Nikki Haley

Commencement Address at the University of South Carolina - May 8, 2015

Nikki Haley
May 08, 2015— Columbia, South Carolina
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South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley received an honorary degree of doctor of public service and delivered the commencement address at the University of South Carolina.

Thank you very much. I want to thank President Pastides and of course the board.

You know, as daughter Indian parents, I first want to say, if you know in the Indian community, your parents, they raise you and they want you to be one of three things – either a doctor, a lawyer or an engineer. So now I can tell them I made it – I'm a doctor!

Thank you very much. I'm incredibly honored.

To President Pastides, members of the faculty and staff, trustees, families, friends and most of all to the distinguished members of the University of South Carolina's class of 2015, let me say this – it's a great day in South Carolina.

It's true – I say that often. The wonderful thing about our state and this time, is that each day brings with it a different reason to celebrate. It's something I never take for granted, something we should all be proud of.

But today – today is different.

Mark Twain once said that "There are basically two types of people - people who accomplish things and people who claim to have accomplished things. The first group is less crowded." Today – because of the people filling this arena, because of your hard work, your dedication, your sacrifice, your talent – we've made Mr. Twain's first group a little more crowded.

To the faculty sitting around me, let me say thank you. Thank you for shepherding through this wonderful university the next generation of South Carolina's leaders. Thank you for being a tutor, a mentor, a friend. The great American poet and educator Robert Frost said, "I'm not a teacher, but an awakener." You have awakened in young minds entrusted to you a desire to learn, an ability to achieve and a capacity to lead. Today is your celebration, too.

To the parents and the grandparents, the brothers and the sisters, aunts and uncles – I can feel the pride radiating from you. It should. Nothing of great consequence is ever realized alone. And make no mistake – earning a degree from such a prestigious university is an act of great consequence. You'll hear it from their graduates today, but you'll hear from me as well – they could not have done this without you. The support of family means everything.

And to the graduates of the Class of 2015 from this proud Clemson Tiger, I say congratulations. [pause] I knew you were going to boo me on that one.

For the last few years – some of you did it in four, some in three, maybe some of you like me did it in five, yes I was a five-year girl – you have called the University of South Carolina your home. It has been a place of challenge and success, of friendship and heartache, of lesson after lesson both inside and out of the classroom. Over these years, you have grown. You have changed. And now, you have graduated. You have completed this part of your journey, and now the world awaits – anxiously – to see what you will do next.

Believe it or not, it was not that long ago that I sat where you sit, faced with the choices and the challenges and the uncertainties, but most of all the opportunities that lie ahead of you.

I've long believed in the benefit of reaching out to those who have been where I'm going, who have walked in the path I'm soon to travel. Anytime someone can save me a few steps – or even better, the pitfalls beneath them – I take that as a huge opportunity of valuable advice. So on this day of celebration for you, for your family and your friends, I'd humbly like to share some things I have learned along the way.

First, trust who you are.

Golda Meir, the first female prime minister of Israel, once said the following: "Trust yourself. Create the kind of self that you will be happy to live with all your life. Make the most of yourself by fanning the tiny inner sparks of possibility into flames of achievement."

You don't need to look anywhere outside yourself for confirmation. Your gut matters. You know yourself better than anyone else does, and that will be true forever. You know what is right and what is not. You know what will make you proud and what will make you strong. That knowledge is a wonderful thing – if you trust it.

So don't shy away from who you are or from what you know. Your core beliefs and the intuition they drive mean something. Trust them. Trust your gut. It will serve you well.

Second, push through the fear. Life is easier within our comfort zones, but it's also a lot less interesting.

In the 1960s, my parents were living in India, both born from families of privilege. They were well-educated, they were secure, and they had all the comforts of upper-class families in that place and time. Life was fine for them and would have remained so had they stayed. But they wanted better than fine. They knew America was a place of unlimited opportunity and they wanted those opportunities for their children – even if it meant starting over. And so they left, going into the unknown, with just eight dollars in their pocket, moving first to Canada and then later to the small, rural town of Bamberg, South Carolina.

