In any event, I arrived, I got out, I took a deep breath, I straightened my bow tie, and went in the door - and you have to picture this - I go into the door, there's a long bar down one side, there's a stage right in front of me, and my colleagues are sitting way on the other side of the room. And there's a live act going on the stage. The only way I could get to them was to walk along that stage. I did. I looked like a complete idiot. I sat down, we had lunch.
Now, there are two ends to that story. One is that my male colleagues never did that to me again. But the other end to the story, which I still find inspiring, is that all throughout lunch they kept trying to get those young women to dance in their negligees on top of our table -- and every one of those young women came over, looked the situation over and said, "Not until the lady leaves."
It even followed me to HP. As you may know, the legend of HP is that it began in a garage. When I took over, we launched a get-back-to-basics campaign we called "the rules of the garage." A fellow CEO at a competitor saw that and decided to do a skit about me. In front of the entire financial analyst and media community, he had an actress come out with blond hair and long red nails and flashy clothes, and had a garage fall on her head. It made big headlines locally. It made me feel a lot like the "token bimbo" all over again.
I know all of you have your own stories. When you challenge other people's ideas of who or how you should be, they may try to diminish and disgrace you. It can happen in small ways in hidden places, or in big ways on a world stage. You can spend a lifetime resenting the tests, angry about the slights and the injustices. Or, you can rise above it. People's ideas and fears can make them small but they cannot make you small. People's prejudices can diminish them but they cannot diminish you. Small-minded people can think they determine your worth. But only you can determine your worth.
At every step along the way, your soul will be tested. Every test you pass will make you stronger.
But let's not be na?ve. Sometimes, there are consequences to not selling your soul. Sometimes, there are consequences to staying true to what you believe. And sometimes, those consequences are very difficult. But as long as you understand the consequences and accept the consequences, you are not only stronger as a result, you're more at peace.
Many people have asked me how I feel now that I've lost my job. The truth is, I'm proud of the life I've lived so far, and though I've made my share of mistakes, I have no regrets. The worst thing I could have imagined happened. I lost my job in the most public way possible, and the press had a field day with it all over the world. And guess what? I'm still here. I am at peace and my soul is intact. I could have given it away and the story would be different. But I heard the word of Scripture in my head: "What benefit will it be to you if you gain the whole world, but lose your soul?"
When people have stereotypes of what you can't do, show them what you can do. When they have stereotypes of what you won't do, show them what you will do. Every time you pass these tests, you learn more about yourself. Every time you resist someone else's smaller notion of who you really are, you test your courage and your endurance. Each time you endure, and stay true to yourself, you become stronger and better.
I do not know any of you personally. But as a businessperson and a former CEO, I know that people who have learned to overcome much can achieve more than people who've never been tested. And I do know that this school has prepared you well. After all, North Carolina A&T graduates more African Americans with engineering degrees than any other school in the United States. It graduates more African American technology professionals than any other school. It graduates more African American women who go into careers in science, math, and technology than any other school. Your motto is right: North Carolina A&T is truly a national resource and a local treasure. And Aggie Pride is not just a slogan it's a hard-earned fact!
Never sell your education short. And the fact that this school believed in you means you should never sell yourself short. What I have learned in 25 years of managing people is that everyone possesses more potential than they realize. Living life defined by your own sense of possibility, not by others notions of limitations, is the path to success.
Starting today, you are one of the most promising things America has to offer: you are an Aggie with a degree.
My hope is that you live life defined by your own sense of possibility, your own sense of worth, your own sense of your soul. Define yourself for yourself, not by how others are going to define you and then stick to it. Find your own internal compass. I use the term compass, because what does a compass do? When the winds are howling, and the storm raging, and the sky is so cloudy you have nothing to navigate by, a compass tells you where true North is. And I think when you are in a lonely situation, you have to rely on that compass. Who am I? What do I believe? Do I believe I am doing the right thing for the right reason in the best way that I can? Sometimes, that's all you have. And always, it will be enough.
Most people will judge you by what they see on the outside. Only you and God will know what's on the inside. But at the end of your life, if people ask you what your greatest accomplishment was, my guess is, it will be something that happened inside you, that no one else ever saw, something that had nothing to do with outside success, and everything to do with how you decide to live in the world.
What you are today is God's gift to you. What you make of yourself is your gift to God. He is waiting for that gift right now. Make it something extraordinary.
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