By Scott Westerman
Today, I had the honor of presenting to an Interdisciplinary Forum on Aging Research. My topic was engaging alumni in the late afternoon of their Spartan Lives. Each of us had to keep it short: 5 minutes or less, which was just about perfect for my message. Here’s a video and the full text of my remarks.
As we enter the late afternoon of our lives, our thoughts increasingly turn to the legacy we hope to leave behind. Time seems to compress. Terms that used to apply to people on the periphery of our existence, words like cancer and death, strike closer and closer to home.
We start to take stock of the people, places, experiences and things that have been most important to us.
We focus on enduring friendships and may seek to reconnect with people from our past who may have drifted into our peripheral vision. What is truly important starts to clarify in our minds eye and we prioritize the time that remains accordingly.
It is in the midst of this ongoing process of being that we come to value our university experience, perhaps forging a deeper emotional connection to those things about our Spartan lives that, with the context of time, emerge as defining chapters of our personal narrative.
This is an important dimension of our world at the MSU Alumni Association. We’re always there, at traditional gatherings on football Saturdays, cross generational experiences like Grandparents University, unique overseas study tours targeted to this well seasoned demographic, and the ability to reconnect alumni with missing-in-action friends that even Facebook can’t find; these are a few of the ways we tend our flock, reinforcing the value a lifelong connection to Michigan State and to Spartans everywhere.
From the moment we arrived on campus, we were exposed to a set of values that define a Spartan’s Will: Exposure to new vistas of wisdom, a culture of community service and philanthropy that radiates outward from East Lansing to every corner of the world. And the high standards of personal accountability and performance that inevitably lead Spartans to the upper echelons of whatever enterprise with which they choose to align their personal brand.
With age comes a deeper respect for our past, acceptance of an uncertain future, and a heightened awareness of the importance of making the most of every present moment.
This drives an alumni engagement strategy that opens our doors wide to macro audiences, while continually focusing on micro segments, serving the unique interests and needs of small clusters of Spartans who are celebrating common milestones, struggling with similar challenges, and who are willing and able to share their knowledge with current and future students, doing what Spartans do best: taking stock of our abundance and passing it on.
Spartans naturally share some of the prosperity that Michigan State helped to make possible so that future generations might enjoy a Spartan life like ours. Just as we have encouraged Spartans to turn to their MSU family in time of need, we believe that paying it forward is an act that alumni will undertake willingly and generously when the time is right.
We see it every day, in the callused hands of the thousands of Spartans who participate in the Global Day of Service every Spring, in the words of accomplished graduates who return to the classroom to lecture about their adventures to the current generation of students, in the welcoming arms that are always extended to Spartans who find themselves transplanted to new jobs in new communities, and through the abundant conduit of financial investment that has become essential to offset the diminishing public support of higher education.
If we’ve done our job effectively, the Spartan spirit is one of the first things a young mind can perceive and a Spartan embrace will be part and parcel of every significant event from that moment on.
At the MSU Alumni Association, we believe that living the Spartan Life is a spiritual practice. And with the passage of time, our memories of the Spartan encounters we’ve had, the Spartan friendships we’ve enjoyed and the rich experiences that our MSU connections have made possible, emerge as some of the most meaningful and rewarding moments of our great adventure.
And the most enduring gift we can give to those who follow in our footsteps is to gather everything we’ve learned and everything we’ve earned, and pass it on.
Graduation is just around the corner! For another MSU class, the next chapter in their life’s adventure awaits. Here’s my annual commencement blessing. It’s the last thing a Spartan hears as a student and the first thing they hear as an alumnus.
On behalf of your fellow Spartans around the world, welcome to the MSU Alumni Family. Starting now, wherever your adventures may take you, there are 500,000 of us out there who stand ready to put you back on your feet when you may stumble, pull you back down to earth when you may fly too close to the sun, and raise you atop our shoulders to celebrate your inevitable success. These are the things that Spartans everywhere will do for you. And all we ask in return is this: When you achieve and succeed as all true Spartans Will, gather everything you’ve learned and everything you’ve earned… and pass it on.
He was born into a world of stereotypes. He knew he didn’t fit in. He created his own truth, based on a love for his art, the pursuit of excellence and an insistence on being who he was. He believed in himself, even when others didn’t. He stayed the course and became a legend.
