Indiana State University Newsroom

Roger Schmelzer delivers alumni commencement address

May 9, 2009

This is the prepared text of alumni commencement speaker Roger Schmelzer's address to the ISU class of 2009.

Thank you, President Bradley, for the invitation to be here today. It is a tremendous honor.

Congratulations, graduates!

Thirty years ago, give or take a day, I sat right where you do. I remember the sense of accomplishment you are feeling. You have every reason to be proud.

And let's not forget the parents. This is a red-letter day for them too.

To understand the value of my Indiana State education to me and what I've done with it, you need to know how I got to Terre Haute in the first place.

February, 1975. My father was stricken with a massive heart attack and passed away just weeks short of his 51st birthday. My mother had already passed and I had no siblings.

My father and I never had a single discussion about what I was going to do after high school. Not one. He wasn't a college graduate and I simply don't think it occurred to him that I might be interested in college. I have to admit it hadn't quite occurred to me either.

A high school friend suggested I come to ISU with him and we could be roommates. I thought that was a swell idea and made my application. Indiana State was the only college to which I applied.

Fortunately, I was accepted. I had my doubts that I would be because I'd only taken one semester of Spanish in high school. This concern prompted a somewhat harried phone call to the university on a weekend.

The authoritative voice on the other end of the line assured me this would not be a problem. I had just had a very satisfying conversation with the campus operator. By August I was on the road to this campus for the very first time. My life seemed normal again, odd because it was obviously so different.

Strange, wonderful and unexpected things began to happen to me. Within my first two weeks on campus, I had scored the lead in the university musical. Later that year I had the lead in a Jean Paul Sarte play. And I wasn't even in the theater department.

Something exciting was entering my psyche. By my sophomore year, I entered campus politics as the SGA representative from Cromwell Hall and as campus coordinator for both Dick Lugar and President Gerald Ford.

I was on stage at Tirey Auditorium with Sen. Bob Dole the week before the 1976 election.

Did I mention I had my own sports show on WISU and was doing play-by-play for both football and basketball? The lesson had taken root.

In 1978 I was elected SGA president and two years later became the student member of the ISU Board of Trustees, the first person to serve in both capacities. In 1981 I walked across this stage again to collect a master's degree in public administration. By now it was a part of me. I had learned and lived the power of "and."

So what is it? At its base, it's the realization that you have a capacity to perform at a very high level in many different areas. It's the understanding that you can, indeed must, define yourself lest someone else do it for you. It's knowing the difference between the transactional and transformational acts that make up our lives. It's distinguishing a "to do" list from a dream.

Brendan Francis writes, "Inspirations never go in for long engagements. Indiana State gave me the chance and the confidence to act on my inspirations. Here is where I learned the power of "and."

The power of "and" made it possible for me to begin a full time job as an aide to the Indiana Secretary of State on the same day I started law school, without a single clue as to how I would do either one.

And when immature choices early in my career hurt me, it was the power of "and" that gave me the focus to turn things around.

The power of "and" is the choice to have hope where there is uncertainty or worse, hopelessness. And having hope certainly makes every day faster, more gentle. I learned that I could say, "now I will begin."

Ten years ago this month, I decided to begin a new career in an industry about which I knew very little, insurance. It has utilized everything I had learned in 20 years of public service.

Today I have the honor of leading an organization that supports tens of thousands of individuals across the country whose insurance companies have gone bankrupt. Until the end of their lives, many of the people my members serve depend on timely workers compensation payments to pay for food, rent and medical care.

My members live by the power of "and" because no challenge is too great to fulfill their obligations. Of course, this only inspires me to more "ands," one of which is to be my truest self at all times.

The greatest tribute we can give one another is full expression of who we are and who we hope to become. And that is how I came to record my CD, probably my most audacious "and."

Picasso said, "Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist when you grow up."

Well, I may not have Picasso's talent, but I am inspired by his 90-year example of creativity.

My love of music is life long. It is where I live emotionally. So I decided to put those emotions out there for the entire world to hear. I have been gratified by the response to the record. Radio stations all over the world have played songs from it. But no compliment pleased me more than the one from a friend who said, "It's so you." Let me close with a final "and" that I find helpful these days and one I wish I'd paid attention to sooner, the "and" of love.

I was back for my first homecoming in years just two years ago. It was a warm, wonderful feeling to renew so many old friendships.

As I drove back to Indianapolis filled with sentiments of reconnection, I was struck by how little time I actually spent exercising my capacity to give or receive love. I was haunted by this question: Do those I love really know its depths? Am I taking for granted the love others have for me? Who do I love? Who does love me?

I kept asking myself.

So I decided to embrace the "and" of love, to celebrate the people and pursuits that form the foundation of my life. Because of it, I have re-energized the "ands" in my life. It is only fitting that I rediscovered it here.

John Powell said: "The gift of love means this -- 'I want to share with you whatever I have that is good.'"

And ladies and gentlemen, that is the most powerful "and" of all.

Thank you and best of luck to the class of 2009 as you pursue the lifetime of "ands" Indiana State has opened up for you.