HARTSVILLE, S.C. — The new president and chief executive of Sonoco Products Co. urged Coker College graduates to pursue lives of significance over lives of success and to strive to have a positive influence on the lives of others and the lives of their communities.
Robert C. Tiede delivered Coker’s 110th commencement address Saturday morning on the Courtyard at Davidson Hall and received an honorary degree.
Coker awarded 177 undergraduate and 14 graduate degrees.
During the ceremony, the Coker Student Government Association named Keven T. Kenyon, professor of history and coordinator of the history program, as its selection for 2018 Master Professor of the Year.
A large crowd gathered on the lawn at Davidson Hall to witness the event.
Coker College President Dr. Robert L. Wyatt called it an honor for Coker to have Tiede address the 2018 graduating class. He said Sonoco and Coker have a historic connection dating back to their founding by Maj. James Lide Coker.
“As you sit here today, you’re probably feeling a range of emotions: excitement, fear, uncertainty, elation,” Tiede said. “And you’re probably thinking about this being the real beginning of your life. And in many ways, it is. But what I would like to talk about to you today, is not so much the beginning, but the end.”
He encouraged the graduates to consider what kind of legacy they will leave behind. “What will you see when you look back?” he asked. “What did you do along the way to, as Steve Jobs said, put a dent in the universe?”
It does not have to be something on a grand scale, he said. “Making a positive difference in someone else’s life puts a dent in the universe,” Tiede said.
Tiede told the graduates that throughout their lives, whether they realize it or not, they will have an effect on the lives of other people.
“The choices you make, the words you use, the actions you take, have a ripple effect and will touch the life of someone else, either positively or negatively,” Tiede said. “The question becomes, how do we live a conscious life, how do we remain conscious of the potential impact our actions have on others and on ourselves?”
He said it’s easy to get caught up in the rush of day-to-day life. “We are all working toward something, and most of the time it is wrapped up in some definition of success,” Tiede said. “Sometimes, it’s our own definition of success, sometimes we’re trying to live someone else’s definition of success.”
He urged the graduates to evaluate their definition of success. “My humble advice to you is to first pursue a life of significance, not a life of success,” Tiede said. “And while not mutually exclusive, they are very different.”
Tiede said he was not telling the graduates that living a life of significance is easy. “I am here to tell you, in my humble opinion, and from my years of experience, it is well worth the effort,” he said.
Success, he said, can be defined by titles, money, and prestige. “But significance in my opinion is much more personal, emotional, you might say spiritual,” Tiede said. “There’s a connectedness with humanity I believe when you talk about significance.”
Significance, he said, is found most often in small actions and gestures that no one else notices. “They say character is what you do when no one else is looking,” he said.
Life, he said, is defined by the people around us, not by cars, big houses and money. “Our culture today does not make people feel good about themselves. We’re teaching the wrong things,” Tiede said. “And you have to be strong enough to say if the culture doesn’t work, don’t buy it. Create your own.”
He quoted one of Christ’s teachings as a cornerstone in building his own life of significance: “For what shall it profit a man, if he gain the whole world and suffer the loss of his soul?”
“I believe this is one of the most powerful lessons he gives us when it comes to leading a life of significance,” Tiede said.