Life isn’t easy even when you try to fit in. Most of us don’t have the courage to complicate it further by trying to break out of the labels others may use to constrict us because of what we look like, where we came from, or what we might have done in the past.
If we let it, this shrink wrapped existence can suffocate our creativity and ultimately our dreams. The lesson of Prince’s life is this: Be who you are.
Give lots of thought to your purpose. “A strong spirit.” Prince was once quoted as saying, “transcends rules.” At the center of a strong spirit is a strong sense of purpose. Nobody was ever put on this earth to be ordinary. That’s a decision we make after we get here. Seek what gives your life meaning, define it as best you can and start to chase it.
Choose excellence. Whatever you decide to do, do it to the best of your current ability, constantly stretching beyond your limitations, remembering that all limitations are self imposed. “The key to longevity,” Prince once said about his art, “is to learn every aspect of music that you can.” Even when he achieved the fame he sought, he never stopped expanding his knowledge.
Surround yourself with good people. When pressed about his detractors, Prince said, “All these non-singing, non-dancing, wish-I-had-me-some-clothes fools who tell me my albums suck. Why should I pay any attention to them?” Energy suckers are an inevitability in every Rolodex. But you don’t have to let them dictate your direction. Prioritize people who care.
Never give up, never surrender. Jason Nesmith’s famous quote from the film Galaxy Quest paraphrases the original World War II challenge issued by Winston Churchill. To paraphrase 1985’s She’s Always In My Hair: “Whenever I feel like givin’ up. Whenever my sunshine turns to rain… (My dreams are) always there.” As long as you can breathe, you can fight for your dreams.
Enjoy the ride. There are no un-bumpy roads. Highs and lows will happen, no matter what road you choose. The quote most often attributed to Prince these days is this one: “Despite everything, no one can dictate who you are to other people.” Be who you are. Be that best person you can be. Nobody can diminish you without your permission. Strap yourself into the roller coaster of life and enjoy the ride.
Originally posted on April 22, 2012
By Scott Westerman
“I can live for two months on a good compliment.” – Mark Twain
There are too many complaints and too few compliments in today’s world. Nothing brightens someone’s day like an appreciative word.
Giving and receiving a compliment is an art. What you say must be both truthful and genuine. I know people who struggle with praise on both sides of the fence. For some, framing gratitude is hard. You may have grown up in a household where it was in short supply. The simple act of communicating esteem feels uncomfortable. On the other end of the spectrum, there are those who feel that they must immediately short circuit praise with, “I was just lucky” or “I’m not really that great”. When you do this to all intents and purposes, you are insulting that person who complimented you.
Valorie Burton tells us that there are four simple guidelines for giving a powerful compliment:
1. Be Specific – Think about what it was that inspired you to complement them. “You did a great job organizing this weekend’s event. It’s obvious that you put a lot of thought into the details and it really showed.”
2. Acknowledge Their Character – Valorie says, “When complimenting an accomplishment, don’t just acknowledge what the person did. Acknowledge who they had to be in order to accomplish it. Point to a person’s character traits, such as perseverance, kindness, thoughtfulness, loyalty, humor, calmness, creativity or courage.” For example, “It took great courage and tenacity to do what you did. I admire that about you.”
3. Be Authentic – Develop the ability to see the good in others. Make eye contact. Speak from the heart. If you don’t really mean it, don’t say it.
4. Express Your Appreciation – Tell them how their actions impacted you. “What you did for my daughter really meant a lot to me. I’m proud of her and what you are teaching her will make her a better person.”
On the receiving end, LisaMarie Luccioni, writing in Psychology Today recommends using the time tested magic words that always work in any situation. Say, “Thank You!”
In many instances good things are the result of a the work of many. It’s ok to say, “Thanks very much. I work with an outstanding group of people and this was a real team effort.” Never disconfirm a compliment by diminishing it. And fight that urge to “out compliment” the other person. Avoid saying things like, “Thanks, but it was your leadership that really made it happen.”
And as you receive, also give. As G. B. Stern notes, “Silent gratitude isn’t much use to anyone”. If you receive praise on behalf of your team, make sure you pass it on.
