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Penn State Mont Alto Graduates 159 Members of the Class of 2014

5/10/2014 —

Penn State Mont Alto recognized 159 members of the Class of 2014 during its Commencement ceremony on May 10, 2014. One hundred sixty degrees were conferred – one student received two degrees – with 68 graduates receiving baccalaureate degrees and 92 receiving associate degrees. [See photos here.]

Commencement Speaker Patrick W. O’Donnell, president and chief executive officer of Summit Health – the largest healthcare provider in Franklin County, Pa. – asked the graduates to make a commitment to becoming lifelong learners and to contemplate the benefits of being a “divergent thinker,” commonly thought of as “thinking out of the box,” he said.

“Be that Divergent Leader,” he said, "the one who makes the difficult decisions, who takes the hard road or the ‘Road Less Traveled.’ While the journey may be more difficult and sometimes painful, your endpoint will be one of self-satisfaction, confidence and alignment with your value system. Make this your True North!" [Read the full speech below.]

Ellen Palmer, chair of the Penn State Mont Alto Advisory Board, opened the ceremony by welcoming the graduates and their families. Chancellor Francis K. Achampong also welcomed the audience and thanked and recognized each group for their contributions to the graduates' success. He congratulated members of the Class of 2014 and challenged them to use their education to transform the lives of others.

During the ceremony, Michael Doncheski, chief academic officer, recognized Hanafiah Harvey, assistant professor of economics, with the Mont Alto Faculty Scholar Award for his many scholarly writings.

Sandra Offutt, member of the Penn State Mont Alto Alumni Society, closed the ceremony by inviting the graduates to stay connected to the University and welcoming them into the Alumni Society.


The Divergent Leader
Penn State Mont Alto Commencement Speech
Presented by Patrick O'Donnell
May 10, 2014

Thank you. Dr. Achampong, esteemed faculty and staff, parents, friends, honored guests, and last but certainly not least, our graduates. It is a privilege and honor to be a part of this very special occasion to celebrate your hard work and dedication. Earning a degree from a higher education institution after many hours of sacrifice provides internal rewards even greater than the diploma you will receive shortly. Your journey has included many temptations that required you to make difficult choices and personal sacrifices for the long-term gains. Well, today is your reward for those times when you decided to write that report or study for an exam instead of hanging out with friends and family.

Many of you have just completed your most significant investment of time and money to date. Congratulations on your foresight and good sense in selecting to pursue your degree at Penn State Mont Alto. As we stand here today, you are on the verge of reaping the rewards for the investment in your education. With a Penn State degree in hand, you now have a key to open many new doors in your professional pursuits. If we examine the definition of learning, it seems simple in terms of the “cognitive process acquiring skill and knowledge.” Of course, we know that you have gained much more than that.  Your education and experiences here are priceless.  You have not only acquired new skills and knowledge, but you have also broadened your horizons and opened your mind to new thoughts and ideas. The late and great Nelson Mandela once stated that “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” The knowledge you obtained during your education here, along with your ability to learn, equips you with the tools to walk through those doors opened with both confidence and pride. Let’s pause for a moment to reflect on and celebrate your achievement today with a round of applause.

In our remaining time together, I’d like to leave you with some thoughts for you to ponder and consider as you begin the next chapter in your life. A primary goal for higher education is to teach you “How to think” versus “What to think.” Here at Mont Alto, you have been challenged by your professors to think in different ways and appreciate conflicting viewpoints. It is your time to apply what you have learned on “How to think” and make your mark and imprint in this world. I am asking you to continue to build on these foundational elements as you move forward in your life’s journeys. Today, I’d like to make the case for you to make a commitment to become a lifelong learner and contemplate the benefits of being a “divergent thinker.” What is divergent thinking? Divergent thinking occurs in a spontaneous, free-flowing, ‘non-linear’ manner where one generates multiple ideas for a given topic or solution to problems. It is commonly thought of as “thinking out of the box.” This contrasts to convergent thinking, which applies rules to arrive at a single ‘correct’ solution to a problem, such as the answer to an IQ test problem. This process is systematic and linear. Divergent thinking is important as it unleashes our inner creativity to solve complex problems. It is through this cognitive process that we move to accept different ideas and innovative solutions. Creativity or divergent thinking can be identified with openness in expressing feeling, receptivity to ideas, concern for others, desire to grow as a person and actualize one's potentials. This creativity is the exploration of thoughts by a person who is open, curious and imaginative.

