Jennifer Smith Turner - Commencement Speaker
Commencement Speaker
Jennifer Smith Turner
CEO of Girl Scouts of Connecticut (GSC)

Jennifer Smith Turner's Commencement Speech - May 21, 2010

Thank you President Schmotter.

Congratulations to all of you. This is such a wonderful evening for all of the graduates, your friends and families; as well as for the faculty and the entire university community. I am truly honored to be with you this evening to share in such an important moment.

Graduations are so significant; they mark momentous milestones throughout our lives. Think for moment about a group of young children, poised for their class photograph while in grade school. Can you see the smiling faces, the nervous and anxious hands of those told to sit in front; the shyness of the one child who stands in the back row towering above all the other children, the class clown who wants to put two fingers above the classmate’s head; the pressed smile of the child who is missing two front teeth? Think about that image—now look for yourself in that class photo. Do you see the little girl, the little boy whose visage is filled with innocence and playfulness? Do you see the hope and possibility in their faces? Do you remember the feeling of complete trust and wonderment? Can you feel it?

Can you hold on to that feeling that image?

From that moment in time to today, you have embarked upon a journey; a journey that brings you here to celebrate your accomplishments and to launch yet another phase of your life. I wish that I could tell you that there is a clear road map for your journey from this point forward. Or that here are the three things that if done just right will lead to sure success. If I thought that my own steps through life would work precisely for you as they have worked for me, I would jot them down and hand them out. But we all know that life seldom works that way.

What I can do is share some things I have learned along the way in my journey that may resonate with your own experiences and inform choices you make in the future.

When I graduated from college it was 1974—yes, I just dated myself and I’m OK with it! We, baby-boomers were filling the ranks of the unemployed. For every job opening available it seemed as though 1000 people would apply. I was back at home, desperate to find a job and move out of my parent’s home.

One day my mother said “Jen, what you need to do is go into Boston, look up, and find the tallest building in the city. Then go in there, look at the names of the companies in that building and fill out an employment application.”

As you may image those words fell on deaf ears of a newly minted college graduate sitting at her parent’s kitchen table pouring over want ads.

However, three months later, still unemployed, still living at home, I went to Boston. I stood on Boylston street, looked up, saw the Prudential Center—the tallest building on the street—checked out the list of companies and headed up to the offices of the Gillette Company. I asked to fill out a job application but was told by the receptionist “there were no openings for any jobs”. Well, I wasn’t sure what to do next—my mother didn’t tell me someone might just send me away. While leaving a woman stopped me and asked what type of job I was looking for. I didn’t have a good answer so I shared my mother’s advice with her. She smiled, handed me an application that I completed and I left.

Two weeks later she phoned me to offer me a clerk typist position with the Gillette Company. A month later I was moving into my new studio apartment in Boston. And so my professional journey began.

My first important lesson – listen to Mom!
The second lesson – be open to any possibility.
These two lessons have shaped my professional and personal life.

February 4th, 2000 at 10:30 in the morning my mother passed away. I was at her side along with my sister and my aunt, her last living sister, when she took her last breath. It was the saddest day of my life.

All through my professional career, whenever I would tell Mom about another promotion or new job, she would tell me that she was so proud of me, and add “you know Jen, you are a good writer.” For twenty years this was her response to me. I never understood what she was saying until she was gone. That night I wrote her a letter and while writing to her, I got it, finally I got what her message to me has been all these years.

My first book of poetry was born from my grief of losing my mother. In her passing she helped me find the courage to step out of my familiar professional world and enter the unknown world of a writing life.

Fortunately for me I had my husband, Eric Turner, at my side. While he may have thought he was marrying a corporate woman as we stood at the alter in 2001, he soon discovered he was living with a poet and writer.

And so another lesson—listen to Mom!
And, have a good person at your side and in your life.

I drew an image earlier of the group of young children and asked you to find yourself in that image. Perhaps the most important lesson I’ve learned over the years is this:

You must be true to yourself.

In order to do this, you must know who you are and know your own voice.

Think of your inner child and keep her or him with you at all times. It is as innocent children that the foundation for our values, beliefs and character are formed. As we mature and move through life, that child must be at our side, reminding us of what is true and right, helping us to remember how to laugh and play. The child is a source of strength for the adult as we face life’s challenges that are not born of innocence and wonder.

And I leave you with the sound, the image, the beauty and comfort of knowing your own voice, with my poem Voice.

Full, colorful springtime peonies
Sure as mothers love
Crystal clear Carolina blue skies
Warm down-filled blanket
Committed—I do
Passionate fevered tributary rushing to open sea
Such stunning sound!
Oh precious journey lays in wait
Speak the one voice
The only voice
Possessing the right to be heard.

Congratulations once again, best of luck, keep your inner child close. Thank you.

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