Video of Mitt’s speech begins here http://www.regent.edu/events/commencement/2007/video_high.cfm at 29:00
Swim in Deep Water by Mitt Romney
I don’t remember when it was exactly that I finally went past the sandbar. My family had a summer cottage on the shores of one of the Great Lakes. For the first forty or so feet, the lake is shallow, warm, and protected from big waves by the sandbar. That’s where I spent most of the hot summer days as a boy. I liked it there.
One day, my brother got me up on water skis. Perhaps fearing that a turn would make me fall, he drove the boat, and me, straight out into the deep. By the way, this lake is over 100 miles wide. I screamed at him the whole terrifying ride. He took me about a half mile out. But ever after, the deep water was where I wanted to be: surfing in the breakers, water skiing, diving. I got out of the shallow water for good. Over the years, I have watched a good number of people live out their lives in the shallows. In the shallows, life is all about yourself, your job, your money, your house, your rights, your needs, your opinions, your ideas, and your comfort.
In the deeper waters, life is about others: family, friends, faith, community, country, caring, commitment. In the deeper waters, there are challenging ideas, opposing opinions, and uncomfortable battles. Almost every dimension of your life can be held to the shallows or taken into the deeper water. Your career, your involvement with others, your spouse and your children, your politics, each can be lived with you comfortably at the center. Or, they can draw you out of yourself, into service and sacrifice, into selflessness.
At some point in your life, a few of you may be presented with the opportunity to step off your career path, to give yourself fully to some kind of service. When I was asked to leave my investment company to run the Olympics in Salt Lake City, I dismissed the idea out of hand. I was making too much money, I didn’t know bupkes about running a sports event. The job would pay me nothing. The organization was in the worst condition of any I had ever seen. And, after the Games were over, the position would lead nowhere. It was a dead end. I took it. It was the highlight of my professional life. I gave more of myself than I ever had before. I came to know and respect remarkable people.
There are currencies more lasting than money. It can be enormously rewarding to take the unobvious course, to jump into the deep water. Bias is shallow thinking and shallow water. Read widely, particularly from people who disagree with you. Argue to learn rather than to win. If you don’t respect, I mean really respect, the views of people who disagree with you, then you don’t understand them yet.
There are smart people on both sides of almost every important issue. Learn from them all. If you have life all figured out in neat little packages, you’re in Neverland, not the real world. And it’s boring there. There’s one more thing I’ve seen in the people who swim in the deep waters of life. They don’t fashion their values and principles to suit their self-interest; they live instead by enduring principles that are fundamental to society and to successful, great lives.
I learned important lessons about those principles from some of the Olympians I saw in Salt Lake City, like bobsledder Vonetta Flowers. Vonetta was brakeman on USA sled two. All the attention, however, was on sled one, the sled that had taken the World Cup and was a lock for the Olympic Gold. But just before the Olympics, the pilot of sled one dropped her partner and invited Vonetta Flowers to join her. Vonetta had a tough decision. On sled one, she’d get a gold medal for sure; the first Olympic gold to be won by an African American in the Olympic Winter Games. Those of us rooting for US medals hoped she would jump to sled one. She didn’t. She decided that friendship and loyalty to her longtime teammate on sled two was more important than winning the gold. Of course, sled one did well. But when sled two beat them all, coming in first, the crowd went nuts. And tears dripped off Vonetta’s cheeks. Friendship and loyalty above gold.
You live one time only. Don’t spend it in safe, shallow water. Launch out into the deep. Give yourself to your family, to your career, to your community. Open your mind to diverging viewpoints. And live, not by what suits the moment, but by the principles that endure for a lifetime. Jump in, the water’s fine!