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Remarks by Dr. Tommy Clark '92 DMS '01 at Convocation, Sept. 23, 2008

Posted 09/23/08

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Tommy Clark

Thank you all.  Thanks, Tom.  A special thanks to Jim and Susan.  A real privilege to be up here.  I guess the first thing...there are a lot of valedictorians out there and I guess, just to sort of put everybody at ease, I was certainly not a valedictorian.  I was looking at the professors in the first couple of rows...I saw Professor Conkey down there and I don't think I did too well in her class.  I was an English major and fortunately, there are not too many of my English professors...Lou Renza, Spengemann, Donald Pease, or any of those guys around because English wasn't my strength. 

One of the things I really want to talk about today is...I think grades are a marker for talent.  And obviously everybody here has demonstrated a certain level of talent.  But, I think the key for you guys, and I think the opportunity you have in college, is to actually figure out what actually is my talent and how can I use it a little bit better.  The reason I think that is so important is that I think if you can figure out what your talent actually is, you are going to have a really great life.  You are going to have a wonderful job...a hobby...whatever it is...whatever that thing where your talent lies: if you can figure that out, work will never seem like work.  So that is why I think it is important. The other reason I think it is important is that if you can figure out what it is, you are going to have a big impact on the world as well.  When you are doing things that you are suited for and [that] you love, and they fit with what you do, then all of a sudden, I think the opportunity to have a bigger impact is there.  So I think that's why it is important. 

Just to sort of break the ice and do something a little bit of the things that the soccer team does, and I do it with my little four-year-old soccer team and the Dartmouth men's team probably does this too... is a little game titled, "Do This, Do That."  So just to make sure nobody is falling asleep yet, I'm going to do something silly and I'll say, "do this."  When I say that, you have to do it.  If I say "do that," you don't do it.  It's like Simon Says.  Okay, I'm watching, even the people up in the back, I'm watching you, okay?  Here we go.  Do this [has audience gesture]. Do this [has audience gesture].  Do this [has audience gesture].  Do that [has audience gesture].  Pretty good, actually.  I don't think we Dad won't be happy.  He's the master of getting people to do that.  So I need to work on that piece. 

Back to talent.  Hopefully everybody is awake up at the back now.  Back to talent, I think the hard part about talent is trying to figure out what exactly your talent is.  It certainly has taken me a long time.  One of the things, as I was thinking about this speech and trying to get ready for it, I was thinking "what are the ways you can find out what it is that you are suited for in life?"  And I think one of the best things you can do is to look back and try to find the things you found yourself doing.  If you think back on high school, what were the activities that did not seem like work?  What were the things you found yourself signing up for?  Or what were the classes that you went to that you just seemed to love, and were interested in reading more and more about, whatever topic it was?  So one of the things I would encourage you guys to do is to stop and to think a little bit about what do those activities mean for you guys.  I really encourage you to pay attention to what you have done in the past.  I think the best way to plan for the future is to sometimes think to the past.

"If you can figure out exactly what your talent is ... you're going to have a big impact on the world as well. When you're doing things that you're suited for, and that you love ... then all of a sudden the opportunity to have a bigger impact is there."

- Dr. Tommy Clark '92 DMS '01

I actually did not take my own advice.  I've done lots of different things, and I've sort of stumbled into the position I am in today.  But if I think back on my life, I can think of a couple of stories which I find funny.  I don't know if you will, but I chuckle as I think of them in my head, of situations I was in as a kid ... It seems that when I look at my life one of the things I always done is start things.  One of the first things I started, I moved to a new town and I was 10 years old.  There was really no organized soccer in Scotland for kids.  You had to be about 12 years old before there was any organized soccer.  So the kids, we made up our own teams.  I arrived in this new town and there was already a set of teams there.  I could have joined one of the teams there, but I decided to make my own team.  The name of my team was Clark's Cannonballers.  The Cannonballers was a reference to how hard we might shoot the ball or something like that.  The leader of the kids around was a kid, Alan Brand.  He was sort of one of those kids, he smoked at age 11.  He had ginger hair.  He had big black boots and he would tie the laces all the way up.  He was quite an intimidating guy.  His team was called Brand's Bombers.  Brand's Bombers were so good and so dominant in our neighborhood that they chipped in and bought themselves a trophy because they would win it.  The thing that I did, and I think this was one of my earliest executive decisions, I found the best player in the neighborhood.  His name was Scott Taylor and his nickname was Pelé. Although in Scotland we called him "Pelly."  Scott was the best player around and he was on my team.  We built our team up and we had our playbook and whatever we had.  Finally, we beat Brand's Bombers in the final.  It was a very exciting day.  Alan Brand, he didn't beat us up.  He actually let us take the trophy home for 24 hours.  I still have a photo outside my house with the trophy.  That was one example I think of a story.

Another one, which I'll tell briefly...I moved to Hanover High School as a sophomore.  One of the things, there was a Hanover High School Math Team.  I think it had fallen on hard times and there was about four kids on the Math Team.  For whatever reason, I decided I wanted to be on the Math Team, but I wanted the Math Team to be really exciting and great.  So I managed to convince one of my teachers, I think a Dartmouth '71, Stanley Crane, to give us extra credit if we joined the Math Team.  So straight away, I incentivized the potential employees or work force.  The next thing I did was...I rebranded the club.  We changed from being the Hanover High Math Team to the Hanover High Math Squad-a subtle change.  We came up with a tag line and a little logo.  It was absolute value bars with a radical sign in the middle.  That was our logo and the tag line followed from there.  Those are silly examples.  In some ways, I kind of like that they are such silly examples because they are very easy to overlook.  Something as silly as those two stories, but I think that when I look back carefully, I think I would have found that what I ended up doing now is very, very similar in some ways to starting those clubs, I guess.  I think that is one thing.  The point for you guys is to really pay attention to the things that you find yourself drawn to, and the things that you find yourself doing.  Even if they seem very small and insignificant things, pay attention. 

The other thing, and this one sounds like a bit of a cliché, but to listen to the voice within.  It sounds so clichéd but I think it is really, really true.  For me...the voice that I had that sort of went around and around and around was to try and use soccer to fight HIV.  To give just a little bit of context, I lived in Zimbabwe as a kid.  I'd gone back after my Dartmouth education and I played soccer and I taught.  The time I was in, the decade of the '90s, what happened in Zimbabwe was that the life expectancy had gone from 69 to 35.  At the same time, the HIV prevalence had doubled from around 12 percent to around 26 percent.  Pretty terrible catastrophe.  For me, that was very personal, as people I knew had died of AIDS.  At the same time in Uganda, HIV prevalence went from 12 percent down to four or five percent.  Really, about a million lives were estimated being saved and the thing is, when they looked at Uganda and they tried to figure out what happened in Uganda in the _90s and how was that different from what happened in Zimbabwe, and Botswana, and South Africa and all the other countries in Southern Africa, the one thing they found was in Uganda ... was really high level political leadership.  President Museveni stood up and spoke out very loudly that HIV was a problem.  The other thing they found was that the people on the ground were really energized and mobilized and doing very simple things.  It was nothing complicated, nothing fancy, but the people identified this as a problem and took action. 

So in my thinking, the opportunity that we had with soccer in Africa and HIV was that we had a lot of the biggest-name stars...these were people that I knew and certainly had access to...and I thought maybe we couldn't get President Mugabe or other political figures on our side, but we could certainly get the soccer players on our side.  So I thought that was one thing.  Another thing was kids love to play soccer.  Whenever you have a soccer ball or anything else, the kids show up. So I thought this was a great way to really attract and use the game itself and the stars to really bring people together. 

I won't go into too much detail about the organization.  But ... the idea was, coming back to the point about listening to that voice, the idea went around and around in my head for a long time before I actually did anything.  So I guess I would encourage you: don't despair, as long as you continue to listen to that voice and commit to taking action at some point. I wasn't sure how to take action.  I finally had some friends who were excited.  I had a residency director who had no idea how to do what I needed to do, but he was very excited about it and essentially was the enabling person.  I guess at this point, we have a pretty big organization.  We have about 50 employees.  As Tom mentioned, we have about over 200,000 kids have gone through the program.  It has been very exciting.  So the take home point: listen to that voice. 

Tying, I guess, what I am doing now back into my Dartmouth days, I'm trying to think about a Dartmouth message for you guys.  At the time when you are at Dartmouth, sometimes I think you don't appreciate Dartmouth sometimes until you've left.  And you'll find that especially when you go home for Christmas break.  You'll be excited to come back.  When you go away on an off term, you'll be excited to come back.  I think the thing that makes it exciting are the relationships that you build with the people that are here.  And really for me...Grassroot Soccer has really been a microcosm of the greater Dartmouth community for me.  The number of people, people in this room, that have been so helpful and instrumental for me and for the organization doing what it has done, I can't overstate that.  From Jim Wright really being just someone who has been so open and enthusiastic and shown up and talked at things; to Jeff Cook, the men's soccer coach, all the way down; the staff; Board members.  There's probably been 25 people ... very heavily involved in Grassroot Soccer from the Dartmouth community.  So ... as you're thinking about your Dartmouth...your time here, it is really the relationships and the people you are going to meet that are going to make it special. 

I guess I would like to finish up now.  At the beginning of the Grassroot Soccer program, all of the kids show up and we have them sign a contract.  The contract says two things on it: it says "respect" and "participation."  I think those are two good things.  This is very similar to the first day at the Grassroot Soccer program.  The setting is a little bit different.  The number of people present is a little bit different, but in many ways it is very similar. So I would encourage you to think about those two things, respect and participation.  When you think of respect, respecting each other.  I think respecting...I was a groundskeeper at Dartmouth for, I guess, six months in total and I loved it.  And I think respect for the groundskeepers means not walking across the "keep off the grass" signs.  I'll be watching you guys for that too.  Respect for the people in the dining services, all the people who are helping out, for your professors, and especially for each other.  I think respect is a really, really important thing.  And I think participation is really the call to action-to not sit, to really be engaged in what you are doing.  I don't know how many times around you have at life, but I know you've certainly have got this one time and really put everything you can into it.  To not worry about making a fool of yourself a little bit or to taking a risk or taking a chance, but really to get out there and participate fully in the experience.  Those are the two things.

Just to finish it off, what we do at Grassroot Soccer-we do something called a kilo.  I think perhaps today we can do the biggest kilo of all time.  It is certainly the greenest kilo of all time.  And this is how it will work - once it is over, my speech is done.  I will shout "kilo" and you guys are going to go clap, clap, clap, (pause) clap, clap, clap and you are going to go "woo" [has audience gesture].  That sort of symbol, it's a little silly, it kind of brings the group together and we commit together, respect, participation and not being too afraid to make a fool of ourselves.  So are you ready?  I'll go "kilo," you guys are going to go clap, clap, clap (pause) clap, clap, clap, "woo" and we're done.  That's it. And if it doesn't go well, we'll have to do it again.  So one time, here we go, are you ready?  Kilo!

Audience: clap, clap, clap, (pause) clap, clap, clap, woo.

Perfect. Thank you.

Return to Convocation 2008

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