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1 May 2006

Text of the Commencement Speech
of Mr. Bobby N. Kennamer


Delivered Friday, April 8, 2006


President Meehan, distinguished faculty, staff, friends, and candidates for degrees.  It's a privilege to pay tribute to Jacksonville State University's latest graduating class.


Graduates, I commend you for having the wisdom and desire to seek and obtain your college degree. I want to do my part to make sure you leave here tonight not only with a diploma but with a few brilliant ideas about your future. Naturally, given my particular background, "brilliant ideas" mean thought-provoking and conservative ideas.  Maybe something I say will go with you and be of value in your future endeavors.


By the way, the word conservative can be confusing, thanks to TV news and other sources. If you use the word "conservative" as an adjective rather than as a noun, you will correctly understand my message this evening.

"Conservative thinking" is a way of life that transcends politics, and there are "conservative thinking" individuals who are even democrats. So, understand that my phrase "conservative thinking" refers to a way of life or style of living—things like character, moral outlook, and having a practical personal philosophy of life. When you apply "conservative ideas," you will find yourself acting in your own best interests and those of your family and society.


Now, I would like to share a brief description of my background so that you may better understand some of the ideas I am going to present. And, you just cannot imagine all the brilliant ideas that are in store for you.


I was a "depression baby"born in 1935 near the end of the great depression. However, most everyone agrees that the effects of the economic depression lasted much longer than the historic period itself. The depression influenced our thinking and far outlived the actual days of hardship that we endured. Drawing inspiration from adversity, we learned and benefited from the great depression.


For example, the depression gave me a far different outlook on wealth and success than you have today.  I grew up in the country with no paved roads, electricity, or running water.  We did get electricity when I was 13.  Paved roads and water came later.  We had a wooden ice box on the back porch which held ice for tea and chilling small amounts of food.  Food was primarily preserved by canning and drying.  We slaughtered our own hogs and kept the meat in a smoke house and salt box.   Milk was kept cool by lowering it into the well.  This was the same well where we used a rope and pulley to draw water for cooking and bathing and for taking care of our livestock and chickens.  We grew vegetables in a garden and fruit in a nearby orchard.  We were not considered poor, but we knew some poor folks in the communityand we shared with them whatever was in season.


One of the happiest days of my life was the day we moved to town, where I started the ninth grade.  But you're thinking, "Please don't tell me any more about the 'good ole days!'"


I spent two years in the army and came to Jacksonville State Teachers college on the GI Bill.  To supplement the GI Bill, I worked a lot of different jobs and borrowed less than $2,000 from my great aunt. I received my degree in three years. So, like many of you, I was in debt coming out of college.


Here is where I want you to listen closely.  I want to help you pay off those student loans.  Conservative thinking will lead you to get those loans out of the way as quickly as possible. I predict that most of you will marry and have children. You will need houses, cars, and items you cannot now imagine. So, pay off your school loans quickly so you can save faster and more profitably. That way, you can better take care of yourself and your family.


Here is one idea that will work. When you receive your first paycheck, play a mind game—but for real. Pretend the check is for five or preferably 10 percent less than it actually is. Put this amount into a savings account until you accumulate a predetermined amount; say, $500. Then, make a payment to reduce your student loan. For those of you without loans, this is a good way to begin a savings plan.


I emphasize saving money and paying your debts for a reason. Plato said prudence is chief among virtues.  Being prudent and learning financial responsibility early in your career is important for you and for our entire economy. Dedicate yourself and take deliberate steps toward success. Avoid being someone who "wants it all today," someone who goes deeper and deeper into debt with no idea how he or she will repay.  People who take on too much debt and dash at their objectives without giving thought to how or why they are pursuing a particular course of action are heading for disaster. As John Randolph of Roanoke said, "providence moves slowly, but the devil always hurries."


There are a million ways to save. One of my favorites is to drink lots of water!  How, you ask, will this help me to save? When you go to work you will be eating many meals away from home. Tea, coffee, and soft drinks are expensive. You can easily save $20 to $50 monthly just by drinking healthy h20, and without all that caffeine you will sleep better at night.  Now do you see how the great depression shaped my thinking? You can boil it down to

this: don't spend your moneyexchange it for things that have equal or better value.


The next brilliant idea is to pretend that you do not get pay raises!  When you get a pay increase, immediately transfer that amount into your savings account.


Another brilliant idea is to carefully manage your credit cards. Many of you began getting credit card offers long before graduation. After tonight, you will receive many more seemingly wonderful bargains in platinum and gold cards. Beware!  And if you are guilty of carrying a balance on your credit card, forget about paying your student loanspay off those high interest charge cards first! Then commence the plan to pay off your student loans.


Here's another extremely brilliant idea: If you smoke, stop! Smoking is a nasty, unhealthy habit. It is very expensive. Many employers take a dim view of employees and prospective employees who smoke. Employers are concerned about increased healthcare costs and loss of work time by smokers.


The next brilliant idea is: Don't try to "keep up with the Joneses!" In truth, a particular Mr. Jones may be driving a new sports car, fishing from a new bass boat, using expensive golf clubs, wearing the latest fashionsall with hardly a nickel in his pocket. Mr. Jones may be disastrously far into debt. Appearances can be deceiving. I suggest that you work hard, save your money, live within your earnings, pay yourself first in the form of savings  and then, one day in the future, you can be a Mr. Jones or better.


See how this works? Apply these kind of brilliant ideas and people from my generation will think you came through the depression too!


The last brilliant idea I will give you will make your job more fulfilling and rewarding. Live by the golden rule dailyespecially at work. Adopt the highest of ethical standards. Take pride in your work and perform to the highest expectations. Please your employer just as you've pleased your professors here at JSUgo the extra mile. Be your own quality assurance inspector. Always respect the opinions of others. Along with this, I say continue your educationdistance learning, night school, internet, and weekend classes are several ways to learn and obtain advanced degrees, which will help you earn salary increases.


Finally, I ask you to be loyal to your alma mater. Renew your alumni membership next year. Come back to campus for events such as drama, music, and athletics. Ask your employer to give JSU an opportunity to provide workshops and continuing education classes.


Now, with your diploma and all these brilliant ideas, it's time for you to go forth and excel!


Good luck and God bless as you go forward with your life.



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