I don't pretend to know the depths of the fear they felt when they landed in Columbia – across the world from their home, away from their friends and family, a place different from anything they had ever experienced – nor what it felt like waking up each day in Bamberg, the only Indian family in that small southern town, Mom determined in her sari and Dad proud in his turban.

But I know whatever fear they felt, they pushed through it. They raised four children, made friends, grew a business. They built a life, and a little more than forty years after they arrived in Bamberg, my parents stood on stage and watched as their daughter was sworn as the 116th governor of the state they adopted as their home quote. [applause]

"I learned that courage was not the absence of fear but the triumph over it," said Nelson Mandela. "The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear."

Don't be afraid of being afraid. Push through it. Triumph over it. Find the fear and then conquer it. For if you aren't putting yourself in situations that make you uncomfortable, then you've got some living to do.

Third, actions matter far more than words.

It's not what you say, it's what you do that people will remember you for. The story of America is the story of men and women of action. George Washington, Susan B Anthony, the Roosevelts, Rosa Parks. These icons of American history changed our world not by what they said but by what they did.

And even those words that we remember so well, the letters and speeches and governing documents we still revere, mean what they do to us today because of the deeds we know they represent.

Thomas Jefferson's Declaration of Independence would simply be an elegant letter and not a seminal founding document if it wasn't for the courage of he and his fellow revolutionaries who put not just their freedom but their lives on the line in the war against Britain.

The Gettysburg Address, a mere 272 words still taught to every schoolchild a hundred and fifty years after they were spoken, derive their great power from Abraham Lincoln's towering strength, a strength that enabled him to stand behind those words, do what was right and free the slaves.

Even Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech, perhaps the most important piece of American rhetoric in the 20th century, would mean less if we didn't know he spent his entire life working each day to make that dream a reality. His words mattered, of course, but they mattered so much more because he lived them.

It's not what you say but what you do that will ultimately define your life. Live with that understanding, knowing that your words matter far less than the actions that you take and that those actions are the greatest window into the person that you are.

Fourth, whatever you do, be great at it and make sure people remember you for it.

I know I've quoted a few giants today – Mandela and Frost, Meir and Twain – but this comes from place much closer to home and to my heart – my mother. It was her mantra and she drilled it into me from a very young age.

Growing up, my parents had an upscale women's clothing store. It was truly a family business. We all participated one way or the other, either after school or on weekends or during our "free time." When I was 13 years old, our bookkeeper decided it was time for her to move on and she asked my mother who she should train as a replacement. My mom grabbed my arm and said, "Train her." The outgoing bookkeeper was all out of sorts – a 13-year-old couldn't keep the books for a growing retail business – but my mom was insistent. "Teach her. She'll be great at it."

It's that philosophy – my mom's philosophy – to always, always be great that I've carried with me through every stage in my life. Because if something's worth doing, it's worth doing great. It's worth being remembered for.

Finally, remember that after today, you represent more than just yourself. You represent the entire University of South Carolina.

Be proud of the university that is propelling you further along the path to adulthood. It's an amazing place – one that has given you experiences and friendships you will no doubt treasure for the rest of your life. But make the university just as proud of you as you are of it. Act with integrity. Be honest. Work hard. Take risks. Give back. Be joyful.

You're a Gamecock now, now and forever. That means something. For many of you, I'm sure it feels like this is the greatest day of your life, and it should. It's an amazing accomplishment, no matter what path brought you here. But what makes me so excited for you and so proud for the chance to play a small role in your celebration today, is that I know if you want them there are far greater days in your future.

So enjoy today. Hug your mom or your dad, your brother or your sister. Thank a professor. Call your grandmother. Share it with all your friends.

And tomorrow, get back to work. Because we can't wait to see what the University of South Carolina class of 2015 does next.

Thank you, God bless you, and may he continue to bless the entire state of South Carolina.

University of South Carolina. "2015 Spring Commencement- Nikki Haley hooding & speech." YouTube video, 15:31. May 9, 2015.