Lt. Gov. Cox tells Dixie St. graduates to build eulogy virtues, not resume virtues
May 13, 2015
President Williams, faculty members, staff, distinguished graduates, parents family and friends. Congratulations to the class of 2015! Thank you for giving me this distinct honor to address you on this very special occasion.
Now, I know what you are thinking: UVU gets Mitt Romney, Weber State gets NBA star Damian Lillard…and we get…this guy? Who is this guy again? That’s what I love about Dixie State: They are continuing to educate you until the last possible moment!
But don’t worry, I’m used to it. Some of you may have seen the commercials I filmed to help encourage voter turnout. I decided to try a “man on the street” routine like Jay Leno or Jimmy Fallon. I dressed casually, grabbed a camera crew and headed out to talk to people about voting. For fun, I decided to ask the question, “Do you know the name of the Lt. Governor of Utah?” Now, when Leno or Fallon do this, they edit out the people that know the answers for entertainment purposes. The good news for me? No editing necessary! Of the 60 people I interviewed, only one knew the name of the Lt. Governor…and even he didn’t know he was talking to the Lt. Governor. So, congratulations graduates, you now know something that 99% of the state of Utah doesn’t know.
By way of introduction, I was born and raised in the small town of Fairview, Utah. And I returned there to raise my four children 12 years ago (I will share more about that in a minute). Yes, I’m the crazy guy that commutes 200 miles to the Capitol every day. On the late nights, my Uncle lets me stay in his basement in Bountiful.
With all of the drive time, I have had plenty of opportunity to think about the words of wisdom I could share. In fact, I had an incredible speech prepared for you. It was funny and inspirational and used words like “dreams” and “success” and “changing the world.” It even had the obligatory Dr. Seuss quote and some Taylor Swift lyrics thrown in for good measure. You would have loved it!
Unfortunately, the universe conspired to let me know I needed to throw out the entire speech and start over again. [I just had to Shake It Off…But I worried there would be a Blank Space on the teleprompter.]
It all started a couple weeks ago when my neighbor was diagnosed with breast cancer. She is two years older than me and the mother of five children, four of which are the exact same ages as my four children. A few days after the diagnosis she underwent an emergency double mastectomy. Two days later the doctors informed her that they found tumors in her spine and hip. In other words, stage four cancer.
Here is the other thing you need to know about my neighbor. She is one of the kindest, most generous, loving and courageous people I know. The kind of person we all wish we were more like. The researcher and author Brené Brown refers to these people as “wholehearted.” People who have a strong sense of love and belonging, who have the courage to be imperfect, the compassion to be kind to themselves and others and embrace vulnerability.
The New York Times columnist David Brooks refers to these people as the “stumblers.” People who “seem deeply good. They listen well. They make you feel funny and valued. You often catch them looking after other people and as they do so their laugh is musical and their manner is infused with gratitude. They are not thinking about what wonderful work they are doing. They are not thinking about themselves at all.” He calls them “stumblers” because “their lives often follow a pattern of defeat, recognition, redemption. They have moments of pain and suffering. But they turn those moments into occasions of radical self-understanding.”
As I thought about stumbling, I have reflected on some of the failures in my own life. In high school I was convinced I would be an NBA superstar. Unfortunately the coach didn’t see it the same way and I was cut from the team. Now, a lesser person would be deterred. I, however, am very determined. I have always lived my life like the great Winston Churchill, who said: “Success consists of going from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm.” In fact, instead of being disappointed, I was actually excited! I knew that getting cut from my high school team would make an even better story when I made the NBA. And so I tried out the next year. And I got cut again.
Finally I got the message, and decided to turn my attention to something else: politics! I decided to run for student body president. I knew that–at last–I had found my calling in life. Only I didn’t. I lost. To a guy nicknamed Smurf. And to make matters worse, I just learned last year–after 17 years of marriage–that my own wife voted for the other guy!
Now this is the point of the talk where I am supposed to inspire you by saying that, if you never give up and just keep trying, you too can take a huge cut in pay, become an unknown state-wide politician and live in your Uncle’s basement. But that was the old speech. This speech is not that.
