Taylor to graduates: Dream big with courage and commitment

August 8, 2015  

Shawn Taylor

Shawn Taylor, an alumnus and elite entrepreneur in the Houston area, gives the keynote address during the ceremony. (Purdue University image/Mark Simons)
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Good morning and welcome family, friends and distinguished guests. I would like to extend a very special good morning to the Purdue University Graduating Class of 2015-give yourself a BIG HAND. Before I begin my talk with you this morning, I would like to thank President Daniels and his staff for this awesome opportunity to talk with you today. THANK YOU! 

I would not be with you today if it were not for certain people who gave me a “hand-up throughout my life. If you will, please indulge me as I publicly thank them. Some of them are no longer physically with me but their impact is still felt:


Mom for being the amazing mother and father to me for over 52 years. I would not have made it without your unconditional love and constant encouragement (especially when I called at 1 a.m. because I was stressed about exams I didn’t feel I was prepared to take). I am who I am because you believed in me and demonstrated daily that problems were disguised as opportunities. I love you and miss you. 

To the Late Dr. Cornell A. Bell, who took a chance on me in 1977 when he arrived at my front door, in the projects on the south side of Chicago, to talk with us about the Krannert summer program that bears his name today (The Dr. Cornell A. Bell Business Opportunity Program or BOP). You see, I was not your typical Purdue-bound student. I graduated from a vocational high school, was not properly prepared for college and, frankly, did poorly on my ACT exam. So by any measure I should not have been accepted to Purdue. Dr. Bell saw something in me that was bigger than my GPA or the results from a standardized exam. He saw that in spite of the crime-infested neighborhood I lived in and the lack of college preparation, I had something special. That something special allowed me to graduate with distinction from Purdue in 1982, secure 11 job offers, work for one of the most prestigious accounting firms in the world, become one of the largest Taco Bell franchisees and eventually one of the largest Zaxby’s licensees, become a limited partner in a MLB team, to educate my children at some of the finest universities in the world and never forget those who, like me, deserve the same opportunity. You were, are and always will be my hero, Dr. Bell. 

Last and certainly not the least, the dynamic DUO who changed the trajectory of my life starting in 1979, Dr. Al and Dr. Martha Chiscon. Would you please stand for a minute? Thank you for taking me into your home, allowing me the privilege to serve as a TA in your biology courses, telling me that the world was bigger than Chicago, convincing me to focus on my studies by walking away from football and for allowing me to stay in your home whenever I visit campus. You are and always will be my other mom and dad, and I love you with all my heart! 

That being said, I have a small favor to ask the graduates of 2015. We have to do this quickly because I am not going to stand in the way of you receiving your diploma and celebrating later today. All graduates please stand and turn toward your guests and on the count of three (3) give thanks to those who gave you a hand up by applauding them. 

I want you to focus on a few key thoughts with me this morning:

I didn’t achieve success in life by merely working long and sometimes difficult hours. Authentic relationships contributed greatly to both my ability to accomplish great things and to “embrace” and endure the many obstacles/opportunities that occur every day. 

My ability to focus on the future, or what I call today “exceptional possibilities,” allowed me to run to a brighter future versus being stuck in the past. So big bold dreams are what it takes to make you really feel alive.


Courage: There will be many naysayers. Or better said in today’s lingo, there will be many “haters” who will say you can’t do it, or who do you think you are. … It takes many things to block out the background noise, and for me the one key attribute that allowed me to do this was and is courage. As the Father stated earlier, “…you will win false friends and some true enemies; succeed anyway.” 

Finally, to achieve the important things in your life, as determined by you, you must be committed to making sacrifices in order to make your dreams a reality. 

I remember this day so clearly in my mind. It was 33 years ago in May of 1982 that I sat in that section about three-quarters of the way back, and I was excited but very nervous about my future. I was moving 1,000 miles away from the only home I had ever known and away from the one constant in life, my family. I was more afraid than I let on. So let’s have a conversation about Big Dreams, the Courage & Commitment required, and the important role that Authentic Relationships play in your success.


