Diligence, Servants’ Hearts, & Perseverance
May 2015 Commencement Address, Benedictine University

Center for Values-Driven Leadership Care for people, Leadership

Dr. Jeffery Swallow – CEO, Magnetrol International, Inc.

Swallow family

Editor’s Note: The following address was given at Benedictine University’s May 2015 commencement service. Speaking is Dr. Jeff Swallow, a graduate of Benedictine’s Ph.D. program in organizational development, and a Founder of the Center for Values-Driven Leadership. Jeff is also the CEO of Magnetrol International. 


Caption: Swallow (right) with Dr. Jim Ludema, Director of the Center for Values-Driven Leadership, along with Swallow’s wife Madeline and daughter Emily, who graduated from Benedictine University with her M.S. in Clinical Psychology.


I’d like to thank the Board of Trustees, the President Dr. Carroll, the administration, faculty, and Benedictine staff.

I’m so excited for each and everyone one of you today, and for each and everyone of ‘you” in the audience: the parents, grandparents, spouses, children, and significant others.

I am extremely excited and never have I been more proud to be an alumnus of Benedictine University than I am today, while I stand before all of you and address all of these graduates today.

Graduates, let me tell you how proud all of these people sitting behind you are of you today. Their hearts are swelling with emotion, their eyes are welling with tears, the pride they feel for you and your accomplishments is enormous. But the biggest reason they’re here today is because they’re all here to give you a gift. It’s a small gift, not even a physical gift. It’s not material, but it’s not immaterial either. It’s one of the most meaningful gifts that anyone can ever receive in life. The “gift” is the gift of belief.

It is their belief in you. They believe in you deeply. You know what I mean, and you know who they are. The person you could always talk to when you were feeling down, or when you felt at your lowest. No matter how bad you feel, or felt, when you talk to this person they make you feel better. That’s because they’re giving you the “gift.” It’s not something to take lightly, or for granted, ever. It’s powerful!

I can feel it. It’s palpable from where I’m standing. It’s in the air. It’s energizing me. I can see it’s energizing you too! Never take it for granted. So when we’re finished here today, I think we all have people to thank. I know I do.

And now, now that you have these advanced degrees you will be moving into a new category in your lives, a new level: the category of high achievers. I didn’t know this existed when I was sitting where you are in 2008. It never entered my mind.

Expectations of you are now going to expand and grow, personally and professionally. Sure, this may mean a career advancement, more money in your job, more responsibilities, more respect, etc., etc. However, for me, it was a day of an amazing epiphany. This day for me is when I actually realized how much I didn’t know.

My advice to you is to keep the “mindset” of being a learner in life, of life, and for the rest of your life. Never act like you know it all, because we don’t. Always ask questions, always be curious! Continue to explore, share what you know, and what you learn with others. Ask others for their ideas, their opinions, what they think about whatever subject you’re working on or thinking about.

Learn to use others that have strengths in areas that are better than yours. Learn to know your weaknesses. When you know other people’s strengths they make your weaknesses less noticeable, because in the end, that is showing strength. Especially if you don’t know something. Say you don’t know. Show me, teach me. “Help me understand.” This is another amazing strength. It seems counterintuitive, I know. But in our organization I tell people it is strength. Be honest, people appreciate that level of authenticity. And I think it’s part of what makes a “performance driven culture.” It’s a way to be more deeply engaged. The more that this barrier can be broken, the more it will cascade down through an organization.

This is what I’ve done my entire career in a family business. I knew from a very young age that I couldn’t do it all by myself. I’d tell people all the time, “We’re in this together.”  We win together and we lose together. It’s not just about one person; it’s about the core of the organization.

I learned to surround myself with people with skills, strengths, and talents that were better or more capable of my own. Mostly complementary to mine. I know, it takes strong ego to do that.

I knew it would benefit the whole. And in the end, benefit the group, the department, the organization, and the rest of the company globally.

Servants’ Hearts

Honor others. Be generous. Not only with money – wages, salaries, bonuses and promotions – but with time, compliments, positivity, energy, your thoughtfulness.  Your kindness. Give to others before you give to yourself.

Bring other people up. Give them what they want and in turn you’ll get what you want. More specifically, what you need. There’s a wide gap between what we need and what we want. Modern marketing has learned to make those areas gray for us all. Needs should always be greater than “wants.”

There are three things all of us should have in our lives and careers: love, respect and trust. And these are the ways to attain those things, because in the end, they’re all earned and not given because people expect them.