Some of you might have all of your wildest dreams come true. But all of you will experience disappointment, pain and failure. As such, both Brené Brown and David Brooks would tell you that we need to spend less time on the “resumé virtues” and more time on the “eulogy virtues.” Over the past few years, you have all spent an enormous amount of time on the resumé virtues. And that is important. But what will you do going forward?
Over the next few months and years, you will face many decisions, big and small. How will you decide? Will your decisions be based only on status, wealth, fame or a fear of failure and shame? Or will you allow a place for courage, vulnerability, personal peace and happiness? Let me share with you one of those big decisions that my family faced.
I had graduated from Law School and was working with a big law firm in Salt Lake City. I was making great money and was on the fast track to partner. Sure I was working 16 hour days, but I figured it was worth it. We had 3 little boys at the time on a quarter-acre in Kaysville. But something didn’t feel quite right. And then one day I saw a bumper sticker that said, “It’s 99% of attorneys that give the other 1% a bad name.” I didn’t get the joke, but my wife gladly explained it to me. And so I asked her, “is the world a better place because of what I do?” Now, you have to know that my wife grew up on a farm. And farm girls are very blunt. Her answer? Absolutely not.
And so, we started to reevaluate our priorities. About that time my dad called and asked if I wanted to take a cut in pay, move back to the family farm and work with him in the telecommunications business.
I decided to get advice from a couple friends. The first was a very successful attorney at the law firm. He told me I was an idiot for even considering such a move. How could I give up my future as a high-powered, high-priced attorney and move to the middle of nowhere. I was crazy to even consider it.
The next person I talked to was Federal District Judge Ted Stewart, with whom I had served as a law clerk. He looked at me and smiled. “Spencer, if you go back home you will have an opportunity to serve your family, your church and your community. You would be the luckiest man on earth.” Notice, he didn’t say anything about my job or my pay. He keenly understood the importance of eulogy virtues over resumé virtues. More pointedly, he understood that if you take care of the eulogy virtues, the resumé virtues will take care of themselves.
Ironically, a few years later my friend from the law firm came to help on a lawsuit against Fairview City. After spending the day together, he said, “I owe you an apology. I really get it now. You made the right decision and I’m incredibly jealous.”
That was a very big decision. And, with a little luck and a lot of help from my wife, we got it right. But I promise you that the small decisions matter too.
Let me share with you the most important thing that happened to me over the last month. But before I do that, let me assure you that this past month has been pretty amazing. I had long policy discussions with the Russian Ambassador to the United States and the Afghan Ambassador to the United Nations. I had an hour-and-a-half interview with the D.C. Correspondent for the Economist Magazine. I got to hang out with Jay Leno for an evening. And I even met the President of the United States. But none of those things were the most important.
Last week my 14-year-old son came to us and said, “Mom and Dad this Friday is Victoria’s birthday. Can you guys take us and some friends up to watch the Avengers, eat dinner and hang out at the mall?” As you might have guessed, Victoria is the daughter of my neighbor–the one with cancer. Of course I agreed–mostly because I was just really excited to see the Avengers.
And so we took them to the big city. And they watched the movie. And they ate dinner. And they played at the mall. And we took them home. To be perfectly honest, I didn’t really think that much about it. Until a few minutes later when my wife received a text. It was from our neighbor. It simply read as follows:
“You made a very special girl’s dream come true. Something I simply could not do today. I will never, EVER forget it. I love you.”
And it was then that I remembered. We don’t change the world by meeting with presidents or celebrities. We change the world by helping a little girl celebrate her birthday and find some light and joy at a very dark time.
Now, graduates, today is all about you. And it should be. But I hope it’s the last day that‘s all about you!
I conclude with the words of David Brooks on the power and grace of stumblers: “The stumbler doesn’t build her life by being better than others, but by being better than she used to be. Unexpectedly, there are transcendent moments of deep tranquillity. For most of their lives their inner and outer ambitions are strong and in balance. But eventually, at moments of rare joy, career ambitions pause, the ego rests, the stumbler looks out at a picnic or dinner or a valley and is overwhelmed by a feeling of limitless gratitude, and an acceptance of the fact that life has treated her much better than she deserves.”
Those are the people I want to be.
Hopefully, those are the people you want to be too.
May God bless you on your journey forward. Congratulations and Thank you.