Old Dominion University Commencement Speech

Mike Petters, HII's president and CEO challenges new graduates to love what they do (as given)
HII Corporate

Thank you President Broderick and good morning.

I would also like to thank and acknowledge Rector Ripley, the members of the Old Dominion University Board of Visitors, faculty and staff, parents, family members and most importantly, the 2014 graduates from the Darden College of Education, Batten College of Engineering and Technology and the College of Sciences.

Mike Petters speaks at ODU Commencement Ceremony

What a great December day!

And what a clever way – graduates -- for you to help usher in the holiday season for your parents – by giving them the most amazing gift ever - your college degree! I am sure they are very proud of you – and rightfully so.

And you should also be very proud of yourselves. I am certainly proud of all 640 of you. And I have looked forward to speaking to you.

So let me begin with someone else's words:

“Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do.”

This is a quote from Steve Jobs from a commencement speech to Stanford University's Class of 2005.

I don’t need to tell you who Steve Jobs is or how Apple has forever changed the way we communicate. In fact some of you may even be on your iPhones right now. Tweeting. Posting on Instagram. Or Snap chatting. Whatever that means.

However I do know what Jobs meant when he advised graduates to seek out what they believe to be great work. I call it doing what you love so you will love what you do. Seems pretty straightforward yet the path to great work is not easy and sometimes it’s not obvious. Yet I can tell you that the effort is worth it.

You may think I was invited to speak this morning because I’m the CEO of a Fortune 500 company. That may be true. Yet I accepted the invitation because ODU plays a very big role in the success of Huntington Ingalls Industries. In fact, HII employs about 1,200 ODU graduates, meaning we hire more college grads from ODU than any other school.

So let me say thank you again President Broderick for inviting me—not only to address the Class of 2014, but for the opportunity to acknowledge ODU for the important role this school plays in the success of Huntington Ingalls Industries.

Nearly every day I see some of the great talent that ODU produces. In fact four of our vice presidents—including one on my senior executive team—are Monarch alumni. I could have spent my time this morning telling you their stories and how they’ve used their ODU education to make a difference at HII.

But I am not going to talk about vice presidents. I thought it would be more interesting—and more meaningful -- if I spoke about three employees who have earned ODU degrees in the last 10 years. And while they may not have the fancy titles, they have something much more powerful.

They are doing work that they love. So they love what they do.

In my position, I meet a lot of ambitious people who are overly concerned with titles. They tell me they want to be a vice president or a director or a manager – of ANYTHING – and they want to know how to get there fast. My advice to them – and to you -- is to chase the job – not the title.

It’s important that you love what you do because then you will do your best work. And we need for you to do your best work. Our success depends on it.

So to repeat: Go after work that you love. In my career, the way I determined if I loved a job was by asking myself the following three questions:

Will I have the opportunity to learn something new? Am I a part of something bigger than myself? Am I excited to wake up every day and go to work?

If you can answer yes to these questions then every day will be a success – with the titles—and more responsibility—to follow. Now you are probably thinking to yourself, “Sure. It’s easy for him to tell us to not go after the title. His title is CEO.”

And you have a valid point. So to enhance the credibility of my advice, I brought in reinforcements in the form of brief stories about Julius, Vince and Tammy- three ODU alumni who work at Newport News Shipbuilding.

I hope their stories communicate to you not only the value of an ODU education but, more importantly, how you can find meaning and satisfaction in the work that you do each day and how that will lead to even more satisfying work.

First, let me tell you about Vince Warren, a graduate of the Darden College of Education. But before I do, you should know that I come from a family of teachers. My wife is one. Our two daughters both have taught and one currently teaches at a charter school in New York while the other is working on a doctorate to be a school psychologist.

So for you education majors, my sense is you already get what I’m talking about or you would not have chosen the education path in the first place. Vince Warren did not choose it in the first place. It ended up choosing him.

What’s interesting about Vince is that when he graduated from ODU in 2005, he already had 20 years of experience in the shipyard. He entered Newport News’ Apprentice School as a pipefitter in 1984— a few years before most of you were even born. He went on to earn an associate’s degree at Thomas Nelson Community College. Ten years later, with his wife’s encouragement, he enrolled at ODU.

