J. Joseph Hale, Jr.,

(Hanover College, 1971)

Commencement Address,

Hanover College,


This text is also available at www.hanover.edu.

I recently read a study that said 10 years after commencement, 94 percent of college graduates had no idea who spoke at their graduation. That study has obviously taken some of the pressure off me today.

It is always great to be back at Hanover, which may be hard for you guys to believe since you’re itching to get outta here. I see a lot of smiles out there; mostly on the faces of you parents because you realize you’ve written your last tuition check. Congratulations to ALL of you!

I’m honored to be with you here today. President DeWine asked me to talk about reinventing yourself in retirement. I thought about that. But then I realized that talking about retirement on your graduation day was the equivalent of planning your funeral on your wedding day. So I may veer somewhat from the suggested topic.

Here’s the opening thought: Congratulations. You’re a Hanover graduate. You’ve earned it. Feel good about it. Your Hanover degree has value. Your work here built that value. It will benefit you in the years to come, in your work, in your life.

Here’s the second thought: Give thanks. You got yourself here, but not without help. As you pass through this day, remember those who have parented you, loved you, taught you, stood beside you, demanded more of you, befriended you and helped you become the person you are today.

The journey is yours, but you don’t travel it alone. Thank those who have been there along the way. And even though right now you’re thinking about leaving Hanover and beginning the next phase of your life, I ask you to include Hanover in that demonstration of appreciation. The value of your degree will continue to depend in part upon the performance and reputation of this institution. So in the future when you’re asked, support Hanover in whatever way possible. And you WILL be asked!

And here’s the third thought: As you look to life after Hanover, remember it is possible to do well and do good while having fun. Earn a living, help the world be a better place, but also enjoy life. Balance. Try it.

If you were at your Hanover graduation, say 40 years ago, in the good ol’ days when Hanover locked the women up at 10 p.m. on weeknights, allowed them to wear pants if it was below freezing, required the men to wear coats and ties to dinner Wednesdays and Sundays, and had mandatory attendance for twice a week convocations, back then your expectation likely would have been to work until you were 65, retire to enjoy life and give something back for a while, then checkout. Life was perceived as a simple, linear series of acts. Learn. Work. Retire. Then use your remaining time to enjoy life and maybe help some folks.

The world certainly isn’t simple any more, and it’s not terribly linear, either. But the opportunity in that is the ability not to wait until late in life. Work hard, help somebody, have fun, all at the same time, now.

I didn’t come to Hanover from Floyds Knob, down near New Albany, Ind., with a silver spoon in my mouth. Dad was a mailman, Mom, a homemaker. After a year and a half of marriage, my mother woke up one August morning with a headache when she was eight months pregnant with me. Twelve hours later, she’d been diagnosed with polio and spent the rest of her life in a wheelchair.

I never heard my Dad or Mother complain once about the cards they were dealt, which provided me with a glass half full view of life. Always look for the silver lining, an approach I heartily recommend. The message here?  Limit the whining. Take responsibility for the cards you’re dealt and improve upon them.

I left Hanover in 1971, and in the last forty-plus years I’ve had 19 different career engagements. Not different jobs, different careers. (I can see the eye rolls of the parents in the crowd – nice role model they’ve invited today!) Teaching, arts management, real estate development, swim coach, corporate philanthropy, sales, communications and utility management. My latest assignment is leading a global solar power effort to bring energy to people in parts of South and Central America, Africa and Asia who otherwise use kerosene to light their huts or just know darkness at night.

I’ve also had more than a hundred volunteer leadership positions supporting or leading civic initiatives, from raising more than $100 million for activities and projects as varied as a modern dance company, to managing aquatic events in an international sports competition, to building a contemporary art museum, to helping lead the national March of Dimes, including raising funds for them by running seven marathons on seven continents in seven months.

I — well, mostly my wife Linda, but I helped — raised a family of three children, all now married and with children of their own. And Linda and I have enjoyed many friendships in our lives. We’ve been fortunate to have had some amazing experiences. We’ve dined with CEOs and celebrities, presidents and princes, but after family, we’re never happier than when we’re with old Hanover friends.

We instantly fall into a warm camaraderie with people with whom we’ve shared this Hanover experience. I believe Woody Harrelson ’83 said when he was recently here that “fame is eclipsed by family and friends.” I think you’ll find the same thing is true in years to come.

My family has been blessed, to be sure, but I’m exhibit A for the argument that a full life is possible, right from the start, that you can do well and do good while having fun.

There is actually a solid body of research that suggests that once you get beyond uncontrollable life events and genetics, the main drivers of happiness are family, friends, faith and work. I’m a doer, not a researcher, so my way of proving that conclusion has been to live it, to work to do well for my family, do good for others and have fun along the way. Balance. Try it.

