on more risk, and try new things. It will feel unfamiliar,
but you may feel uncertain. But I think you’ll be pleasantly
surprised by what you find. And one final thought. No matter what you encounter, keep your
values, your ethics, and your integrity intact. This is your ultimate position of
strength and it will serve you well. [ Applause ] So of course I have to finish on
a little bit of a musical note. I’m not going to sing because she
already hit it out of the park. I think Elvis Presley said it best when
he mused “Values are like fingerprints, nobody’s are the same but you leave
them all over everything you do.” Congratulations again to
all of today’s graduates. Get out there and make Maryland and
the world a better place to succeed. [ Cheering & Applause ]

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