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Anthony (Tony) Thompson, CEO Kwame Building Group
Commencement Address
Maryville University, Harris-Stowe State University


An excerpt of the commencement speech Tony Thompson presented to graduates of Maryville University and Harris-Stowe State University.

Today I hope to inspire and motivate you to live your life pursuing your dream as if your life depends on it, because it does.

Parents, our goal is to teach our kids to live without us. Graduates, your life is your parents’ gift to you. What you do with it is your gift to them.

BAD NEWS: Your learning and searching for wisdom does not end today. You will be amazed at how much you don’t know as you grow older.

GOOD NEWS: Today is the first day of your new educational experience, and you have me as your first new instructor.

What separates me from all of you? Not much. There’s nothing special about me. I’m not a genius. I’m not an exceptionally gifted athlete. I don’t possess Denzel Washington good looks. What I do have is passion and a desire to be the best that I possibly can.

A Male, I am.
A Man, I grew to be.
A Father, I’m proud to be.
An Engineer, I worked hard to be, but…
Black, I must be.

My ancestors survived the horrific experiences of slavery. Those taken were not the weak or the sickly or slow or intellectually inferior. They were the strong, wise and innovative, with survival instincts unseen. We are descendants of the strongest and brightest Africa had to offer.

So it is in my DNA to do what I’m doing. But I needed to be prepared when opportunity arose. My two undergraduate technical degrees and two graduate degrees gave me credibility in an industry dominated by white males who may not have had a comfortable track record with minorities.

You’ve seen reports that your generation will be the first to not exceed your parents’ success. Well, I disagree. You are smarter, more impatient, less forgiving, more creative, more innovative and more willing to take risks.

Strive to be better. No one rises to low expectations. You have qualities your parents never had, but you must define your own success. Take all the qualities you possess and write down your goals. Start with the ultimate goal and list smaller goals to reach that ultimate goal.

Strive for respect versus “being liked.” Set your own standards of excellence. Do not allow others to define you.

Understand how your role affects the bottom line of your organization. Because the bottom line is….THE BOTTOM LINE!

Find your passion, the one thing you do better than anyone else, because this is something you will enjoy if you were never paid a dime. It will come easy to you.

Live with passion, and you will learn, and love, and learn to love. You will be happy every day in pursuit of your dream. If you reach your goal, your pursuit and struggle was worth it. If you fall short but enjoyed the process, you have lived well.

You are about to embark upon the first half of your adult life, a journey that will define the future of our society. Take chances, take risks, explore your options and live for yourself while exploring the world. Be bold and selfish while you find your passion.

Then live the second half of your life for others, making the world better. Assist the less fortunate; serve the underserved. No one gets through this world alone.

You decide when that second half starts depending on how long you think you’ll live. I know I’m on the second half.

Congratulations, class of 2013. Have a great day and a greater life!

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Tony Thompson’s
Top 10 Life Lessons

10: Never let the fear of difficulty prevent action. (from my daughter, Kristin Thompson)
9: No credit is better than bad credit, and no deal is better than a bad deal.
8: Don’t accumulate too many enemies at one time. (from my mother, Betty Thompson)
7: Never borrow more than you need.
6: In your professional work world, no one cares what you think or how you feel but your mother. Be decisive.
5: Thieves look for theft.
4: Buy what you want, once you have what you need. (from my father, Jack Thompson)
3: Not only learn to read, but read between the lines.
2: You deserve what you settle for. (a T-shirt)
1: Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened. (Dr. Seuss)

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