The 2018 Adler University class of Chicago and Online campus students graduated on October 21. Carolyn Swora, a graduate of the Master of Arts in Industrial & Organizational Psychology Online Campus program, spoke at the commencement ceremony at the Chicago Theatre. Swora started a consulting firm, Pinnacle Culture, in Burlington, Ontario, Canada two years ago after spending 17 years in the pharmaceutical industry and realizing there had to be a better way to work. Swora is inspired to make a difference by helping create better workplaces and more mindful leaders. She shared her commencement speech with us, which highlights her experiences and reflects on how she and her fellow graduates can exemplify Adler University’s guiding values as changemakers.
Here we are. The class of 2018 at Adler University. Today we have received graduate degrees in the areas of psychology, counselling & family therapy, and public service & leadership. Did you know that in 2018 it is estimated that over 780,000 master’s degrees will be conferred in the US and 182,000 doctor’s degrees? Wow, that’s a lot isn’t it. So, it’s easy to think that we are JUST a few folks in this big group of graduates. But we’re not JUST a few. We might be a small group, but we are a JUST group. A group of people who believe passionately in justice and who stand for a more just society.
When we registered at Adler, many of us did so because the proposition Adler provided was different. It connected higher education to social justice and not all schools recruit with this message. By receiving our degrees today, we are accepting a role in the world as changemakers. We have been armed with knowledge and now we need to turn it into action. Action that will drive our society to be more just, bring more equality and create opportunities for everyone, not just a privileged few.
For many, if not all of us, this degree will lead us into meaningful work for a living. We will do work that will impact families, students, athletes, co-workers and communities in the public and private sectors. We will bring change to processes and policies at many levels – municipal through to federal. Our work will help people across all ages, colours, religions, and beliefs. We will be catalysts that bring people together in a world that seems intent on divisiveness. We might be a small few but remember we are a JUST few. The values we have learned here at Adler will guide our behaviours as we make change.
Where will your change be and who will it impact? For me, it is in the workplace. For years, I enjoyed the financial rewards of working in a large corporate company. I climbed the corporate ladder but in reality, I was only a cog in a large machine. I had financial security, but it was eating away at my soul. My last day in this world was the same week I started my Industrial and Organizational Psychology (I/O) degree here at Adler. In one short week, the values that showed up around me shifted from power, privilege and compliance to social interest, pluralism, courage, excellence, and pragmatism. I felt connected to this new world immediately.
My goal now is to help others bring values like these ones at Adler into the workplace and shift the dynamic of just “doing a job” at work to “creating experiences” at work that unleash potential and creativity and welcome diversity and inclusiveness. I talk about values every day with clients, with my family and on social media. Values will guide your behaviour and determine the decisions you make every day. I say this because the values we were grounded in here at Adler are powerful and will guide us into the future as we go out into the world and create change.
There are five and I’m going to go through each one. Let’s start with Social Interest. It’s described at Adler as “being invested in a community and acting with compassion and social responsibility.” It was evident on Day 1 in my I/O classes that we were all invested in building better communities, be that in the military, in government, in childcare, in academia or in the private sector. I saw compassion demonstrated on a weekly basis and I’m sure you saw this value too. Now, how will you take this value of social interest forward in your next pursuit or at work? For me, I have put my energy into the #WorkHuman and Conscious Capitalism movements. I am building partnerships and amplifying my voice to build workplaces that are more compassionate and connected to the human element.
The 2nd value is Pluralism. It’s defined at Adler as “respecting and celebrating human diversity and difference.” Again, this was immediately evident in my classes. Diverse opinions were welcomed, expanding our learning experience, making it richer and more meaningful. It strengthened my desire to be curious instead of divisive, especially in areas where I hold strong beliefs. In our new world outside of Adler, I encourage you to bring this value to life and invite difference instead of chastising it. It can give us all new insights and deepen our understanding of others.
The 3rd Adler value is Excellence and it’s described as “embracing the highest levels of quality, rigor and integrity.” Here’s how this value showed up in class. We had just started a new I/O course, and our collective effort into the discussion board was a little less than stellar. I admit I had become lazy and had not put in a full effort on my work that week. Our professor quickly stepped in and reminded us of our commitment to excellence and that the work shown so far was not acceptable. That was the only reminder we needed for the rest of the program! The level of excellence only got higher after that. Sometimes, we can take this concept of excellence for granted as life can get busy and we can get complacent. But all we need is a gentle reminder. Keep this in mind in your work now. Surround yourself with people who will give you honest feedback and hold you accountable to this high level.
The 4th value is Pragmatism and defined as “pursuing real-world solutions and measurable results, being outcome oriented and evidence based.” I’ll admit, I was expecting a typical academic experience – one rooted in evidence but a little short in reality. I’m happy to say that I was dead wrong on this. I applied learnings from all my classes immediately into my professional work. In fact, I took it one step further and used my course work as research for a book I published earlier this year about workplace culture. As you move forward with your social change agenda, remember that you can’t change everything (as much as we would love to) so be real and stay pragmatic. Your impact will show up in places you might not expect. Remember we don’t need to change the world at once. This is a journey, not a destination, so think about measuring impact along the way to gain support and slowly shift mindsets. We can each make incremental gains which will collectively add up to significant change.
Last but not least, is the value of Courage. At Adler, it is defined as “encouraging leadership, innovation, creativity and challenging the status quo.” I saw this demonstrated throughout my classes by students and faculty, even more so in our second year as we become more comfortable taking risks and stimulating a deeper level of dialogue. In our Adler community, we were surrounded by people with similar values. That made it easier and safer to be ourselves and stand up for what we believed was right. It won’t be as easy in the real world. We will encounter obstacles, challenges, frustrations and disappointments. Expect it to be a challenging road in whatever field you’re in and whatever role you play moving forward. But please don’t give up. There’s too much at stake. That is why this last value is so important. To borrow words from Winston Churchill “Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.”
My fellow Adler Graduates, I urge you to stay grounded in these values and use them to guide you in the next part of your journey. Remember we are not JUST a few. We are a JUST few. We are changemakers grounded by incredible values and filled with undeniable courage. And that’s exactly what the world needs right now.