Portland Business Journal: What do a general, a professional speaker and a professor have in common?
Author: Rob Smith, Portland Business Journal
Posted: June 13, 2013

Read the original story here in the Portland Business Journal. 

It’s funny that I’m writing about commencement speeches today. I skipped my own college commencement. I have no idea who the speaker was.

Some people pay a lot of attention to this kind of stuff. They can rattle off their favorite commencement speeches, such as Steve Jobs’ famous speech at Stanford University in 2005, in which he openly discussed death. I’ve never followed it that closely.

Of course, I’ve never been asked to give a commencement speech. But the three people giving commencement addresses at Oregon’s three largest public universities this weekend are working hard to give the class of 2013 a memorable send-off.

Here’s what’s on tap:

University of Oregon

Graduation date: June 17

Commencement speaker: Tiana Tozer

No. of students graduating: 5,121

As a professional speaker, Tiana Tozer has given hundreds of speeches. The one she’s giving next Monday makes her nervous.

Tozer is the speaker at the University of Oregon’s spring commencement. Oregon State University and Portland State University also hold commencements this weekend.

Tozer was just a 20-year-old sophomore when a drunk driver crashed into her car. She went through 35 surgeries and spent years learning to walk again.

Tozer — a former Paralympian and international aid worker — speaks to a lot of schools and corporate groups, but she’s never given a commencement speech before.

So Tozer, a Portland resident and UO grad, will rely on themes she’s consistently emphasized in all her speeches: It’s who you are inside that makes the difference. Don’t let others put limitations on you. Don’t forget to live your life — sometimes the living of life gets lost in pursuit of goals.

“What can you say that’s really gonna make an impact?” she asks. “I want to help somebody understand that life never really turns out like you expect it to, and that’s OK.”

Portland State University

Graduation date: June 16

Commencement speaker: Richard A. Tapia, Maxfield-Oshman Professor of Engineering, Rice University.

No. of students graduating: 6,180

Richard Tapia has done this before.

Tapia, an engineering professor at Houston’s Rice University, will speak to Portland State students Sunday. It's the largest graduating class in the state of Oregon's history.

Tapia has given several commencement speeches before, including at Claremont College, the University of Texas and his alma mater, UCLA. He never gives the same speech twice.

This time around he’s focusing on his past and the American Dream. He’ll mention his parents, who immigrated from Mexico and never finished high school. He’ll mention that four of his five siblings earned graduate degrees.

He’ll also briefly talk about himself, and his pride at being awarded the National Medal of Science, the highest honor bestowed by the United States government on scientists and engineers. Among his many other honors, Tapia is also the first Hispanic elected to the National Academy of Engineering.

Tapia, though has had his share of adversity. His wife has Multiple Sclerosis and is confined to a wheelchair. A daughter was killed in a car accident.

“The message I’m sharing with people is don’t expect your life to be full of good things,” he said. “There could be some bad things you have to deal with.”

Oregon State University

Graduation date: June 15

Commencement speaker: Maj. Gen. Julie Bentz

No. of students graduating: 5,221

At Oregon State, U.S. Army Major Gen. Julie Bentz will focus on her key message: “Live life, work hard, and love your neighbor.”

Bentz, a 1986 OSU grad, grew up between the small Oregon towns of Scio and Lyons. She is now a key adviser on national security issues to President Obama.

“Life is out there to be lived. There’s hope out there,” said Bentz, who also spoke at the fall 2011 commencement at Washington State University. “Don’t be scared about walking out the door and hitting the ground running.”