Don’t let opportunities pass you by. Seek meaningful work that sustains you both economically and personally. Build a family to love and nurture and enjoy. Find and relish friends — beyond acquaintances, true friends. And engage in something beyond yourself: volunteer work, the arts, education or some other form of civic activity that adds more layers of meaning to your life. If it calls you, let faith be another foundation to your life. Hanover has given you the capacity to enjoy a meaningful life. Do so, aggressively, with rigor and relish.

Create a better you. I came to Hanover from modest circumstances, and I just retired from my position as a member of the executive team at the country’s largest utility.

And now I’ve begun my second act, the next phase in my life. A friend recently remarked that when we leave a leadership position in a company, we go from being a VIP to FIP to TIP — very important person to formerly important person to totally irrelevant person.

Now I’m not sure where I am currently on that progression, but I believe retiring in the traditional sense is a selfish act. We spend decades amassing skills, experiences and relationships. We need to find ways to use them, to create a second act for ourselves to benefit the world.

Around the time I’d been retired for a week and was going somewhat crazy from boredom, a friend and I both read a story in the New York Times about a woman in Kenya who would get up each morning, leave her five children to walk three miles to pay a bush taxi $3 to ride six hours to a village with electricity where she could get her cell phone charged. She’d have to leave her phone because of the demand and repeat this trip a few days later to pick up her charged phone and pay the 25-cent fee. We figured there had to be an easier way, and that conversation led to the creation of the Global BrightLight Foundation. It’s a huge market, as there are 1.3 billion people in the world without access to electricity.

BrightLight today is the largest NGO in the United States devoted to providing simple solar lanterns to families around the world. For $50, a donor can have the satisfaction of knowing their gift has significantly transformed the life of a family currently living off the grid in remote areas of the world. No more breathing harmful kerosene fumes or causing fires and burns from a spilled kerosene lantern. Cleaner air to breathe. Children can study and read at night. Mom can cook and Dad can continue to work after sundown. Changing lives, one lantern at a time.

I just returned last week from remote areas of Bolivia and Peru. This Monday I’ll be in Moscow providing a message of appreciation to our major donor, a coalition of the 16 largest utilities in the world, and by Friday, I’ll be in the jungle of Rwanda checking on our distribution of lanterns there. There’s not a better feeling than when I see how our simple lantern fundamentally changes a family’s very existence. Doing good. Having fun. Balance.

As you leave here today, you are prepared for a world that is changing, whose context will be complex and difficult to predict, whose overall direction will be non-linear and uneven, but whose general trend will be, as the trend of history always has been one of challenge and improvement that leads to progress.

In the context of your life, the world will offer you many opportunities to challenge and improve yourself. Take them. Don’t be afraid to, indeed, seek to improve your position and your circumstances. Have high aspirations. Then aim even higher. Hanover has prepared you not just to work, not just to participate, but also to lead. Make the direction of your life one that accelerates upward. Work for it. Reach for it.

The world to which you graduate is an amazing place, but it’s not perfect. There’s a lot — a whole lot — that needs fixing. I see it in my travels constantly. There are many people — still far too many — who live struggling lives and who need help. In education. In health. In the basics of life. To overcome hardship. To survive calamity. To grow. To heal. Those people are all around the globe, and they’re in our own communities. The world needs your help. In your own way, find your way to care for it.

Linda and I have always had people at the center of our lives. Our family, always first and foremost. Friends, many friends, many of whom became our friends here at Hanover and many more through our work and our civic engagements. Our best friends have been friends for life, even as we, and they, have often shifted jobs, changed states or even countries. We share that core set of commitments: work, family, friends, faith and a willingness to look for the common good, to leave where we’ve been better than we found it. And we have had fun — a lot of fun — along the way. Don’t forget to reach for the joys that family and friends bring. Live for it.

Linda and I have benefited from and relied on our Hanover education for our entire lives. It has given me the foundation, the flexibility and adaptability to move from one of those 19 careers to another and to chair the myriad of volunteer activities in which we’ve been involved. It has helped give both of us the capacity for family, friends and faith, and for a range of work and civic activities.

Life has not been perfect, but we have had great joy in our friendships, our family, our civic efforts and our work. Balance equals contentment. I hope you’ll have that life. Build on the gifts, the potential, the capacity Hanover has given you. Seek to do well, do good, but also have fun. Balance.

Our family has a painting in our home on Nantucket. We commissioned an artist originally from Indiana to create it for us. It’s a primitive painting of the Nantucket harbor, and around the perimeter of the painting it says, “The best part of a journey is coming home, healthy, safe and content.”

Every night for the last 40 years, I’ve said a prayer asking that my family be healthy, safe and content. Notice I don’t ask for happiness, because in my experience, happiness comes and goes. But contentment, a satisfaction with your life, lasts forever. Having a balanced life, doing well, doing good, while having fun, will lead you to a life of contentment.

Oh, how I envy you guys, just starting out on this next phase of your life adventure. Take some risks. Aim real high. It’ll pay off. Thanks for listening, and I once again offer you my sincere congratulations.

Hanover Historical Texts Collection
Hanover College Department of History
Hanover College Visitor's Page

Please send comments to: historians@hanover.edu