Texas Tech Commencement Address: Failures can be God’s Way of Steering Us to Greater Success

May 20, 2013 Issues: Happening in West Texas

As I look out at this happy gathering, I imagine in this audience there are 3 types of people:

- Graduates who have it all figured out…
- Graduates who worry they don’t have it figured out…
- And parents -- hoping that one way or another, it will all work out!
My message of congratulations extends to all of you!

Now, I want to talk with you about something you probably wouldn’t expect. 

I want to talk to you about set-backs – or as I like to call them: changes in direction.

Just about everything in life is measured as success … or failure. 

The catch is … sometimes those so-called failures are actually bumps in the road that lead to success.

First, though, I want to thank Chancellor Hance, and the distinguished deans, faculty and staff of Texas Tech for inviting me here today. 

And to you, the class of 2013, it’s a real Texas-size honor to be part of this special occasion!

When I graduated from Tech, back in 1972, I could never have imagined  I would be speaking to you as the Congressman from Lubbock. 

On the way over, I turned to my wife Dana and said, “Honey, in your wildest dreams, did you ever think I would be delivering a commencement address to our alma mater?” 

She said, “Randy, you are never in my wildest dreams!”

Looking back at my graduation, I thought I had it all figured out.

I married the love of my life; I had a job lined up in Real Estate management, and I envisioned a very long career ahead.

After a few years, I applied for a position with a large Texas development company. It was a dream job. After the interview, I thought it was a sure bet. 

In fact, I had already picked out my parking spot.  And then… NOTHING! No call came inviting me to join that firm. That’s right - I didn’t get the job … or the parking spot!

You too may have also discovered that life doesn’t always go as planned. Sometimes you really want something -- and it just isn’t within reach.

What I have found – is that some of my setbacks have been just as important as my triumphs. Let me repeat that: some of my setbacks have been just as important as my triumphs!

So when I didn’t land that job, I thought, “Alright, what can I do?” 

I decided to start a home building company and later, a development company. So instead of working for one, I ended up owning one. 

And it did well -- for a while.

But timing is everything! And the 1980’s brought some rough financial times. The 10 largest banks in Texas closed as did almost every Savings & Loan.  Interest rates sky-rocketed, foreclosures soared, and many builders and developers went broke.

Sound familiar?

Needless to say … it wasn't a good time to be in Real Estate.  Plus, I had just started a land development company in addition to my home building company.

This wasn’t just a matter of tightening our belt; I had to close my home building company.  I remember a friend telling me I should look for a secure job with benefits and a regular paycheck. And you know, maybe that was right for him – but I refused to give up –  much to my wife’s dismay!

We sold our home and rented a house and my wife went back to work. My sons also made considerable sacrifices.

It was one of the toughest periods of my life -- but in those lean times, I learned more about myself as a person, a father, a husband, and a businessman.

I also learned a lot about God’s faithfulness to me.These were valuable lessons.

So I don’t look back on this time as a failure — I look at it as: “a direction change.” I have come to believe that these direction changes are God's way of steering us along life’s road.

I have another story I hope will inspire you. 

As you may know, Chancellor Hance used to represent us here in Lubbock – the 19th Congressional district – as I do today.
What you may not know, is when the Chancellor won this congressional seat, he defeated a young oilman from Midland…by the name of George W. Bush!

Later on, when I became acquainted with the President, he would introduce me by saying, “I want to tell you about my friend, Randy Neugebauer…he accomplished what I failed to do – win the 19th district seat in Congress!”

Then, after acknowledging my success, the President would pause, smile and add, “I guess it all worked out.” 

And it sure did: Two-term Governor and 43rd President of the United States. 

So I ask you: How would his future have been different had he been elected to Congress?

And  where would Chancellor Hance be today?  Would be be calling him Mr. President?

The larger point is: You have to be open to changes in direction: 

Not landing that job with the big development company was - just the nudge I needed to start my own business. 

Closing my home building company – and selling my own home – forced me to sharpen my skills as a businessman and refocus my priorities. I became a better problem solver!

When George W. Bush lost that election to Chancellor Hance, he didn’t let that stop him either.  I’d say it worked out pretty well for both of them!

Why am I telling you this?  Because whatever your plans after graduation, you will face your own direction changes. In fact, you should ask your parents – and grandparents – about their stories. 

So, my message is clear: keep your eye on the goal and be flexible!

After today's ceremony, many of you will celebrate with family and friends, and likely receive gifts. Some will be beautifully wrapped – while others may be more plainly packaged. The point is, you won't know what's inside.  The beautifully wrapped gift might not be quite the right fit … while the plain one might be the perfect fit!

My advice – especially in life, keep an open mind, be receptive to surprises, and consider possibilities you might not have thought about. 

So what to do when you hit bumps in the road?

I offer three keys:
First: Be Humble – We have to acknowledge that none of us can know the path that’s been laid before us. 

So if you find yourself stumbling along, maybe after a job loss, or a break-up ask yourself:  Did my path take a turn and is now headed for something even better? 

My path took a couple of turns, and it worked out.

Second: Have Strong Values – Ask yourself what is most important to you. Is it family? Service to others? Or finding professional fulfillment?

Then make sure each decision fits those values.  When you follow your own compass, it’s easier to stay on your path. 

Third: Perseverance – Sure, it’s easy to give up at the first sign of a challenge. But as Babe Ruth once said, “Every strike brings me closer to the next home run!”

As I look out at this audience, I see so much potential. 

You have earned a degree from one of the finest universities in the country, and you have so much to contribute to the world. 
Not everyone can call themselves Red Raiders!

Texas Tech has graduated astronauts and atheletes...inventors and industry leaders...educators and legislators...and of course, Members of Congress!
All of these distinguished alumni have the same education you are taking with you today. 

Now, when you head out into the world with your degree,I call on you to carry humility, values, and perseverance. 

You can’t frame them alongside your diploma, but they will be just as useful in life.  

So, set forth on your path to help your family, your community, and your country be stronger.

With this:

  • You will succeed
  • Your community will flourish and
  • America will prosper!

Congratulations once again! God bless you, and may he continue to bless the United States of America!