Stone encourages graduates to be leaders, make a difference

Gordon Stone, the Mayor of Pike Road and Executive Director of the Higher Education Partnership, addresses graduates during Monday night's ceremony.

Gordon Stone, the Mayor of Pike Road and Executive Director of the Higher Education Partnership, addresses graduates during Monday night's ceremony.

Pike Road Mayor and Executive Director of the Higher Education Partnership Gordon Stone challenged Troy University graduates to make the most of their opportunities and to pursue their dreams with passion and persistence.

Speaking to more than 100 graduates taking part in the spring commencement ceremony in the Davis Theatre for the Performing Arts at the University’s Montgomery Campus, Stone used the example of a meal at a fine restaurant to outline five important elements to achieving success.

The first element or “the appetizer,” Stone said was leadership.

“What are the ingredients of leadership that you feel are most important? I believe you have to aspire, have discipline, have determination, you have to work, have humility, have a positive attitude and you have to trust. If you take the first letters of all of those words, you have the acronym ‘add what.’ You have to add something to the way you think to separate yourself and put yourself in the role of leadership,” he said. “I want you to know that as members of this graduating class you now have that distinction, that opportunity to lead.”

The next course or “the salad,” Stone said was persistence.

“Did any of you here have to overcome obstacles to get to this point?” Stone asked the graduates. “Did any of you have a moment in your journey to get to tonight when you said ‘I don’t know whether it is worth it?’ But you persisted. You made it. You have achieved it. You have crossed the finish line. Congratulations, now you know what persistence means.”

From there, Stone used the illustration of the “entrée, side dish and dessert,” labeling each pursuit, passion and, finally, prayer.

“You had a vision and you pursued it every day,” he said. “And, in that pursuit, you had to work. You had to prepare for tests when you had other things you could have been doing. Some of you may have had children that were begging you to give them your time. Some of you may have had parents in need. Some of you may have had work-related challenges. But you pursued this degree with a diligence and a determination. I’m going to bet that each one of you have a special feeling inside as you sit here tonight. You have achieved a goal that you pursued and persisted for. That is the beginning of the passion that you need to carry with you into whatever realm you choose to pursue.”

Stone said the final course, “the dessert,” was prayer. “Through prayer, you know that you are not the most important part. You are an important part, but not the most important part,” he said.

Putting all those attributes together, Stone said, was the key to realizing success and truly making a difference.

“If you will put those things together, it does not matter what anyone will tell you. It does not matter what obstacles come your way,” he said. “If you will put those things together and accept the challenge to become leaders, you will help change the things that need changing in your community, you will improve the things that need improving in your workplace, you will help make this state the best it can possibly be.”

Stone encouraged graduates to find their inspiration and follow their drive to make a difference in the world.

“Find someone or something that will inspire you and hold on to it. Look for things that you can trust, people that you know care about you and hold onto them. Let them be your guiding light as you move forward,” he said. “Let me challenge you, do not let your opportunity slip by because you do not know how long you will have it. When you see that open door, walk through it. Follow that drive you have to make a difference. Do everything you can do and you will receive the blessings of networks you never thought you would have, of friendships you never thought you would have, you will receive financial reward, but more than anything else, you’ll receive the satisfaction of knowing that your life’s accomplishments, the things that you will leave behind, will have made life better for other people. If we can all do that then we have done what the good Lord gave us the opportunity to do.”

An agricultural economics graduate of Auburn University with a Master of Business Administration from Auburn University Montgomery, Stone is a former walk-on and letterman on the Auburn football team.

He also serves as Executive Vice President of the National Young Farmer Educational Association and assists them with educational and meeting planning services. For many years, he served as an active participant in his family’s’ cattle farm in Wilcox County.