Each of us knows someone who has made a significant difference in our lives. It’s easy to take them for granted. Don’t. Authentic appreciation is one of the greatest gifts you can ever give. It’s something that the recipient will always remember.
This week, be especially aware of someone who has helped you, helped someone else or has done a particularly good job. Practice the points in this message and tell them.
As the old saying goes, “Gratitude is the best attitude. ”
Have a great week!
Feedback welcome to Scott@Spartanology.com
Sparty’s golf cart was taken from its parking place at the MSU Union on Sunday night and ended up in the Red Cedar River near the Computer Center. Most importantly, I’m glad nobody was hurt. As expensive as the cart may be, it is replaceable. A human life is not.
All the same, we want to apprehend the people responsible. I wanted to think of something that would have a benefit beyond the Sparty program and came up with the notion of encouraging tips by contributing $1,000.00 to the student run organization of the tipster’s choice. For added value, I’m throwing in a pair of my best football seats for the game of his or her choice during the 2016 home season.
Details are in the press release, below, but I hope you’ll help us catch a thief and help an SRO!
ALUMNI ASSOCIATION OFFERS REWARD FOR LEADS IN SPARTY’S GOLF CART THEFT
The MSU Alumni Association is offering a reward for information leading to the arrest of those involved in the theft of Sparty’s golf cart April 3.
Sometime between the hours of 9-11 p.m. that night, the iconic mascot’s specially designed golf cart was taken from its parking spot near the MSU Union and was dumped in the Red Cedar River near the MSU Computer Center.
Clint Stevens, director of the Sparty Mascot Program, said a $1,000 reward will be donated to a student-run organization that is selected by the person who submits the information. They also will receive two football tickets to the home game of their choice during the 2016 season. Anonymity is guaranteed and Sparty, himself, will present the check to the selected student-run organization.
“The Spartans Will Global Day of Service is just around the corner,” Stevens said, referring to the association-sponsored worldwide service event, set for April 16. “We hope to encourage a witness to come forward in the spirit of service to our student body.”
Alumni Association Executive Director Scott Westerman said the vehicle suffered serious water damage and will have to be replaced.
“The Sparty program is self-sustaining,” he said. “With over 500 appearances in a given year, the golf cart is essential to Sparty’s ability to spread the Spartan Spirit across campus.”
By Scott Westerman
I’m usually pretty good with a camera, but the emotion involved in snapping a photograph of my 91 year old father standing in front of the school building that now bears his name made getting the shot a challenge. Tears of gratitude kept getting in the way.
Dad’s entire professional life has been dedicated to education. Opening new vistas of discovery and inspiring young people to unlock their potential has been his passion, first as a high school teacher, then as a school administrator and ultimately as Dean of the College of Education at Eastern Michigan University. In 2015, the Ann Arbor Public Schools recognized his body of work by naming “The W. Scott Westerman, Jr. Pre-School and Family Center” in his honor.
As I thought about how to frame this picture worth a thousand words, Dad’s mantra kept coming to the fore: Learn everything you can, and pass it on!
This is the motivation behind my new book, a collection of essays about the character of human achievement and our desire to share it with others.
The progress of humanity is built on a foundation of knowledge. The quantity and quality of our lives have improved dramatically because dedicated souls crafted a pyramid of wisdom that enabled us to see farther, work smarter and serve a greater good. All of this happened for one reason. Men and women of vision amassed a treasure trove of intellectual capital and passed it on.
Some contributed a portion of their abundance toward funding the edifices, the tools and the manpower that drive innovation. Others focused their intellect to confront complex problems. And many more became foot soldiers, directly passing on what they learn as teachers, mentors, parents and friends.
The common thread that runs through the character of the authentically great is their desire to give others the means to follow in their footsteps. Although they may sometimes be hard to see, brass rings are always out there. It’s up to us to recognize them, to grab the opportunity they represent, to achieve, and to add our own dabs of knowledge to the tapestry of life so that other might follow suit.
