Tom Lavin, honorary degree acceptance speech

UCW News Team  |  July 19, 2016

 | Topic : University News

Arthur Coren, Tom Lavin and Brad O'hara

President Dr. Coren, Executive Director Mr. Wiens, UCW Executive and Administrative Team, and soon-to-be graduates of University Canada West, good afternoon to you all.  It is my pleasure to be invited here today to gratefully receive an Honorary Doctorate from this venerable Institution. As a former director of a private post secondary college, I share your president’s view that there exists a valuable and necessary place for independent universities. 

I have had the pleasure over the last while to make the acquaintance of both Dr. Coren and Mr. Wiens and have no doubt that they and their associates are committed to operating an outstanding university designed to give its students an exceptional educational experience. As you continue on your career path your success will reflect on your alma mater just as UCW’s pursuit of educational excellence will reflect well on you. 

Commencement speeches are often pep talks meant to inspire graduates to pursue a rosy future. Though I consider myself an optimistic realist and hope and work for a brighter future, inspiring you is not my goal here this afternoon. What I do hope to accomplish in these few short minutes we have together is to share with you some of the learning tools that I have found effective in the course of my various pursuits. 

My own career path has been circuitous. Born in Chicago in 1950 (do the math – that makes me 46) I arrived in Vancouver at 19 years old to enter film school at what is now Emily Carr University. I supported myself as a musician, which led to me becoming a recording studio musician working on other artists’ records. When a record became a hit, I would tour internationally as a band member. 

I wanted to record my own music, but no record companies were interested so I built a recording studio, put together a band and was fortunate enough to have our first record sell double platinum. I decided to self-manage while touring, which led to becoming a manager, booking agent, and music publisher in addition to writing, recording, performing and producing. That in turn led to me being asked to produce, record, book and manage other artists. 

When I wasn’t touring, I wrote and recorded advertising jingles for radio, theme songs for television shows and musical scores for motion pictures. In the course of my studio work, I found need for various electronic music aids including digital echo chambers and music samples which led to designing and manufacturing some of these devices both for my own use and commercial sale.  

Subsequently, I began being asked to consult on various high-tech projects for venture capitalists. Through this I became aware of the dawn of the Internet in 1997, long before most people had heard the terms email or website. I started an Internet provider service and took it public on the CDNX stock exchange. By 1999 I had started a second venture for viral email marketing software that I took public on NASDAQ. 

In 2000 I decided to start a private post-secondary college teaching audio and visual production skills. Enrollment rapidly grew to nearly 200 students. I operated that college until my retirement last year.  

My point here is not to impress you with what I have worked at. It is to share with you how opportunities constantly arise as you pursue any given course. It’s been said that life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans. Of prime importance is that you realize that learning doesn’t end with your graduation; it begins. Here are a few points or learning tools that I’d like to share and which I hope you will find useful. 

I’ll start with a little poem I like called the Hobo’s Prayer and goes like this: 

I don’t know what I’m looking for

But I know I’m looking for something

I only hope I recognize it when I find it. 

To me it means ‘keep your eyes open’. You never know when something or someone valuable will appear.

Once your eyes are open I believe learning how to learn is paramount. Trying to learn by collecting individual facts is hopeless; knowledge expands too rapidly. Only by pursuing learning habits and strategies that are global will you be able to keep pace.  

Imagine the difference between trying to learn something as complex as a golf swing by analyzing each individual motion and performing it sequentially. Contrast this with developing a type of motion camera in your brain that allows you to mentally film and imitate the swing of a pro. I think you’ll find it a lot easier and with practice it’s possible.

Another prime example of learning how to learn is toview every interaction as an experiment and to remember to collect the data and analyze it. Too many non-successful patterns are repeated simply because the participant forgot to record the results and alter behavior appropriately to achieve a more desired result. 

Clear communication is another key to goal achievement. Connect empathically with others.  Always try to first understand what someone is telling you. Check with them to make sure you understand correctly. Only after this is accomplished can you effectively try to make yourself understood. 

Question Everything. I’ve often heard ‘don’t try to reinvent the wheel’ but why not?  Recently someone did and the way we parallel park will soon be changed forever. 

Now is nearly always the best time. When I have a question about anything, however trivial it might seem, I write it down and research it at the earliest opportunity. The subconscious mind is a powerful thing and its a pleasant surprise when you notice how often research is timely.  

Say ‘yes’ to everything. It’s true that work expands to fill available time but its more interesting to me that time expands to accommodate necessary work. Give someone all day to sweep the warehouse and that’s what it will take. Give them an hour and tell them after its done you have more challenging work for them and it will be done in an hour. 

Adaptation. We live in a rapidly changing world. A study of nature leads me to believe adaptation is the key to survival. Whatever you pursue make sure you keep current with current events and how they may affect your plans. 

OK. Let’s sum it up: 

Learning is all about exploration however it is not enough to wander aimlessly in a dream state. Knowledge is its own reward but accumulation of knowledge requires presence; one’s eyes must be open—retention and analysis need to be engaged.  

Properly viewed, all learning is a creative process. There is time and place for learning in solitude, in pairs and in groups however first and foremost to me is the importance of ‘beginner’s mind’—being able to approach an investigation without preconception. 

Seen in a mathematical context, the patterns of construct in a musical composition can exhibit similarities with the principles of physics or contract law. Personally it’s been important to allow my inquisitiveness to range freely.  

It’s not enough to have a great idea; you need to be able to communicate the concept, to illuminate and inspire in order to realize the successful attainment of a goal. When seeking team members with whom to share your vision I believe an elevator pitch is of paramount importance. Be ready and able to share your vision verbally in three minutes. Refining a statement like this will also aid in making it clear to yourself what your true goals are. 

Perhaps above all, success is predicated on ‘fun’. Find an area of interest that rewards you with the thrill and joy of discovery because no amount of financial reward will compensate for a life spent doing something you don’t enjoy. If you’re truly excited about what you spend your time and attention on, the day will never be tedious. On the contrary, it will never be long enough. and the very best of luck to each of you in your future endeavours.

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