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2004 Convocation Address to the Professional Masters Graduates
May 15, 2004

Howard S. Engle, an international tax partner with the Chicago office of Deloitte & Touche, specializes in advising US multinationals on all aspects of conducting business outside the United States. Among his many contributions to the College has been his an unprecedented three terms as president of the College of Business Alumni Board. His remarks are included here with his permission.

 

Howard Engle.Dean Ghosh, distinguished faculty, graduates, friends and family…it is my distinct honor to be with you today... and to add my congratulations to the words of many others on this very special occasion.

As an Illinois graduate, who is married to an Illinois graduate and the proud father of two Illinois graduates, I bring a perspective that I hope will be helpful to you as you celebrate your accomplishment.

Some 37 years ago, I arrived on campus as a teenager (since this is such a smart group…let me add that I was a very young teenager) to begin a journey that was filled with excitement and not an insignificant amount of anxiety.

Growing up in the Chicago area, I was certainly familiar with the University and its reputation. But frankly, I had no appreciation for the stature and very special nature of the College, its resources and its faculty…not on a local or national basis and certainly not on a global basis. And as a teenager leaving home for the first time, I was quite predictably more concerned with the answers to such critical questions as ...where was I going to live, would I get along with my roommate, how was the food going to taste, what were the girls going to be like…and most importantly, could a budding business maven who had arranged to self finance his education get by on a budget of $10 a week! Yes, $10 a week. Recognize this was at a time when base tuition was $85 per semester!!!

My plans were not aided in that first year when I found that my diligent although naïve efforts to schedule my classes in what I thought was such a shrewd and efficient manner had me going from my Illinois Street Residence dorm room to David Kinley Hall at 8, over to the Physics Building on the Engineering campus at 9 and back to David Kinley Hall at 10! Who needs a map? So much for my plans to get my classes out of the way efficiently.

Not to be deterred, and recognizing that as a prospective executive I would need to make some tough decisions, I calmly allocated some $50 out of my not very large reserve to purchase a bicycle to help me navigate this cross-campus journey. A bicycle that promptly disappeared just two days later while I shopped around for the best lock I could find. Welcome to Illinois!

Well, we all laugh at these little life lessons as we move along but they seem so important at the time. And, I'm sure each of you has your own stories about your arrival on campus and how you began to appreciate this wonderful institution.

Fortunately, things did improve from my rocky start. My interest in my classes, my professors and my studies grew enormously as new areas were explored and new possibilities considered. I was fascinated by the potential of my experience and the possibility that I might exceed the modest and for the most part unknown expectations I had when I arrived on campus. I begun to appreciate how special this University really was and in my case, how potentially valuable the foundation I was building would be in the future.

I couldn't get enough knowledge while here. I took whatever classes I could absorb and participated in a variety of campus and college activities. I didn't have to be reminded to do my homework -- I did so and then some.

Someone once asked the famous baseball player Yogi Berra when he went in to a restaurant to order a pizza… whether he wanted it cut in 4 pieces or 8. Yogi answered "you better make it 8 - I'm really hungry." Well, I too was hungry -- and found the environment here an almost unlimited laboratory for learning and scholarship.

And I managed to learn how to use my time so that I could have a full schedule of leisure activities and made some friendships that I cherish today.

But, I kept setting my sights higher as my understanding of what may lay ahead became bit by bit, more clear. I began to realize how fortunate I was to have selected this great University and College - albeit more by convenience, affordability and luck -- than by any scientific or measured process.

Four years later my excitement and enthusiasm was validated when I learned that Illinois graduates were actually pretty special and that not only did exciting opportunities exist - but there were many of them. My confidence was sky high as I began to actually be "recruited" by large, important firms. Personal letters on impressive looking stationery seemed to arrive every day. Office visits and business lunches with a drink or two were not unusual. Pretty heady stuff for a 21 year-old…

Upon graduation, I was proud to accept an offer from Arthur Andersen to join their Chicago office as a new associate at the lofty salary of $11,800 a year. Yes, over $225 per week. Plus overtime. An amount…by the way… I was told was the highest of my entering class.

Andersen was a wonderful experience and created opportunities that I never had dreamed possible. Travel, access, knowledge and opportunity were whatever I wanted them to be. And at the heart of this opportunity was the foundation I had built at Illinois.

Ever the enabler, the credential represented by the Illinois experience seemed to recognized everywhere. People seemed to be immediately impressed at what it said and what it meant… and by inference applied that positive feeling to me. It said something in very understandable terms about me as an individual and about the foundation of learning that I had experienced. It provided a common bond between and among me and the years of Illinois graduates who had preceded me and of course, the classes of graduates that would follow. It was a credential that I would always have and treasure…as I do today… appreciating my good fortune for having had the opportunity to call Illinois my home.

