The following are excerpts from the commencement address of College of Saint Benedict alumna Beth Dinndorf at the college’s 103rd annual graduation ceremony on May 12. On that day Dinndorf, the former president of Columbia College, also received an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree.
Congratulations, graduates of the College of Saint Benedict, Class of 2018! You did it!
I will always treasure this day and this doctoral degree. It is because of my experience at the College of Saint Benedict, as a student, alumna and trustee, that I discovered my passion for higher education, and that it is my calling. … I owe so much of who I am today to Saint Ben’s.
… Graduates, I know that many of you are also discerning what is next for you. Today I want to share with you a few lessons I’ve learned that I hope will help you as you move forward in your life. Most of you are heading into your first real job or to graduate school.
Lesson 1: If you are not terrified or at least anxious about that next step, you might not have reached high enough.
As you look at career opportunities throughout your life, go for the ones that excite and challenge you, even if you think you’re not completely qualified. It’s in those situations when you think you’re not ready that you will learn and grow the most. You’ll figure out how to do it; ask for help, and people will help you.
When I was chosen to be the president of Columbia College after a rigorous search process, my first reaction was “Yes! I did it!” (I am a competitive person and I had given it my all.) My second reaction was sheer terror: “Oh my gosh! Now what do I do?” This was new territory for me, and I was terrified! But very capable and caring people on the board, faculty and staff, alumnae and students guided me and I learned. You will, too.
Lesson 2: When you interview for a position and you don’t get the job, call the interviewer and ask for feedback and advice about what you could have done differently.
Believe me, it takes humility to do that, especially the first time, but you will likely find out the reason you weren’t chosen is not what you’ve been playing in your head about something you must have done wrong. Maybe you just weren’t the right fit. And if you did make a mistake, thank the person for telling you, fix it, and move on. Don’t be surprised if that hiring manager calls you back for another position that is the right fit for you because you showed your desire to learn and grow by calling them.
Lesson 3: Don’t spend time looking backward and ruminating over what is past.
When I first became a college president, I gave more speeches in the first 90 days than I had given in my entire 30-plus years in banking. Bankers don’t give as many speeches as college presidents! When I would make a mistake in a speech, like stumble over words, forget to acknowledge someone, forget to breathe and run out of air mid-sentence, or miss an important fact I wanted to share, I would stew about it for hours afterward. Since I was giving a lot of speeches, I was doing a lot of stewing – and wasting precious time. My time and energy needed to be focused on the future of the college and the students, not on looking back. So I asked for help from people who were good speakers and who had heard me speak. They taught me that what is most important is to be genuine and let people see your heart and passion. That’s what they’ll remember.
When you make mistakes – and we all do – learn from them and move on. A friend and woman I greatly admire, Ms. Carla Harris, vice chair of Morgan Stanley in New York, says in her book, Expect to Win, when you make a mistake, “take the blessing of the lesson and move on!”
Lesson 4: Don’t ever stop learning.
After I graduated from Saint Ben’s and got my first job in banking, I thought I was done with my higher education. Four years of college seemed like great plenty. Five years later I was in law school at night and working full time. My work in banking had ignited in me a passion for the law. Three and a half years later I graduated and passed the bar, but decided not to practice law.
Graduates, always be intellectually curious and seize opportunities to learn. Be lifelong learners. At age 58, I enrolled in graduate banking school after I had been in banking over 30 years. It was a two-year program and I remarked to a friend who is a career coach that I’d be 60 by the time I graduated. He reminded me I would be 60 anyway, but I’d know a whole lot more if I went to school. As it turned out I didn’t stay in banking after I graduated – I became a college president. Was law school or banking school wasted? Education is never a waste!
Everything you learn and do makes you who you are today and who you’ll be in the future.
Lesson 5: This is the last lesson I will share, and I especially hope you will take this one with you. Graduates, always remember that you are a light in this world.
Your light is shining very brightly today as you graduate from the College of Saint Benedict and take an exhilarating leap into the next stage in your life. Share your light with others. When you use your flame to light someone else’s lamp; you don’t diminish your own light. Instead, the world gets brighter.
So how can you share your light? When you’re with people you don’t know, smile and introduce yourself. You’ll likely get a grateful smile in return, and you’ll be amazed at the interesting people you’ll meet and the connections you’ll make!
Always be there for other women. Go out of your way to support and encourage each other and bolster each other’s confidence. Just as you were mentored at Saint Ben’s, build your own mentorship networks. And when you are in a position to hire, hire Saint Ben’s students for internships and graduates for full-time jobs.
You discovered more about yourself at Saint Ben’s – what’s inside you, who you are as a person and leader. You found your voice and learned to advocate for yourself and for those who don’t have a voice or aren’t being heard. Everyone here at CSB – President [Mary Dana] Hinton, your professors, the staff – invested their heart and soul in you, to ignite your passions, challenge you, and help you realize your full potential so you can invest in yourself and others.
What is it you are called to do now? What is your life’s purpose? I believe God has a plan and purpose for each of us. If we do the work, the right thing will come along. I am not defined by any one position or title I’ve held, nor will you ever be. You are so much more than any one job or title. You are a child of God and you are a Bennie. You have a higher purpose.
You are now on to the next step of what you are called to do – on to the next step of a journey that “will make your heart sing.”
As you move on, know that you are surrounded by many people who love and care deeply for you. Like your family, your Saint Ben’s family and your Bennie sisters love you and will always be here for you.
Graduates, Class of 2018, this is Doctor Dinndorf saying it has been my great honor and joy to be with you on your special day. So, take risks, be humble, look forward, never stop learning and let your light shine brightly. Serve, lead and be blessed!
Beth Dinndorf has spent more than 30 years leading nonprofit higher education institutions and consumer and commercial banking teams. She earned her B.A. degree in mathematics from Saint Ben’s and her juris doctorate from the William Mitchell College of Law in St. Paul. Dinndorf served on the CSB Board of Trustees from 1988-97 and from 2005-12. She was chair of the board from 2010 to 2012.