This is the message I hope to have imparted in “Pass It On”, observations from a lifetime devoted to studying, success, happiness and all the challenges that come with it. The book begins with insights from three people I admire, my boss, Michigan State University President Lou Anna K. Simon, my good friend, MSU Athletic Director, Mark Hollis, and my mentor in the space of human motivation, the extraordinary author, coach and speaker, Erik Qualman. From there, we explore three dimensions of life: the secret sauce for success in college, discovering your purpose and turning it into a productive career, and a conversation about the elements that so mix to create an exceptional human being. These timeless ideals are what we MSU folks associate with the best Spartans we know, but they apply no matter what your background or where you went to school.
Success is always a team effort. Many people contributed ideas to “Pass It On”. Some have become household words. Others are less well known. All have found a way to meld experience, sweat, failure, tenacity and compassion into a force for positive change.
They all share something else in common, the indescribable jubilance that comes from watching others benefit from their work.
Our photo shoot at the W. Scott Westerman Jr. Pre-School and Family Center was complete. I helped Dad back into our car. He moves more slowly now. As our bodies begin to fail us we are forced into a state of mindfulness that can reveal the beauty that is often hidden among the moments we formerly allowed to pass by too quickly. We both found ourselves contemplating the building that would forever bear his name and thought about the hundreds of children who would start their own journey of discovery there.
Access to an excellent education is the ultimate competitive advantage. Study after study shows that those who learn are less likely to destroy. They are most likely to see the future as something bright with opportunity, taking personal responsibility for finding ways to add value and modeling productive behaviors for others to emulate.
I hope that these are the lessons you will glean from “Pass It On”, that you will take the meaning of its title to heart and make it possible for at least one other person in your circle of influence to know the excitement of discovery… and the pure joy that comes from leaving the world in a better place than you found it.
By Scott Westerman
“Some people hear their own inner voices with great clearness. And they live by what they hear. Such people become crazy… Or they become legend.” ~ Jim Harrison
Jim Harrison was, in every sense, an extraordinary Spartan. A Michigan boy, born in Grayling, high schooled down the road in Haslett and educated with both a BA and MA from Michigan State. He loved the outdoors, had an insatiable thirst for knowledge and made a mark in literature that some say eclipsed Hemingway. He didn’t care a lick about the notoriety that was a result of his monumental gift for the written word and was at his most joyful when hunting, fishing, cooking, drinking and eating. He was a self diagnosed manic depressive, described by others as alternately brilliant, eccentric, mercurial, funny, impatient, impulsive and thoughtful, plus another dozen or so sometimes opposing adjectives that define a man who grabbed life by the throat, shaking every last visceral sensation out of it. A close friend who came by to say farewell after a heart attack claimed him, reported that he died with pen in hand, still creating until his spirit finally fled from a body that could no longer contain him.
Those who saw him for the first time might have thought Jim Harrison was that crazy person who heard his inner voices with clarity. Some of his most famous photographs show his hair unkempt, missing and eye and a front tooth, his face often contorted into a perpetual squint. He was known to focus on the design and preparation of the evening meal with such intensity that any imperfection could generate a volcanic outburst of temper. With good reason, say those who ate with him. Jim’s cooking was legendary. There were times he drank too much. He made and squandered fortunes before coming to grips with the financial recipe that could nourish his artistry. He shared much in common with Jack Nicholson, who once sustained Harrison at a moment when the author considered chucking it all to become a teacher. “Here’s some money'”Nicholson reportedly said. Keep writing”.
When MSUAA Alumni Magazine editor, Bob Bao thought to impulsively visit Harrison’s Leelanau County farm, he found a foreboding sign at the entrance to his property that warned: DO NOT ENTER THIS DRIVEWAY UNLESS YOU HAVE CALLED FIRST. THIS MEANS YOU. But if you were able to get inside, you would likely to discover a warm and welcoming home and come away thinking of the experience as one of the most wonderful and memorable of your lifetime.
Arguably, Jim Harrison was happiest in Upper Michigan. The gifts of the Great Lake State are abundant there; fish, fowl, flesh and flora. He kept kit handy to coax each into his rugged hands and enjoyed the exercise most when it was shared with good friends.
And oh, how he could write. Harrison’s career began in poetry, a method that would always remain his favorite means of expression. It was only when he was laid up with a hunting injury that he considered prose. That piece of bad luck made some for some legendary output, including “Legends of the Fall”, his most recognizable work that he ultimately helped craft into a hugely successful film. But he also wrote detective stories, novelas and broad historic epics. And he wrote reviews and essays by the bushel, mostly about his two favorite topics, cooking and the outdoors.
