Tom Ricketts, executive chairman and co-owner of the Chicago Cubs, addressed Lake Forest College’s Class of 2017 on May 14 and hoped for them what he himself had been able to achieve as part of a winning team that transformed the Cubs from “loveable losers” into World Series champions.
“I really hope and pray you will all find a quest in your life,” he said. “Having a fulfilling job is great, but being on a quest is truly incredible, particularly if you’re on that quest with people you respect and admire.”
It was a beautiful day for a graduation at Ravinia Festival’s Pavilion in Highland Park; a mix of clouds and sun, temperature just above 70 degrees and a southwest wind between 10 and 20 m.p.h. Ricketts, whose family purchased the Cubs from the Chicago Tribune in 2009, did not invoke the late Ernie Banks’ mantra, “Let’s play two,” but in one breathless stretch, he did offer the graduating class 108 pieces of advice, one for every year that the Cubs did not win a World Series title, which itself, he joked, was something of a remarkable achievement.
Commencement speakers are the one thing standing between graduates and their hard-earned degrees and their lives as independent adults. They at once want to savor the moment and get on with it.
“I’m sad to be leaving college,” said Joshua Kim prior to the ceremony. “I don’t think I’d be who I am today without my fellow graduates. I believe this was a golden class for Lake Forest College. It’s daunting to be starting this new chapter. We’re adults; it’s different from any other time in our lives.”
Joel Velazquez of Hoffman Estates was basking in the moment of his son’s graduation.
“(It means) the world,” he said. “I’m very proud of my son and look forward to many things to come from him.” He admitted he is a White Sox fan, but conceded Ricketts’ success story and said he hoped “he will say a couple of words that will help (the graduates) to get to where he has been. That would be nice.”
Ricketts obliged. He counted himself among those “who got to accomplish a goal and live a dream.”
“I was there, I saw the whole thing and I got this (World Series) ring,” he said, flashing it to the applause of the crowd.
While he cited study findings that the only thing graduates tend to remember from their graduation ceremonies is the weather, he presented, tongue-in-cheek, what he ensured the audience was “the most complete collection of graduation advice ever assembled in one commencement address,” 108 maxims culminating in what he called “a cliché crescendo”: “Tomorrow is a better day, the future is bright, you are the future, the future is yours.”
That future was on the minds of the graduates. Kim said he wants to work on a political campaign, get his master’s degree and attend law school. Charles Curren plans to create a cartoon and study improvisational comedy in Chicago. Charlotte Chadwick, an English major, wants to become an editor.
For them and others, Ricketts devoted the last three of his 108 pieces of advice to the motivational maxims of Cubs manager Joe Maddon. The first was “Never let the pressure exceed the pleasure,” on which Ricketts elaborated, “Please enjoy what you do. (If you) maintain a positive mental attitude, your life becomes magical.”
The second was “Do simple better,” meaning they should focus on the fundamentals.
The third was Maddon’s most quoted phrase, “Try not to suck.” This, Ricketts, explained, was less about accomplishments than it was about nurturing positive relationships.
“The first half of your career will be defined by your accomplishments,” he said. “The second half will be about…did you work well with others, did you help people succeed, did other people want to work with you and did you treat others well?”
In his own case, he said, the Cubs’ World Series victory was testament that “no one accomplishes a great task on their own.” In 2010, he reminded his audience, the Cubs was the oldest team in baseball, had the third highest payroll and was saddled with long contracts. “The team was not prepared for success,” he said, “(but) we committed to each other within the organization to stick to our plan.”
The upshot, he said, “Life is fuller not because of a ring or a parade, but because of all the people that trusted me. I’m able to say, ‘Thank you. Without your support I never would have been able to help this team move forward.’ ”
Not that Ricketts didn’t impart any harsher truths to the graduates. Noting that Lake Forest College had bestowed on him an honorary doctorate of letters, he joked, “I feel bad for you guys because you spent four years working all the time to get a bachelor’s degree, and I get to be a doctor just for finishing this speech. That’s life lesson number one: things always aren’t all that fair.”