De’Edra S. Williams, 1990, Fashion Merchandising, is Customer Services Director for Salesforce.com
Thank you Dr. Feyten, the TWU Regents, Administration and Faculty and friends and family of the graduates. Thank you to my dear friend Sharon Venable, TWU’s former Corporate and Community Relations Executive and current CEO of the Dallas Committee on Foreign Relations. And, most importantly, congratulations to the TWU graduates of 2015 – Bravo to each of you!
I am so honored and humbled to be here today, honored because as an alumna, I have such pride in my alma mater. Humble, because when I emailed my friends of this honor, one replied “Congrats, so they called you after Michelle Obama turned them down.”
So, for those of you who were expecting Michelle Obama, you’ll get over it!
With that said, I envy you. Today, each of you is about to embark upon a marvelous journey and the passport to that journey is your TWU degree and your unique experiences. And, I want you to embrace these adventures. And, I encourage you to enjoy every moment of it.
I’m going to start with why I envy you and how a TWU education will shape your future. I envy the journey you are about to take, your career, your friends and family, the highs, the lows and the experiences that will define your life. And, really, the journey started the day that you stepped onto this campus.
I remember my first day, as a Fashion Merchandising major; I started that day with a sense of optimism. And, like so many of you, I chose TWU because I knew that I would be afforded an experience that has guided me through my life’s journey and continues to do so, even today.
I want to share two very unique experiences from my time at TWU.
The first happened during my honors history courses. At the end of each semester, the professor would invite us to her home for a themed party. At a 1960’s dinner, we dressed in 60’s fashion and watched “The Graduate,” evoking a discussion around societal taboos and parental influence—issues that resonated deeply for me as a 20 year-old woman in a male-dominated society.
Now to many of you, this event may sound like a mundane endeavor, but it sparked a love of history, and, taught me valuable critical thinking skills and an insatiable appetite for discourse that served me quite well during my MBA program at UTD and makes me an invaluable resource in my role as a Customer Success Director at Salesforce.com.
The second experience was during my senior year. One of my merchandising professors secured an interview for me at a high-profile boutique. With his coaching, I aced the interview, and they made me an offer on the spot. However, when we started the salary discussion, they informed me that it would be an unpaid position. Well, as a
student who at one point worked two jobs and subsisted on student loans, I could not afford to take an unpaid position, no matter how prestigious it might have been. So, I declined the offer.
I was disappointed, that my professor had worked so hard to secure the interview and I dreaded informing him of my decision. But, you know what he said, he said De’Edra, “Never work for free.”
And, this lesson has stuck with me to this day. When I was in negotiations with one of my former employers, their initial salary offering was below what I had requested and I turned it down. They not only came back with a higher salary, but a total compensation package that was beyond my wildest dreams.
I relay these experiences because TWU will continue to nurture you in the future as it has while you were on campus. I want you to leverage the students and faculty that helped you along your academic journey. Use your passport—your TWU degree—to reach out to these tour guides who can continue to help embrace you along your journey.
They are the spark to ignite your professional networks. They will help you along your journey, and you will help them. Like each of you, they chose TWU, and this makes them uniquely empowered to help you succeed.
Since graduating 25 years ago, there is not a day that I am not grateful for TWU and each of you should be grateful and use this gratitude to embark upon a journey that not only enables your own success but the success of others.
Speaking of helping others, this is the point in the speech where I am supposed to impart some salient bits of wisdom, advice to guide you on the journey. Here are four pieces of advice that will help you along your path.
First and foremost, own your journey. Each of you is a wise soul; you made a conscious decision to invest in your education, and you chose TWU. It is the most valuable resource you will ever possess, so own it.
Second, I want you to enjoy life – have a moment of bliss every day. And yes, your career, your family and friends are important, but, have that moment of bliss for you and share those moments with anyone who will listen. Believe me; everyone can use a little “bliss” in their life, so share yours.
Third, embrace who you are. As a small town girl from Louisiana, stepping on the TWU campus was like traveling to another world. But it was a world that allowed me to thrive, and I have carried that confidence and chutzpah throughout my career.
Here’s an example of how believing in myself worked for me. On my first day with Salesforce, I stood up in front of the entire new hire class of 200+ employees and asked, “What does it take to get a Sassy?” For those of you not familiar with Salesforce, our mascot is Sassy, [put a sassy doll on the podium] Now that took chutzpah. One because it was my first day and two, it’s my quirky personality that happens to love stuffed toys. But, what was the result? I ended up winning the new hire “Rising Star“award and the Salesforce “Top Gun” award, two of the highest honors a new hire can receive. And, obviously, I got a Sassy. Those successes came because I embraced my unique personality, and it took chutzpah to do it.
And, Fourth, help others on each path of your journey.
You guys may have heard of Sheryl Sanburg who caused quite a revolution, when she encouraged women to “lean in”.
And, yes, I want each of you, both women and men to lean in. But, more importantly, I want you to “reach back.” Use this passport that is your diploma to take others along on this journey. Use your degree to impart your wisdom. Learn how you can help others along this extraordinary adventure. Volunteer to mentor, sit on boards and speak at conferences whenever you are asked. When someone less senior than yourself asks for your help, go above and beyond to assist.
Again, I want to thank you for affording me the opportunity to address you. And, don’t forget to embrace this adventure that you are about to embark upon, enjoy every moment of it and encourage others to join you along the way.
So once more, bravo to the TWU class of 2015. I wish each you much joy and happiness along your journey. Have a fabulous trip.