Harrison claimed to have learned the concentration at the heart of creativity while engrossed in manual labor. “You got a lot of thinking done,” he said of his days hauling wheelbarrow loads of cinderblocks through frigid November weather. He thought out his tales beforehand and they seemed to flow from pen to paper without the need for re-writes or editing.
Jim Moore, another Spartan with the writer’s gift said of Harrison, “If you haven’t read his work, you are missing a man whose writing has immortality in it. He was, in my estimation, what Hemingway was trying to be.”
Hemingway, Faulkner, Raymond Chandler, John D. MacDonald… Harrison could dance in and out of their literary styles with the felicity of a piano virtuoso who could hear Mozart and create a composition of equal brilliance, rooted in his own imagination and, perhaps, even more compelling.
Bill Castanier, who knew Harrison well, talked with WKAR – Current State’s Mark Bashore about the real man behind behind the macho outdoorsman persona. “He was kind, gentle, would do anything for anyone and was extremely loyal.” He returned often to MSU’s Secret Garden near the Radiology Building, finding solace there, Castanier relates, after losing his father and sister to a drunk driver. His greatest love was his wife, Linda King Harrison, and his greatest fear was losing her before his own death, something that came true six months before his own passing on March 26.
Greatness sometimes requires a touch of insanity mixed with strong doses of creativity and experience. In this often uncertain realm, the edges of the envelope sometimes fray, revealing shards of insight. The trick is translating them into stories that inspire us to keep turning the pages.
In my lifetime, few were better at the task than Jim Harrison. He leaves a body of work that grants his literary soul an immortality that will manifest every time a lucky reader opens a book with his name on the cover.
Yup, we’re out of the tournament. That bonfire you’re seeing tonight is the funeral pyre of 100,000 broken NCAA brackets. High hopes are dashed. Great expectations splinter into a thousand shards of disappointment. What now?
One of life’s great ironies is this: You can begin to heal by focusing your energy on alleviating the suffering of others. The clouds of disappointment can be cleared away through selfless service. When we turn our attention toward contributing to something bigger than ourselves, we can regain perspective, reaffirm our commitment to achieving the life we desire and come back into the great game wiser, stronger and more resilient.
On April 16th, it’s my hope that the the many fans who are now processing our early exit from the NCAA Tournament will turn their attention outward, showing the world the awesome power of a Spartan’s Will by participating the MSU Alumni Association’s Global Day of Service. Whether it’s a fresh coat of paint, a new roof or simply the gift of quality time at your favorite non profit organization, each year in hundreds of communities around the world, good deeds are done in the name of our great university. You don’t have to be an elite student athlete to make a difference. Whatever your skills, there is a place where you can contribute them.
Our student athletes know all about this. Community service is ingrained into every one of the 25 varsity sports we celebrate at MSU. President Kennedy was channeling the The Book of Luke when he famously said, “For of those to whom much is given, much is required.” He wasn’t talking about winning a ball game. But victory on the athletic field is directly tied to a mindset of service above self. It’s the key to developing mental toughness and is the most powerful inner competitive advantage we can control.
I challenge you to visit the Spartans Will Power Service Day website to make your own personal statement. Together, we are an unstoppable force for good. We can have a profoundly positive impact that can outlive the outcome of a thousand sporting events.
Our team may be in the depths of anger and depression now, but we know how this works. The success system is still in place. Our values remain the same. New heroes will emerge. Our Spartans will rise again.
For some, the agony of defeat may never fully go away. Our legendary coaches will be the first to tell you that reliving past pain depletes our power to prevail in the future. A focus on serving the greater good can put that past in its proper perspective. On April 16th, make a statement about the resiliency of the Spartan Spirit. Join us on Michigan State University’s Global Day of Service. We’ll see you there!
By Scott Westerman
I was in New York this week to hear 5 very successful television producers talk about their work. Two things made them extra special: They are all Spartans and they all happen to be women.
