76ºF

Gov. Mitt Romney's Jacksonville University keynote address

Remarks as prepared for delivery at spring commencement

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Below is the full text, as prepared for delivery, of the keynote address of former Massachusetts governor and Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, given at the 9:30 a.m. Saturday, April 25, Spring 2015 Commencement celebration at Jacksonville University.

Good morning. Thank you, President Cost, for such a warm introduction. Members of the faculty and staff, students, parents, family and friends, I am honored to be here with you on this special day.

As a child, I was a big believer in Santa Claus. When the holidays came around, I took the "naughty and nice" sentiment pretty seriously. Maybe I should have figured out that one person in an animal-driven vehicle might have had some difficulty visiting a billion or so homes in one night.

It's a funny thing about little kids: they don't see much beyond what's immediately around them. They see their family, their school, their city or town, but they just can't imagine distant nations or massive numbers of other people.

With your sixteen years of education, the world you know has been greatly expanded.

Today, you step with both feet into a seemingly boundless world. With such vastness and nearly infinite directions available to you, where do you go, what do you do with your life?

I've been journeying and exploring in that world for quite some time now. Today, I thought I might share some of the guideposts that have helped me along the way.

The first might seem counterintuitive, given everything you've been doing for the last 16 years. But it is this: keep expanding your world. Dig deeper, search further, learn much more. As much as you think you know about the world, you will find, even after an entire lifetime, that there is much more you don't know than what you do know.

Let me explain what I'm suggesting with an example. When I graduated, I thought I had a pretty good handle on Israel. I had read about its history. I had studied some about Judaism and Islam. As the years passed, however, I dug deeper. I followed political and cultural events in periodicals and books. I read and considered alternative viewpoints on the issues facing the country.

One year, Ann suggested we travel to Israel for our vacation. I was not enthusiastic. I didn't want to go on a learning vacation; I wanted to go to the beach. I wanted sand and a tan. But Ann prevailed.

To my surprise, it was one of the best vacations of my life. My understanding of the nation, the region, the people, the religions, the conflicts, and the politics, all of that was broadened and expanded. And interestingly, I found that as my mind was engaged and exercised, I was also energized.

As between loafing and learning, loafing is the more tempting, but learning is the more rewarding. Loafing is actually boring, and learning is exhilarating.

Never stop expanding your world.

And there's a corollary: Never stop engaging in your world.

I was jogging one day near our summer home in New Hampshire. I've found that as I get older and stiffer, I'm prone to get tendinitis in my feet if I run long distances on hard surfaces. So whenever I can, I detour a few steps off the street and run on the shoulder or at the edge of someone's lawn. On this occasion, I was running along the margin of a neighbor's yard and he came running out, wildly gesticulating, and shouted at me to get off his lawn.

Had this happened to you, what would have gone through your mind? Maybe to bring back a bushel of dandelion seeds to throw on his lawn? My reaction was more pedestrian: "Hey mister, get a life."

That phrase is actually pretty good advice for all of us. Get a life, have a life, live your life in full. Embrace every fruitful dimension of life that you possibly can.

One of the most gratifying dimensions of life is friendship.

I remember sitting in a business class, looking around the room and thinking to myself that I'd probably never see any of these guys again after I graduated. All my attention was focused on what was being taught by the professor, you know, so that I could get a good grade. But you know what, I've forgotten almost everything that was taught in that class; it's the classmates I remember, and it's those friends that I value most.

It has been 40 years since my graduation; the guys in my six-person study group continue to get together. When I ran for office, a number of them even hosted fundraisers for me. We've congratulated one another on our high points and consoled one another in our lows.

One classmate became wheelchair-bound as the result of an auto accident. Rather than be defeated by his tragedy, he helped direct and finance a center for spinal cord research. During my 2012 campaign, as I was speaking at a large rally in Atlanta, I saw that he had painstakingly motored his wheelchair through the traffic of people to listen to me speak. After my remarks, I hugged him and told him how much I respected his work and courage, and that I loved him for it. Only a few days later, he died unexpectedly. I thought again with admiration how he had engaged in life to his full capacity. Our friendship enriched my life and his.

For most of you, engaging in life will also mean getting married and having children. I don't expect that everyone here believes as I do that the Bible is the word of God or even that it is inspired by God. If not, then at least you will have to acknowledge that it represents the wisdom of the ages, written by extraordinary thinkers and philosophers. Either way, its counsel warrants serious attention.

In the opening pages of the Bible, Adam gives this direction: "therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh." The "one flesh" part we don't seem to have a problem with, but the part about leaving mom and dad and getting married trips some people up.