Big Dreams:

I learned at an early age that in order for me to change my reality of being surrounded by drugs, physical harm, and the possibility of prison or death I needed to raise my level of aspirations. I needed to think bigger and bolder. For a period of time I relied on my technical abilities. However, it became apparent to me that I was operating from memory. I was “reacting” and not being a forward-thinker. So learn to engage the power of imagination. Learn to operate from imagination and not just memory. Think of all the wonderful and exceptional possibilities life has to offer. You will begin to come alive because by changing your thinking you begin to change your life. When you change your life you begin to change the world in which you live. So, begin your journey today by imagining the wonderful and fulfilling possibilities life has to offer. Work from a position of abundance and not a position of deficit! 



Anytime you set out to accomplish something of importance or it takes you out of your comfort zone, there can be this sense of discomfort or sometimes a feeling of fear. In most cases fear can be defined as False Expectations Appearing Real, which is generally experienced due to a lack of clarity. Often, we do not make the time to clearly define what is truly important in our lives, so we wander around trying to do everything versus (doing what really counts). Courage doesn’t mean you are not afraid, courage does mean you will not allow fear to stop you from achieving what’s important to you. So invest the time and effort required to determine what you really value in life and have the courage to go for it.



If you’ve ever eaten breakfast like me in the morning, you may have had on your plate eggs and bacon or sausage. My question to you is who is more committed to putting the food on your plate; the chicken or the pig? The chicken lays eggs and goes about its daily business, whereas the pig has to do what? The pig has to make the ultimate sacrifice in order to put food on the plate. In other words, the pig has to die. Now don’t go around saying Mr. Taylor said I have to make the ultimate sacrifice in order to achieve my big dreams. It is a metaphor. To achieve the important things in your life you have to make sacrifices. You may want to spend time with friends hanging out, but you know it will not get you closer to your goal; you may want to sleep in late when you know it takes more time than 40 hours a week to accomplish your goals. I call it the “no rush-hour” way of thinking. I rarely encountered rush-hour traffic because I realized as far back as high school and during my time at Purdue that I could not achieve above-average results by doing what everyone else was doing. I am either in very early or I stay very late, and most times it’s both. There’s a reason why we have rush-hour traffic because most people limit themselves to a 40-hour work week. I discovered that the amount of competition drops off significantly at 60-plus hours a week. Now on the flip side those working with you at 60-plus hours are your real competitors! The better you clarify what’s important in your life, the more committed you become in achieving your goals.


Authentic Relationships:

I’ve talked with you about big dreams and how they tap into your imagination and make you come alive. I covered the importance of not allowing FEAR to paralyze you and that with courage, you become unstoppable; we also talked about PIG Commitment or “Oink Oink” Commitment. So, let’s explore the importance of relationships. For example, you are the brightest employee in the company who’s technically sharp but you lack the important relationship skills that will allow you to ascend to the top. Graduates of 2015, please do not make the mistake in today’s world of ignoring the importance of nurturing relationships, both personally and professionally. At some point in your life and career the technical skills will become the minimum expectation. The difference-maker will be your ability to work with others, to manage and develop people and whether senior leadership can trust and rely on you to come through! Examples of my authentic relationships paying off involve getting into the franchise business, being invited into the investor group that purchased the Houston Astros baseball team and being asked to serve on the finance committee for Memorial Hermann Healthcare System, which played a life-changing role for my family in 2013 and 14. You see, my older brother became critically ill and nearly died in a hospital in another state. I had to do something and fast, so I called the board chair and CEO, and they arranged for my brother to be flown to Houston. It not only saved his life but gave us another 12 months with him. Unfortunately, he recovered only to be later diagnosed with leukemia. He passed away last October, but because of my relationships he was given a chance to fight and be with his family for an extended period of time. Authentic relationships extend well beyond the executive offices. 

As I close this morning, I ask that you always remember that you are who you are because others extended a hand-up at some point in your life. It is your time and turn to pay it forward. Our communities need your passion, intellectual capacity and willingness to work hard so that we can build a better future one community at a time. So I challenge the Purdue Class of 2015 to dream big dreams, have the courage to ignore the distractions and naysayers, possess what kind of commitment (“Oink Oink Commitment”) and invest in authentic relationships your entire life. If you will promise to do these things, I promise you will begin a journey that is captured in one of my favorite quotes: 

You see things and you say why?

But I dream things that never were and I say why not?

As the Father shared with you earlier, “…in the final analysis, it is between you and your God; It was never between you and them anyway”. I’d like to add to it by saying, the vision I had for myself was much smaller than the vision God had for me. Dream big dreams; be courageous, have Oink Oink commitment and build authentic relationships. 

Thank you, and congratulations!

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