This being commencement week on campus, we asked 10 folks who'll have speaking roles during UI college and departmental graduation ceremonies: What's the best piece of professional advice you ever received?
Department of En
RYAN SUFFERN ('99)
Head of documentaries, Kennedy/Marshall film company of Santa Monica, Calif.
"It was in the early days of my having made the move to Los Angeles to chase the dream of being a filmmaker. At a lunch or coffee meeting, someone told me that no one would probably take me seriously in L.A. until I'd been here for at least a couple of years, given that so many come here chasing a similar version of the same dream. And that really, it was the people who had the perseverance, talent and good fortune to be here for 20 years that would be running the show and calling the shots.
"I remember at the time thinking, 'No thank you.' That I'd be the exception to the rule as I had no expectation of spending two decades in this new and strange city, especially only being 24 at the time.
"And yet, I've now been here nearly 16 years, and while I don't necessarily think I'm running the show by any stretch, I continue to see the wisdom of this advice all the more."
Department of Chemical and Biom
DEB CORRENTI ('84)
Lecturer of economics, Benedictine University
"I was about to start my first job with Monsanto Chemicals. My dad bought me a Mac computer for graduation — the very first one Apple produced.
"He said he hoped it would give me an edge at work. He gave me one piece of advice that I have since passed on to my son when he graduated.
"He said that I should work really hard to get a good review that first year of work. If I started out strong and showed people what a good worker I was, that positive impression would stick with me for the rest of my career.
"If you slack off and start with one bad review, you may never escape that reputation."
Department of Chemical and
COREY CORRENTI ('85)
Chicago oil and energy executive
"The best piece of advice I received was to 'always remember that people want you to succeed.' This advice was provided by a fellow Illini who recruited for my first job out of college at Amoco.
"At the time, I thought it meant that unlike college, my performance was no longer going to be graded on a curve. I soon realized that although the corporate world was very competitive, it was not a zero sum game — the more I was willing to help others, the more people were vested in my success."
Gies College of Busin
LARRY GIES ('88)
$150 million donor and CEO of Chicago private equity firm Madison Industries
"Find your why — why you get up in the morning and do what you do in life. Something beyond just going to work, or doing a job.
"By finding your why, you can connect the dots from what you are doing each and every day to a higher purpose."
College of Veterinary
DR. ANNE BARGER
UI clinical professor of pathobiology
"The first time I was asked to give the commencement address for the College of Veterinary Medicine, I was very new to the college and really at a loss of what to say.
"A colleague, Dr. Sandy Manfra, had given the address several years earlier and was willing to share hers with me. She talked about stress and burnout in our profession, and what she said was so profound.
"She reminded graduates to cherish not only their career but their lives outside of veterinary medicine. Family and friends are so important and should hold a special place in our everyday lives. I thought that was pretty cool advice from someone who has seen it all.
"I have taken my own spin of that concept and I like to remind graduates to hold on to the passion that inspired them to apply to veterinary school. It is so challenging to get accepted into the program and then the curriculum is very rigorous and students devote thousands of hours to become a veterinarian.
"Then we get out in the world and it is never quite as 'James Herriot' as you think it will be, so it is important to remember what drove us to get on the path and make sure it is still relevant for us all those years later."
Global business lead, DDB ad agency of Chicago
"The best piece of advice I ever got post-college was from my dad, Dick Kissel. He was a successful lawyer, a pioneer in environmental law.
"But way more than that, he was a really great guy. We were very close. He passed away five years ago, but left an amazing impression on everyone he met.
"One time, early in my advertising career, I was telling him about a project I was working on that was really difficult. I was complaining about how I always seemed to get put on the tough ones — you know, woe is me.
"His eyes lit up. He said, 'The best things you can work on are when you get to fix or build things. Run to the problems that are unsolved. That's when you'll learn the most.'
"In essence, he was helping me navigate my career in a really thoughtful way. I learned to embrace and even enjoy proactively throwing myself into situations where I had to invent, improvise and produce results under pressure. If you can look at problems and obstacles as gifts, you're usually halfway to solving them."
UI professor of mathematics
"My speech at the Graduate College hooding ceremony will be refreshingly free of advice.
"All the same, I hope the following words, from Winston Churchill in 1908, resonate with some of our wonderful graduates: 'What is the use of living, if it be not to strive for noble causes and to make this muddled world a better place for those who will live in it after we are gone?'"
Department of Commu
JD MILLER ('97)
Interim chief revenue officer, Motus of Chicago
"In one of the Harry Potter books, Dumbledore tells the students: 'Dark times lie ahead of us and there will be a time when we must choose between what is easy and what is right' — and the implication is that it's better to choose the second option.
"As a chief revenue officer, I look after sales teams that often are faced with this decision. Negotiating sales with customers who may not totally understand what they're evaluating, it can sometimes be easy or expedient to get the deal done by omitting important parts of the story — but it's not right.
"Not only are you going to wind up with an unhappy client over the long term, you also really develop a bad reputation. With people changing jobs frequently, our reputations and integrity are the only things we really bring from place to place — so you have to follow Dumbledore and do the right thing."
College of Media Department of
Urban and Regional Planning
UI professor of urban and regional planning
"My father never went to college, so his advice was more about life in general. One of the most significant areas of knowledge he passed on to me involved driving, given that he drove tens of thousands of miles every year on the L.A. freeways.
"One of his most memorable, and useful, principles was to accelerate confidently when merging onto a freeway and try to travel faster than the nearest vehicle rather than yield to them.
"Now that I think about this, it occurs to me that it is also useful life advice: Be confident in your own actions, be aware of others and try not to disrupt their lives, and step boldly into society."
School of Labor and Employme
ANDREW BARTLOW ('96)
California consultant and former Waypoint Homes HR head
"Your career is a marathon, not a sprint. Plan it out as such.
"In the first 10 years of your career, accumulate the best and highest-quality experience you can get. Don't worry about pay, location or progression. Focus on building amazing skills and a great pedigree.
"The next 10 years, people will pay you for that experience and those skills. Focus on accumulating wealth. If you run the first two legs well, you will have an abundance of choices in the third 10 years of your career.
"You can retire early. You can take a moon shot to reach the highest echelons of your field. You can consult on your own terms.
"This advice was shared with me by John Berisford, my first manager out of graduate school. He went on to become the chief people officer of Pepsi and is now the president of a major division of Standard & Poor's."