I'm surely not going to tell you when to tie the knot. You've got parents who will do that. But I will tell you that marriage has been the single-most rewarding part of my life, by far. Marriage involves passion, conflict, fear, hope, compromise--in short, it is living to the maximum.

In the Old Testament, Psalm 127 says: "children are a heritage of the Lord…

As arrows are in the hand of a mighty man; so are children of the youth. Happy is the man that hath his quiver full of them."

I'm not sure whether having five sons qualifies as a full quiver, but I can affirm that they brought immeasurable happiness, as promised by the Psalmist. And to my point, they expanded and engaged Ann and me in ways we would not have expected.

On one occasion, Ann and I were invited to speak to students at Harvard Business School about our choice of careers, I as a management consultant and she as a full-time mom. Ann was reluctant, in part because two other couples would also be speaking on the same topic, and both of the other women had chosen to be Wall Street bankers.

In the class, the other couples went first. I followed and Ann spoke last. She explained that while she expected to have a career outside the home in the future, she had chosen to be a full-time Mom until her five kids were raised. She went on to explain that her job had required more of her than she had imagined. She was psychologist, tutor, counselor, scoutmaster, coach, nurse practitioner, nutritionist, budget director, and more. When she sat down following her remarks, the class was silent for several seconds and then it rose in a standing ovation.

Golda Meir, the former Prime Minister of Israel, was asked what her greatest accomplishment was. "Raising my daughter," she answered.

Marriage and children expand your world and engage you more fully in it.

There's a burger joint in Salt Lake City that's one of my favorites. Its founder, Don Hales, put out a little book of his homespun wisdom. He says that to be happy requires three things: someone to love, something to look forward to, and something to do. In other words, work. You might be inclined to think that a Garden of Eden life would be preferable to working at a job, but you'd be wrong. I'm convinced that Adam and Eve would have been bored to tears if they'd stayed in the garden: no kids, no challenges, and no job. I think that Adam being made to grow food "by the sweat of his brow" was a blessing, not a curse.

Of course, there's a lot not to like about a job: the early alarm clock, the rush hour traffic, the stress. But work engages you in life. You come to know more people, to understand their motivations and values, and to learn the intricacies of the enterprise that employs you.

Don't waste time bemoaning your job. Don't skim by with the minimum of effort. Dive in. Get more from your job than the paycheck.

There's a part of life that you won't welcome: bad things. Bad things that happen to you. If you're like I was, you imagine that bad things happen infrequently and that when they do, they mostly happen to other people.

I used to sit in church and look around the congregation. Everyone was smiling and happy. Life seemed to be nothing but puppies and pansies for everybody. And then my church asked me to serve as the pastor of that congregation. As pastor, I got to really know the people behind those smiling faces. And to my surprise, many of them carry what Ann and I call a "bag of rocks" on their back. That bag of rocks could be a chronic illness, a battle with some kind of addiction, a child that couldn't keep up in school, unemployment, a financial crisis, withering loneliness, or a marriage on the rocks. To my surprise, almost every single family faced one kind of challenge or another. They all carried a bag of rocks on their backs. We all will hurt.

Engaging in your world means accepting that hurt, confronting it, and endeavoring to ascend above it so that you can keep pursuing a fulfilling and abundant life.

During my campaign, I met Sam Schmidt in Las Vegas. One of my best friends from college had told me that it was a meeting I wouldn't forget. In January of 2000, Sam's Indianapolis racing car hit the wall. This father of two young children spent five months on a respirator and was rendered quadriplegic--he can move nothing below his neck. He and I spoke about his life today: his morning begins with a two to three hour routine for bowel, bladder, teeth, shower and dressing. That would be enough for a lot of people to just give up. But instead, Sam owns and manages an Indy car racing team that regularly dominates the Firestone Indy Lights, having won 60 races. And he himself has actually begun to drive again. He has a Corvette that has been fitted with special controls. To accelerate, he blows in an air tube. To brake, he sucks the air out of it. To turn left or right, he looks carefully left or right respectively. Accordingly, he warned his racing buddies: "You gotta keep the bikinis out of the grandstands because you don't want any sudden movements."

Sam's disability is still there. He endures it every day, every hour. But that has not kept him from engaging in life.

If you're like I was at my graduation, you think you have a pretty good idea what your career will look like. In fact, nothing about my career transpired as I had imagined it.

