I find it gratifying when someone comes to me seeking advice. I love to share my knowledge, experience, and insight. So, when a local college asked me to serve as its commencement speaker, I was honored. My message was simple: Never give up on your dreams. I wanted to inspire them to be relentless in their pursuit of success. So, I shared my personal story and offered a warning that the road ahead will have challenges, but adversity is no reason to lose sight of what you want most.
Commencement Address to the Washington State Community College Class of 2021—Never Give Up On Your Dreams
Class of 2021, congratulations on your very special day. You have come a long way. And guess what? This is just one of many milestones and the beginning of wonderful opportunities for you to achieve greater things in the future.
The success of where you are today is the result of hard work. The tears you shed, the hard times you endured, the teachers who helped you, and those you helped along their journey getting here today, that’s where the root of your success lies.
I have been where you are in life. However, I did something different than most. When I graduated, I decided on a destination that I identified as my success then laid out a road map so I knew how to get there. To reach my destination, all I had to do was follow my road map. My goal was to become the biggest mason contractor in Ohio.
About 15 years after I graduated, a friend of my dad asked me if I was the biggest mason contractor in Ohio yet. I told him I wasn’t sure but felt I was close.
He said, “You know what is amazing? I was at your graduation party, and when everyone asked what you were going to do with the rest of your life, you said you were going to start a masonry contracting company, hire 50 people and become the biggest mason contractor in Ohio.”
He said at the time he thought to himself, “Wow, this kid is in for a surprise when he gets into the real world. How did you know you could do that at 19 years old?”
He said he had many ideas and dreams for success but never acted upon them. Now I am 65, and it is too late.
Graduates, the fact that you’re here tells me you have a destination, and education is part of your plan. It’s impressive. Now, I urge you to write out your destination, map your course, and act on the ideas instead of just thinking about them.
You may have read my bio in your commencement program. It says I am the CEO of six successful companies, and I employ more than 450 people. I’ve authored a book and I’m one of the youngest people inducted into the Masonry Hall of Fame.
A lot of my friends call me “easy money.” While I am proud of my accomplishments, I can assure you, they did not come easily, and they did not come without me experiencing loss and failure.
When I was in grade school, the girls made fun of me because I couldn’t speak very well. At the time, it was very hurtful, and I figured I could never have one of them as my girlfriend. In retrospect, they probably did me a favor because that’s when decided that I would show them and would become somebody someday.
In 1984, I borrowed $600 from my oldest brother to buy a truck, and I started Lang Masonry Contractors. Sounds like a great start, but not long after that, my younger brother “borrowed” the truck without my permission and totaled it! Despite the setback, I never gave up on my dreams, nor should you give up on your dreams.
I started a daycare center in the early 1990s. It was a disaster, and I closed it three years later. But you know what? I never gave up on my dreams, nor should you give up on your dreams.
In the mid-90s, I bought a convenience store. After losing money every year for 10 years, I finally sold it at an even bigger loss. And still, I never gave up on my dreams, nor should you give up on your dreams.
In the early 2000s, I started an architectural precast fabrication company. It lost nearly half a million dollars in just two years, and I had to shut it down. It was another tough setback, but I never gave up on my dreams, nor should you give up on your dreams.
In the mid-2000s, I started a steel erection company and ran it for several years. After losing more than $2 million, I had to close the doors. Despite it all, I never gave up on my dreams, nor should you give up on yours.
During the recession of 2008 to 2010, I was flat broke with four companies, lots of employees and no business to do. A good month for me during that period was losing around $200,000. I paid consultants $30,000 to tell me how to survive. Their answer was to bankrupt two of the companies. Instead of getting rid of the companies, I got rid of the consultants. I never gave up on my dreams, nor should you give up on your dreams.
These failures were nothing more than stoplights and a few wrong turns along the way. I still had the destination programmed in my mind and written down. I maintained focus on my dream.
I had friends and people I admired tell me there was no way I was going to make it in business, and that it would be impossible to reach the high goals I set for myself. I didn’t give up on my dreams. Instead, I surrounded myself with different advisors and friends.
You are the captain of your own ship from here on out. As the captain, you must decide on a port of destination, set your course, assess conditions, and establish your predicted arrival time. Once you start your engines, you must actively steer. You can’t simply put the boat in gear and jump in a lifeboat. Without your guidance, at best you’ll find yourself adrift at sea and lost. At worst, you’ll capsize in the middle of the ocean with no help in sight.
I encourage each of you to act on your ideas, your thoughts and your dreams. There will be hard times, obstacles, and rough waters on. But if you never give up, you will reach your destination.
Remember this on this very special day: Your graduation is a stepping stone to bigger and better things. There will be naysayers who tell you there is no way you can make your dreams become a reality. Don’t listen to them. Never give up on your dreams and don’t let anyone or anything stop you from reaching your destination.
Congratulations and best wishes for your future success.
Damian Lang is CEO at Lang Masonry Contractors, Wolf Creek Construction, Buckeye Construction and Restoration, Malta Dynamics Fall Protection and Safety Company, Three Promise Labor Services, and EZG Manufacturing. To view the products and equipment his companies created to make jobsites safer and more efficient, visit his websites at ezgmfg.com or maltadynamics.com. To receive his free e-newsletters or to speak with Damian on his management systems or products, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or call 740-749-3512.