The Great Aim And End Of All Learning Is To Serve

The idea of what is true merit should also be often presented to youth, explained and impressed on their minds, as consisting in an inclination joined with an ability to serve mankind, one’s country, friends and family; which ability is (with the blessing of God) to be acquired or greatly increased by true learning; and should indeed be the great aim and end of all learning. ~Benjamin Franklin

Samantha Powers, United States Ambassador to the United Nations, gave the commencement address at the University of Pennsylvania. Ms. Powers quoted the passage above by Benjamin Franklin, one of the founders of the university, and she challenged them to answer Franklin’s cause, and to make their mission to serve their community, their nation, and their world. To improve their odds, she said, of making a tangible difference in a world that needs them, regardless of the field or the profession, the country or the scale, she provided four pieces of advice.

1. Act “As If”.

(“Fake it ‘til you make it.”) Act as if you can do something and you will figure it out. I’ve often not done something out of fear, or because I spent so much time reading and researching how to do something instead of just jumping in and learning by doing. There is always a learning curve, and that’s ok. Whether it was acting as if I could make a difference through my new job or acting as if I could help someone through mentoring…as Ms. Powers said, I acted “as if” and I am figuring it out.

2. Know something about something.

Read, learn, theorize, question, learn more, and get out in to the real world to where the problem actually is. My take on this one, for me, is that I need to probe deeper on my assumptions. It’s often easier to use anecdotes or perpetuate others beliefs without actually questioning those beliefs or getting out to where the problems live to get actual insight and data. Really knowing something takes time and effort and questioning every assertion, but in the end it’s the only way to know anything about anything.

3. Bring others along.

To make a lasting change, you need to bring other people along and have good people around you. People working together for a common cause makes a much stronger force to tackle a problem, and encouraging others to join and carry on will help create a more lasting change. Meet people where they are, she said. “All advocacy is, at its core, an exercise in empathy.”

4. Humanize your cause.

“Don’t take for granted that the worthiness of your cause will win you allies; bring it down to a scale that people can relate to.”  Big causes are great and noble, but they can bring along a sense of detachment. People relate to people, so include them and their efforts when you talk about your cause. And both the good and the bad. “Part of humanizing means not only humanizing the bad news, but humanizing those who bring light to the dark places – people who, against all odds, are building that human dignity right back up – no matter the obstacles.”

In my new role at work, through my mentoring, and in my new community surrounding my son’s diagnosis, I am trying to find ways to make a difference. Although I graduated from a different university many, many years ago, the mission of Benjamin Franklin, that the end of all learning should be to serve, is increasingly becoming my mission, too.

You can read the transcript here.

Inspiring Words From Stephen Colbert’s and Tim Cook’s Commencement Speeches

This time of year, colleges across America are sending their graduates out in to the world, to take what they’ve learned and hopefully find their path and make their mark. I like this time of year. I like to listen to the commencement addresses, to find the good ones and to pull out the nuggets of wisdom and guidance that apply to the new graduates and to those of us that graduated oh-so-long ago.

This year, Stephen Colbert and Tim Cook had very memorable commencement speeches that stuck out with very timely and appropriate message, both for myself and for my mentees. My takeaways from Stephen’s message were to not get too comfortable with where I am and to continue to challenge and evolve myself, to not let others define my right and wrong, and to not let others tell me something can’t be done. From Tim, it’s about finding my own values and living them everywhere (including work) and that life is meant to be lived…no sitting on the sideline and watching it go by.  Take risks and make a difference.

I’m on a new course now in my life because of my new city, my new job, and also because of my new challenge with my son’s health. The comfortable life I had before is over, and it’s time to say goodbye to that person and that comfort and to face these new challenges. It’s also time to reaffirm my identity and my values. It’s time to find my North Star and let it guide me at home and at work, to continue to improve every day, and to make those decisions about who I am going to be.

Stephen Colbert

Here it is: No one has any idea what’s going to happen. Not even Elon Musk. That’s why he’s building those rockets. He wants a ‘Plan B’ on another world.

But whatever happens, I think it’s entirely appropriate that I’m the one talking to you right now. Because I just spent many years learning to do one thing really well. I got so comfortable with that place, that role, those responsibilities that it came to define how I saw myself. But now that part of my life is over. It’s time to say goodbye to the person we’ve become, we’ve worked so hard to perfect, and to make some crucial decisions about who we’re going to be.


So I hope you find the courage to decide for yourself what is right and what is wrong. And then, please expect as much of the world around you. Try to make the world good according to your standards. It won’t be easy. Get ready for my generation to tell you everything that can’t be done — like ending racial tension, or getting money out of politics, or lowering the world’s carbon emissions. And we should know they can’t be done. After all, we’re the ones who didn’t do them.

Your job, Pro Humanitate, is to prove us wrong.

Tim Cook

It’s about finding your values and committing to live by them. You have to find your North Star. And that means choices. Some are easy. Some are hard. And some will make you question everything.

So find your North Star. Let it guide you in life, and work, and in your life’s work.


The sidelines are not where you want to live your life. The world needs you in the arena. There are problems that need to be solved. Injustices that need to be ended. People that are still being persecuted, diseases still in need of cure. No matter what you do next, the world needs your energy. Your passion. Your impatience with progress. Don’t shrink from risk. And tune out those critics and cynics. History rarely yields to one person, but think, and never forget, what happens when it does. That can be you. That should be you. That must be you.

Living In The City

With every new experience I have in this city of mine, the more in love I am with my new home. I’m still pretty certain that I’m going to get mugged at some point, but until then, and maybe even after, Philadelphia continues to surprise me with its history, its beauty, and, yes, even its people.

Coming from the ultra-vanilla suburbs of Colorado, moving to a big city by itself was intimidating. Making the choice to live downtown in that big city seemed ludicrous. There are a lot of people. And the police department has a website where you could draw a box around an area to see the crime statistics inside it. That website is the equivalent of lookup at symptoms for anything on Web M.D. Every headache is a tumor, and every street is the potential one where I will be left to die.

Photo Jan 17, 09 29 31And yet, at every turn, I’m surprised. I’m surprised by the attendant at the parking garage who had to deal with our dead battery in the middle of a rush where they were short-handed, and still smiled, and still helped out the following weekend when we got someone to jump it. I’m surprised at how grateful people are when I tell them that I appreciate what they did, or when I show genuine interest in what they do. Or when someone compliments me for how well-behaved our son is, or smile at him when he rides his scooter down the street telling everyone “Happy New Year” almost three weeks in to January.

That’s not to say every experience has been perfect. There are problems that occur when you try to fit a million and a half people in a small area. The cab driver that spewed racist comments during our thankfully short ride home the other day. The random person on the street screaming at me for no apparent reason. Having to walk seven blocks for beer. You know, problems.

But taken as a whole, I’m still amazed at how much I am enjoying this experience. As I walked through an unfamiliar part of town today, and headed down in the subway alone, sat on an unnaturally warm subway seat next to a bunch of strangers, I though about how the suburban me would have simply called a taxi. But I got on the train, off at my stop, and walked the few blocks back to the house and in the door smiling.

Who knows where any of us will end up. I never thought I would live in Colorado until I moved there. Pennsylvania never crossed my mind, until I moved there. Living in a city was out of the question, until I moved in to one. I’m grateful for these new opportunities and new adventures, and the people I’m meeting and the experiences that I’m having. I like finding my way out of my comfort zone and seeing the world is not as scary than I had imagined it to be.