And its significance has only grown in stature. When my professional life was disrupted by the well publicized and unprecedented implosion of Andersen two years ago, the continuity of my Illinois foundation was untouched. And in many ways having the stability of an Illinois credential facilitated the movement of my practice and people to my new firm, Deloitte & Touche, in what has been a very rewarding and pleasing manner. I've made acquaintances with new colleagues, developed new relationships and continued my involvement with the College and University without missing a beat. I have found many others who share a common bond and feel as passionate about the University as I do.

While the transition was not without challenge, the comfort of having an Illinois connection that was not disrupted…in many ways made things possible.

So what should you, proud, accomplished 2004 graduates of this wonderful institution, look forward to as you explore new opportunities? Some of you will no doubt continue your education here or at other universities around the world. Some will begin careers with the world's best companies and embark on journeys that will take you some incredible places. Some will work for public institutions here and elsewhere and provide immeasurable value in a variety of ways. And others will choose to form or develop your own businesses and participate in family ventures and exciting entrepreneurial opportunities.

But all of you will be Illinois graduates… and all of you will always carry the proud heritage of this University wherever you will go. You will proudly display the blue and orange and may even hum a few bars of "Hail to the Orange…" when prompted. I know I still do. If you could see my golf bag, you would find an orange and blue bag with hand made orange and blue head-covers and an orange and blue towel -think I'm not proud??? By the way, I also put orange and blue dots on my golf balls to identify them as my own.

But you will also be beginning a period where you can directly participate in a process of ensuring that this great institution continues its long legacy by giving back - giving back in ways that are comfortable to you - giving back in ways that will grow over time.

From a selfish point of view --- this makes perfect sense. We talk about "stewardship" in the graduate class I have taught on campus for the past 15 years … and how prudent investors will protect their investment by their actions and the way that they allocate resources. Why wouldn't you want to do everything possible to ensure that the stature of this great institution continues to grow and in doing so, enhance the value and importance of your degree?

And in thinking about how to best protect your investment…an investment that is substantial for all of you…my message to each of you would be identical to the many conversations I have had with my two boys - David and Andy - who are recent graduates of the University - a message about how they can ensure that the value of their education and degree continues to grow by "giving back" to the University as they develop their careers.

Here are just a few ideas for you to consider:

  • Stay involved. Stay connected to your college and department through alumni and college activities. Take advantage of today's technology to stay connected with your department activities through email and websites and look for opportunities to provide input or access as your responsibilities increase. The College's alumni activities are wonderful ways to do this and will allow you to network with colleagues who have similar interests. I have found my many years of association with the College's alumni association a wonderful experience and a chance to develop relationships that are among my most rewarding today.
  • Be an ambassador for the College and University. Speak proudly of your Illinois affiliation. Look for opportunities with your firm or organization to help increase the presence of Illini now and in the future. Get involved in your company's recruiting efforts. Set a standard of excellence that will showcase your experience and validate the special nature of your accomplishment. Look for opportunities to help educate and inform others about Illinois. This may include colleagues, friends, family and prospective students who will value your insight and experience.
  • Share. As you move along you will rapidly see the power of your Illinois experience. You will see doors that may open a bit more easily for you. With this opportunity will come access and with access will come the ability to help ensure that the experience of others is consistent with yours. Look for opportunities to return to campus to share your experience…and to share your expertise with others. I have made my visits to Champaign a priority for over 30 years and enjoy every trip I make. To the extent you are able to do so, I encourage you to do the same. Not only will it visibly reinforce the dynamic nature of this institution as it grows and expands, it will provide an opportunity for you to be a part of the College in many ways …as a volunteer, guest speaker, visitor or lecturer… or in many other important roles.
  • Support the College. Recognize the importance of helping this great institution generate the resources needed to enhance programs, faculty and facilities. Today's world is a very difficult world for public institutions. Resources are scarce and in demand. As your careers grow and mature, your opportunity to support this institution will increase in a variety of ways. Support can and will come from your companies, your colleagues and from you and your family. Make it a point to make this support a priority. I know I have… and it has been one of the most rewarding things I have done.

My wise friend Yogi Berra once said that "you need to be careful if you don't know where you are going…because you might not get there" Graduates, I have every confidence that with your ability and skills, with the education you have received, with the relationships you have made, …and with the enormous value of the Illinois degree, the foundation for your future success is firmly in place. Set your sights high. I have every confidence you will get to where you want to go… and achieve and surpass your goals.

Thank you very much for the privilege of letting me visit with you today. It has been an honor to be with you on this very special day.


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