The biggest departure from my predicted career path came with my decision to run for political office. When I stepped into the auditorium to debate Ted Kennedy, I turned to Ann and asked: "In your wildest dreams, did you see me running for US Senate?" "Mitt," she replied, "you weren't in my wildest dreams." Actually, she didn't say that. That was a joke I bought for my campaign.

Through all these occupations, I have experienced successes and failures. I am asked what it felt like to lose to President Obama. Well, not as good as winning. Failures aren't fun, but they are inevitable.

More importantly, failures don't have to define who you are. Some people measure their life by their secular successes--how high on the corporate ladder did they get? How much money did they make? Did they do better than their high school classmate? One business partner of mine went back to his high school reunion in Fort Scott, Kansas. As a wealthy financier, he expected to be voted by his 50 or so former classmates as the most successful graduate. To his dismay, a local doctor took that honor. So at the reunion five years later, this partner of mine charted a jet to fly him to Fort Scott. It buzzed the town before landing at the tiny airport. Predictably, this time he won the vote.

If that's the kind of vote you're looking for, you're bound to be disappointed. Life has way too much chance and luck--good and bad--to be assured that kind of success. And if your life is lived for money and position, it will be a shallow and unfulfilling journey.

The real wealth in life is in your friendships, your marriage, your children, what you have learned in your work, what you have overcome, your relationship with God, and in what you have contributed to others.

This last dimension, contribution to others, is often overlooked.

Tom Monaghan's father died when he was just four years old. His mother entrusted him to a catholic orphanage. He graduated from high school and enrolled in the University of Michigan. The tuition proved to be beyond his reach, so to help meet costs, he and his brother bought and ran a pizza shop for $900. When he had expanded it to three shops, his brother sold his interest to Tom for a used Volkswagen.

He named his stores Domino's and Tom became wealthy. He bought a vintage Bugatti automobile for $8.4 million. He bought the Detroit Tigers and won the World Series the next year. He began construction of a massive modern home, one that would rival his majestic corporate office in Ann Arbor.

When I met him in 1998, I was surprised to find him seated in a closet-sized ante-chamber to what had once been his spacious executive suite. He had sold the Tigers, the car, and had stopped construction of his mansion. Tom had signed what was called the Millionaire's Vow of Poverty. Accordingly, he would not drive a luxury car, fly in a private plane, or assume any of the trappings of wealth. That had included trading his impressive office for the small cubicle where I had found him.

Tom explained that reading the Bible and the essays of C.S. Lewis had reminded him of his upbringing in the catholic orphanage. He wanted to change his life, and devote his remaining years to service.

On behalf of Bain Capital, I wrote Tom a check to buy Domino's for over $1 billion. Keeping all but a small living stipend, he then turned around and donated the rest to Catholic charities. He founded a college and named it, not after himself, but after Mary: Ave Maria University.

I asked him a few weeks ago what the most rewarding part of his life was. Was it winning the World Series, building Domino's, or driving his Bugatti? You can guess his answer. "It wasn't the toys--I've had enough toys to know how unimportant they are. It was giving back, through the university."

Living life in fullness includes serving others, and doing so without pride or personal gain. It will fill your heart and expand your mind. I've seen that kind of service in large and small ways in my own family.

My sister has devoted the last 45 years of her life to the care and development of her Down syndrome son. My wife volunteered as a teacher for a class of at-risk girls. My mother was a frequent visitor to the homes of shut-ins and widows. My brother-in-law served in the Navy. My cousin Joan was foster mother to 57 children. My father and I both ran for political office.

Wait a second: that last item, running for office, may not seem like real service to you. I know that for some, politics is an occupation, and a fine one at that. But for Dad and me, it came after our careers were over. I believed, and my father believed, that if we were elected, we could really help people.

Most of you probably won't run for office, but the country needs all of you to serve. America faces daunting challenges: generational poverty, looming debt, a warming climate, and a world that is increasingly dangerous and tumultuous. Washington appears inept, powerless and without an effective strategy to overcome any of these. America needs your passion, your impatience, your participation in the political discourse. Engaging in your world includes engaging in citizenship--staying informed, influencing others, campaigning for people you trust, and for the sake of preserving freedom, please vote.

The cozy little world of your childhood is long gone. You may be tempted to try to create for yourself that same kind of small and safe circle, concentrating on entertainments for yourself, doing the minimum at work, reading nothing because nothing has been assigned, avoiding meaningful commitments, complaining about the inevitable unfairnesses of life. Alternatively, you can expand your world and engage in your world, constantly learning, nourishing friendships, overcoming reversals, and serving others. That is the road less travelled, and it will make all the difference.

God bless you in your life's journey.