There’s something I found online [at the website www.the-open-mind.com] purely by accident, months ago. It’s very appropriate for this occasion. Author Jade Small writes,

Life is not all rainbows and butterflies. It can be tough sometimes. And you’ve paid a heavy price to get this far, so the best option is to really make it count by moving forward from where you are. Free yourself from the world’s negativity – from the sources of ignorance telling you what you can and cannot do – by promising to look ahead, to live ahead, and to get ahead.  In other words, start making positive promises to yourself!

Promise to fight back, to fight harder, to laugh louder and longer and slap adversity back into its seat whenever it dares to stand against you. Promise to be a force to be reckoned with – because you are a force to be reckoned with.

Make these promises to yourself, and keep them forever. Repeat after me: “I promise…”

[Text is abbreviated.]
  1. “I will not hold the past against myself.” Your problems, your weaknesses, setbacks, regrets and mistakes teach you if you’re willing to learn, or they will punish you if you’re not. So let them teach you, every day.
  2. “I will own my life and never deny responsibility for it.” If you want to change, if you want to let go and move on with your life, you’re the only person who can make it happen. It’s your move to make. It’s your responsibility. Own it.
  3. “I will speak kindly and consciously to myself.”
  4. “I will listen to what my heart and soul is telling me.” When something feels right, that means it is right for you (at least it is worth looking into). And if you genuinely feel deep down that something is wrong, it probably is. Pay attention to your authentic feelings, and follow where they lead.
  5. “I will live a life that feels right to me, not one that looks right to others.” Sometimes, when you commit yourself to creating your own happiness, it clashes with the perceptions of others. Sometimes when you gain something great, you have to let go of something else. And sometimes this ‘something else’ is a relationship that only wants you to do what they want you to do.
  6. “I will let go of relationships that are obviously not meant to be.” Most people come into your life temporarily simply to teach you something. They come and they go and they make a difference. And it’s OK that they’re not in your life anymore.
  7. “I will not let any situation permanently steal my smile.” Even when times are tough, take a moment to pause and remember who YOU are. Take a moment to reflect on the things that have real and lasting meaning in your life. And then smile about how far you’ve come.
  8. “I will celebrate and appreciate the life I have.” Remember for everything you’ve lost, you’ve gained something else. Appreciate what you have and who you are today. Life does not have to be perfect to be wonderful. Count your blessings not your troubles.
  9. “I will realize and use my power to make a difference.” The world needs you. In a world filled with doubt, you must dare to dream. In a world filled with anger, you must dare to forgive. In a world filled with hate, you must dare to love. In a world filled with distrust, you must dare to believe. And once you do, I promise, you will find that power you once thought you lacked.
  10. “I will dedicate myself to personal excellence.” Anything worth doing is worth doing right. And excellence is never an accident. It’s also important to note that excellence cannot be judged by looking at where you are at any given point in time, but by measuring the distance you have traveled from the point where you started.
  11. “I will keep stretching myself beyond my previous level of comfort.” Every great success requires some type of worthy struggle to get there. Know this! When you’re struggling that’s when you’re growing stronger and smarter. The more time you spend there, the faster you learn.
  12. “I will embrace the changes I know I kneed to make.” The signs aren’t always easy to accept, but they are there and you know it. Sometimes we hold on to what’s not working out of fear that we won’t be able to adapt to necessary changes. Be smarter than that. Embrace the changes you need to make.

In a world where vows are often left unfulfilled – where making a pledge means less than it used to – where promises seem like they’re made to be broken – it would be nice to see words come back into power, wouldn’t it? Yet words can be twisted into any shape, so you must be careful not to be careless. Remember this when you make promises to yourself. Your promises must be backed by devoted action.

The image you have of yourself in the future depends on the actions you watch yourself take today. Promise yourself, and then prove it.

Let me leave you with a few of my favorite quotes. One of my favorites is from Zig Ziglar, who said, “It’s important to remember that what you get when you reach your goals isn’t as important as what you become when you reach your goals.”

And a quote from “Anonymous” – “Excellence is never an accident; it is the result of high intention, sincere effort, intelligent direction, skillful execution, and the vision to see the obstacles as opportunities.”

Leave here and now, and always take the time to celebrate your accomplishments and successes. Be content for a time, but never, ever, be satisfied.

Congratulations to the Class of 2015! Thank you again to President Dr. Carroll, the Chairman of the Board of Trustees, the Trustees, staff and administration of this great institution. God speed. Have a great day.  Thank you.

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