Their stories were fascinating, tales of perseverance, lots of rejection, how the mixture of relationships and work ethic helped them grow and succeed, and the fleeting nature of success. Every one of them has been told, some on several occasions, that their jobs were ending. Shows get cancelled. Movies wrap. Teams brought together by a combination of serendipity, talent and tenacity scatter. There are uncertain hiatuses where you don’t know when or where the next paycheck may materialize. And you’re always thinking about Plan B.
So it was interesting that the most memorable moment of the evening, for me at least, was when Cathy Daniel said, “there’s no crying in show business”. Cathy has been an Emmy Award winning producer on programs like Meredith Vieira and Dr. Oz.. She’s among the best of the best.
“I had a production assistant come to me one morning in tears about a boyfriend break-up. She said she needed the day off to process her emotions.” Cathy did her best to put on an empathetic face. Her words felt anything but. “I told her, ‘Put on your big girl pants and get back in the game. There’s no crying in show business'”
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Our good friend and colleague Tim Shy has died after a courageous battle with brain cancer. Nobody knows for sure where it came from. There was no genetic history in his family. But we know from personal experience that the monster is often indiscriminate in choosing its prey. The only commonality seems to be that it takes the best people away from us well before we are prepared to let them go.
In the radio business there are always 1,000 wannabes for one real deal. Tim Shy was the real deal.
In 1972, when we were both juniors at Ann Arbor Pioneer High School, he was already blessed with that resonant baritone that we all know so well. I had the pleasure of introducing him to Charlie Bross and Ted Heusel at WPAG that year and he quickly became a regular on the air, using Tim Laurence (his middle name) as a moniker.
Tim had major market skills. His love for theater taught him to easily transmogrify between broadcast journalist and disk jockey. There were several incarnations that I witnessed. One of my favorites was an act where this then 18 year-old channeled a 65ish country music fan, “The Old Timer”, to wax poetic about the his favorite tunes. Listeners bought it hook line and sinker.
He had the ability to instantly arrange ideas into airworthy broadcasts, even in the days where there was only an audience of one. Somewhere, I have a reel to reel tape of Tim telling the story of Radio Nordzee International, a pirate broadcaster that he encountered when his family lived in Europe. It was one of those, “Hey I have an idea, lets roll tape,” things where he thought for a moment or two and delivered the story as if he had taken an hour to write it.
We shared an affinity for amateur radio and shortwave listening. But Top 40 radio was our first love. We spent many a night studying jocks who worked at the 50,000 watt sky wave stations from Detroit, New York and Chicago to hone our own understanding of the craft. When it came time to perform, we had our share of “learning experiences”. A highlight of our WPAG days was covering the John Sinclair Freedom Rally at Chrisler Arena. We got a ton of great tape, but forgot to bring keys to the studio. None of it ever aired.
In a moment worthy of Ron Burgundy, I once painstakingly re-typed and swapped out Tim’s carefully written local newscast, degenerating the copy into gobblty gook in the middle of the second page. His focus on delivery was so total that it took him a second to realize what he was reading before effortlessly finishing the story from memory.
Nobody who heard it could tell that anything was amiss. He was that good.
Tim’s intellect quickly grew beyond broadcasting, although, like many of us, he would return to it from time to time. He majored in geology and ultimately earned a PHd in Atmospheric Science from the University of Illinois. Those adventures alone would make a fascinating book, something I always encouraged him to write, and something he always humbly passed off as inconsequential. It was anything but.
We kept in touch as he treked northward to Alaska and re-connected when we both found ourselves in Albuquerque, New Mexico. I was working weekends at an oldies station and quickly brought Tim back into the fold. He was always careful to shield his true identity from his listeners, fearing that the government would not smile kindly on an employee who was also on the radio.
He need not have worried. Everyone loved Tim. He was among the most selfless people I ever met, way more interested in what was happening in your life and always ready with a kind word and a helping hand.
He came late to fatherhood, and passed away with his wife and young son at his side. Tim’s many friends have spoken of his authenticity, his listening ear and a generosity that knew no bounds. It’s all true. If it turns out that there is a rock and roll heaven, I expect to run into him again, beyond the pearly gates, trading stories with Larry Lujack, Charlie Tuna and Gary Owens and nailing every record intro to perfection.
Our world will be diminished with his departure, and yet, we are all better people because our paths crossed his. I can’t think of a better legacy.
Godspeed, old buddy. Catch you on the other side.