He realized that he wanted to help future shipbuilders by specializing in CTE—career and technical education.

He’s now a manager in the same Apprentice School he attended—responsible for teaching and training more than 800 apprentices in 27 different apprentice programs.

When Vince was asked what advice he would give you, he said: “Never stop learning in some capacity—formal education, skills training, taking advantage of personal and professional enrichment and growth opportunities, etc. You will always benefit when you stretch yourself beyond what you think you are capable of accomplishing.”

From left, Old Dominion University graduates Vince Warren, Julius Samonte, Tammy Crouch, and HII CEO Mike Petters.

By the way, Vince went on to earn a master’s degree at George Washington University, and he’s currently in the dissertation phase of a doctor of education degree from Liberty University.

Remember this: Vince has the opportunity to learn something new every day.

And now for the College of Sciences …

Tammy Crouch graduated twice from ODU with chemistry degrees: a bachelor’s in 2004 and a master’s in 2006. She’s worked at Newport News Shipbuilding since 2007.

So what does a chemist do at the shipyard? A lot of things, actually, but Tammy’s work directly supports our environmental, health and safety programs. She conducts tests to make sure we’re doing all the right things to protect the environment and she specifically focuses on our local waterways. Tammy’s work is important not just to HII but to everyone in our surrounding communities. You could even say her work is important to the world in terms of the health of our planet. “It’s like you’re safeguarding people’s lives and health,” Tammy said. “People depend on you to be accurate and correct.” Remember this: Tammy is part of something bigger than herself.

And finally we have Julius Samonte, a graduate of the Batten College of Engineering and Technology. When Julius graduated in 2006, his goal was very straightforward. He wanted to get a “really good job.” He found it at Newport News Shipbuilding. He works in the Test Engineering Department, where he’s responsible for critical alignment and testing of navigational and combat systems. In layman’s terms: His work helps fighter pilots land safely on aircraft carriers. That’s a pretty big deal. His work directly helps our men and women in uniform who put themselves in harm’s way to protect America.

From left, Old Dominion University graduates Vince Warren, Julius Samonte, Tammy Crouch, and HII CEO Mike Petters.

He said ODU taught him the fundamentals of engineering, and being a member of the Formula SAE team—building racing cars from scratch—taught him practical applications of those fundamentals. His passion for cars has transformed into a passion for ships.

When Julius was asked what advice he would give you, the Class of 2014, he said: “With any career path you may take, make sure to have passion in the work you do. Take on a job you are willing to wake up for in the morning. This will improve your quality of work and will ultimately improve your quality of life.” Well said.

Remember this: Julius is excited to wake up every day and go to work. I hope you can take some inspiration from these stories. I know I have. I should tell you one last thing about Julius, Vince and Tammy. None of them remember who spoke at their graduation ceremonies.

It’s OK. It’s not a reflection on the quality of ODU’s commencement speakers. At least I hope not… I think it’s more about your mind-set at this moment.Five, 10, 20 years from now I don’t expect many of you will remember me. In fact you may already have forgotten me by this evening’s graduation festivities. And that’s ok too.

Yet make no mistake – I will remember you. Because I chose being here with you instead of being at today’s Army/Navy game. That makes you pretty important indeed.

So even though you may not remember me as your commencement speaker in five, 10 or 20 years, I hope you will be able to recall my three questions. Will I have the opportunity to learn something new? Am I a part of something bigger than myself? Am I excited to wake up every day and go to work?

More importantly, I hope you will use your education, experience and determination in a way that enables you to respond to these three questions with an enthusiastic and resounding --- YES!

Thank you again, congratulations and I wish a wonderful future!

About HII

HII is a global, all-domain defense provider. HII’s mission is to deliver the world’s most powerful ships and all-domain solutions in service of the nation, creating the advantage for our customers to protect peace and freedom around the world. As the nation’s largest military shipbuilder, and with a more than 135-year history of advancing U.S. national security, HII delivers critical capabilities extending from ships to unmanned systems, cyber, ISR, AI/ML and synthetic training. Headquartered in Virginia, HII’s workforce is 43,000 strong. For more information, visit: