Corporate Executive Shares Lessons of Success with SC State’s 2010 Spring Graduates

Friday, May 14, 2010

Patricia HarrisYour graduation is a celebration of your passage from the academic world to a world of opportunities,” said Patricia Harris, global chief diversity officer for the McDonald’s Corporation.

Harris gave the keynote address to more than 450 SC State graduates during the University’s 2010 Spring Commencement on Friday, May 7th. She expressed her excitement to share in the educational milestone of the graduates to include her niece and two nephews.

Originally from the small town of McBee, S.C., where African-Americans make up two percent of the population, Harris stated that most people didn’t expect her to soar to great heights or become the person she is today. She however had a different way of thinking.

“It’s not where you are from, it’s where you’re going.  It’s not what you drive, it’s what drives you.  It’s not what’s on you, but what’s in you. It’s not what think, but it’s what you know,” stated Harris.

Harris also informed graduates of the world of opportunities that awaits them. She shared important lessons she learned while achieving the great success she’s experienced thus far.

“Prepare yourselves for the opportunities that will be coming,” urged Harris.  “Your graduation today completes what is just the first leg of a long trip ahead of you. Each of you is destined for leadership positions and outstanding accomplishments, but you will have to earn them in the future not today.”

Noting that the American dream is not about starting at the top and working your way down, but the complete opposite, Harris shared her 34 year journey with McDonalds, starting out as an administrative assistant and later becoming the corporation’s global chief diversity officer.

“When I started out with McDonald’s, I thought it was a little hamburger company with not much future. I did not realize that it was a fast growing enterprise that provided huge opportunities for franchisees, suppliers and employees.  Today, McDonald’s employs some 1.7 million people in more than 113 countries around the world, and I am still there growing and finding new opportunities.” 

Continuing to her second lesson, Harris pointed out that adaptability is key. “It is critical that you can change with the things that come into your life,” she said.  “Opportunities can be found when you least expect them, as long as you are prepared, adaptable and as long as you are open to them.”

As she referenced the famous quote adopted by McDonald’s, “Lifting As We Climb,” Harris concluded her message by sharing the importance of providing opportunities for others and giving back to society.

“You will succeed by the opportunities that you provide to others. No matter where you work or what you do, lifting as you climb will make you stronger and more successful,” expressed Harris. “Finally, I truly believe you are going to help others find their opportunities.  Just remember that opportunities come with responsibilities. One of the most important is to give back to your community, to give back to your country and to your society. Donations are always important, but contributing your time and talent is even more meaningful,” concluded Harris.

At the end of Harris’ commencement address, President George E. Cooper conferred her with the honorary Doctor of Humane Letters, which recognizes the excellent achievements of those who contribute to humanity and philanthropic work. Emily England Clyburn, SC State University alumna and wife of Sixth District Congressman James E. Clyburn, was also presented the honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree by President Cooper.

Upon completion, the Archives and History Center, housed within the James E. Clyburn University Transportation Center, will be named in honor of Mrs. Clyburn.