Through the years, I have had the good fortune to be exposed to many different mentors and leadership styles. I’m sure it doesn’t come as a surprise that there is no one style or formula that has been proven to guarantee successful results. That is why there are thousands of books that have been written about leadership. Now, I would like you to spend some time thinking about what type of leader you want to be in your professional pursuits. Your career paths will be varied and equally important no matter if you are carrying out a role in the human and health services field, providing business advice or maintaining security over information technology. You will have numerous opportunities to lead and inspire others no matter what your level is in an organization. What type of leader do you want to become? What do you want to be remembered for in your life and career? How do you transcend your core values into your leadership style? Do you want to be known as the person who only cared about results no matter what it takes? I respectfully submit for your consideration the path of a Divergent Leader.  As previously mentioned, being divergent means to move apart in a different direction or deviate from the standard. 

Divergent leaders have a perspective that can put issues and ideas into a different context than the mainstream. Although a sad commentary on modern times, the corporate world all too often adopts common business practices that focus on short-term profits at the sacrifice of the long-term goals. We have gotten used to headlines about fraud, corruption and ignoring consumer safety issues in lieu of profits. The common leader all too often chooses the path of least resistance in decision making. Be that Divergent Leader, the one who makes the difficult decisions, that takes the hard road or the “Road Less Traveled.” While the journey may be more difficult and sometimes painful, your endpoint will be one of self-satisfaction, confidence and alignment with your value system. Make this your True North!

A Divergent Leader can also be characterized as having a willingness to challenge an organization’s current culture, belief system, and “that’s the way we do things here” attitude. Be a leader; demonstrate the courage to share your divergent thinking and thought process. History teaches us about the value of challenging the status quo. Where would Kodak be today if their leadership had challenged the old way of processing film and adopted digital technology? How about Blockbuster? Would their destiny have been different if someone had challenged their plans to build more stores as the internet was changing the delivery of entertainment? Conversely, I submit that Apple, Google, 3M and Netflix are companies that embrace divergent leaders. Each of these companies continues to reinvent themselves with new products and services. Specifically, the innovation and divergent thinking at 3M resulted in a billion dollar idea, Post It Notes.

A Divergent Leader welcomes the different opinions among colleagues, co-workers and employees. Each person brings a unique perspective to his or her individual situation or job. Search out diverse viewpoints, then concentrate your efforts on molding those divergent perspectives and ideas into a comprehensive action plan. This approach is important no matter your occupation or your level within an organization. The success of any organization depends as much on informal leaders as those employed in formal leadership positions.

A Divergent Leader will embrace the strengths of diversity.  Let’s take a look at the symbolism in the hit movie and best selling book, Divergent. The five factions were Dauntless, Amity, Abnegation, Erudite and Candor. Instead of combining these factions to form a stronger community, we witnessed the pitfalls of segregation. Harmony existed only within each faction, which led to the lack of appreciation and respect for the attributes and contributions of the other factions. According to Steven R. Covey, “strength lies in differences not similarities.” One of the strengths of our great country is that we are a melting pot. Certainly, we need to continue to strive for not only more tolerance but to embrace the differences that make us stronger.

As previously mentioned, there are many different leadership styles and approaches that have been equally successful. My goal today was to introduce you to some of the positives of a Divergent Leader. No matter what leadership style you adopt or no matter what your chosen occupation, you can make a difference in this world. At some point in your career, you will be required to make difficult choices and may experience many sleepless nights. In fact, the temptation to take the easy road – although maybe not the right road – could be very appealing at the time. However, you can prepare yourself for these situations from day one if you practice making the right choice even in the most minor of situations. In doing what is right on the small issues, you will develop the habit of doing the right thing so it is an automatic response to a specific situation. This will provide the underpinning to take the divergent path no matter if it is contrary to the popular or trendy opinion. How will you react when you see someone bullied? Will you reach out a helping hand to someone less fortunate than you? Will you seek opportunities to volunteer your time or give that homeless person a smile and dollar when you walk by them? You will soon begin to write a new chapter in your life through your collective actions. You are beginning to create your legacy!

When I was starting my career, I remember reading a guest editorial in a professional journal written by an industry leader who had a terminal illness. That day he wrote knowing that his time was limited while he recounted his life’s journey. He stated that he did not want to be remembered as an industry leader or a CFO that saved a financially distressed company or spent countless hours in the boardroom. He defined his success by the number of young professionals he mentored; time he spent with his family; and the hours he volunteered helping the disadvantaged youth in his community. His leadership transcended both his professional and personal life. As you begin the early years of your career, take a moment to think about how you want your life’s transcript to read someday. You not only control your own destiny but together the Class of 2014 will influence all of our futures.

Today is a celebration of your dedication and commitment to improve your life and the lives of others through education. Hopefully, it will be one of many milestones you achieve in your learning journey. So pause, and smell the sweetness of your success and achievement. It is my wish that your graduation celebration can capture the magnitude of the time, sacrifice and commitment of your efforts and those of others. Celebrate today, choose your path wisely, listen to those divergent thoughts and ideas, and cherish the diverse world in which we live. Be thoughtful in your actions and ways, as they will not only impact you but others as well. It has been an honor to share in this special celebration with you. Congratulations Class of 2014!

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