2017 Commencement Keynote Address

Given by Mr. T. Michael Price, president and chief executive officer of First Commonwealth Financial Corporation, on May 15, 2017


It is a privilege to address you on this special day.

You are the envy of the world.  According to a Harvard study, roughly 7% of the world's 7 billion+ people hold associates or bachelor’s degrees.  In the United States, some 42% have such degrees. 

Congratulations!  Many of you have completed your degree while managing work and family responsibilities.  That experience alone coupled with your level of self-reliance is so impressive. 

As a father of five daughters and now a grandfather, I hope you feel the genuineness of the following encouragement.  That is, YOUR precious young lives really matter AND you can do great things.

Your choices matter and will create a ripple effect for generations...

Most of our accomplishments in life are on the shoulders of others...  Take time in the next week to express your appreciation to family, friends and the many people at this college who have helped you along the way.  It will be a treasure to them and will develop a pattern of gratitude in you that will be important in your own life of leadership.

M Price Commencement 2017 Tonight I want to share just two principles with you that can profoundly help you in your life's journey, both personally and professionally.

1. The first is kindness.

2. And the second is three basic financials principles that applied over decades will change your life.

First, be kind in word and deed to your brothers and sisters in the human family.

The late 1979 Nobel Peace Prize recipient, Mother Teresa of Calcutta taught, “One thing will always secure heaven for us—the acts of charity and kindness with which we have filled our lives.”  She maintained, “We can do no great things, only small things with great love.”

More secularly and from the dictionary - Kindness is behavior marked by ethical considerations, a pleasant disposition and a concern for others.  It is known as a virtue, and is recognized as a value in almost all cultures. 

I would add that kindness is written about in scripture from all major religions and by great philosophers such as Aristotle to Sophocles to Aesop.  It is the focal point of literature through the ages from the likes of Shakespeare to Robert Louis Stevenson.  It has been the point of movies including the 1999 hit Pay It Forward.  In the book and film, a teacher challenges his students to change the world.  One of the students, Trevor, takes the challenge to heart.  He starts by showing kindness to a stranger which ripples further than he could have ever imagined. 

Kindness is also the focal point of many clinical and scientific studies.

Clinical studies in human mating (I knew I would get your attention with this one) juxtapose kindness and intelligence alongside attractiveness as the primary considerations for women and men in picking a mate.  In Scientific America in January of 2017, an article entitled Forget Survival of the Fittest: It Is Kindness That Counts interviews a Berkeley scientist, Dachel Keltner, who had just released a new book, Born to Be Good: The Science of a Meaningful Life.

From my vantage point and reading, the case for kindness is indisputable.  I have also observed that the best parents, grandparents, teachers, coaches, leaders and businesspeople that I have known in my life are unusually kind and thoughtful. 

As I read about kindness, two simple definitions struck me:

  1. Kindness is pure love expressed
  2. The essence of love is kindness

Kindness coupled with other similar attributes such as courtesy, civility, compassion and patience ENLARGES OUR SOUL AND INCREASES OUR UNDERSTANDING.

One of my heroes in my life is a man named Calvin in Somerset County who makes his living as a diesel mechanic, a hard technical vocation.  He is in his late 60s, is still working and has been a practitioner of kindness and charity his entire life.  He and his wife have spent the better part of their lives befriending, encouraging and nurturing others – sometimes a dozen of more at any given time – those recently widowed, those suffering with mental illness, those with bridges to cross.  His kindness and service over years has distilled a wisdom and maturity in this man that is truly remarkable. 

As I have thought about this, I believe kindness makes us smarter.  We begin to see the humanity and worth in another human soul.  Kindness applied over years and decades might be the ultimate Master’s degree or PhD.

I want to borrow some words from a great leader.  He said:

The world in which we live needs kindness.

Perhaps, it is the only way our hearts, our homes and our nations will ever know peace.

We need to be kinder with one another.

We need to be more gentle and forgiving.

We need to be slower to anger and more prompt to help.

We need to resist the hand of retribution and extend the hand of friendship

We need to treat one another with kindness particularly those within our own homes.

Kindness is an act more than an expression.

The Price household has five daughters and now grandchildren.  Over the years, when the girls were a little too self-consumed as evidenced by not being helpful at times in a busy household, I would witness an exchange between my wife, Heather, and one of the girls (Olivia, Rebecca, Sydney, Natalie and Meredith) that would go something like this…  They would be headed to work, a track or swim meet, a dance, a date and say something like, "I love you mom."

A gentle loving reprove and teaching moment invariably ensured and would include some combination of the following words... Heather would say, “You know, you say that you love me, but you are not showing that same love.  You see honey, love is a verb.”

Ladies and gentlemen, kindness and love are indeed verbs.  We show kindness, we show love.

The paradox is this…

KINDNESS leads to understanding

And understanding leads to love

And who is the primary benefactor? YOU, the giver.  It indeed softens our hearts and increases our understanding.

My wife and I have gotten involved in working with kids over the years.  Athletics.  Service project.  My wife likes camping.  She runs a program for young women. We chaperone.  I have also helped start an addiction recovery program at our church.  We have also counseled with kids from time to time who are just struggling.

I am surprised how many of our young people, our fellow workers, the people we lead, our family members and our elderly never hear two things.  They never hear two things at work or at home.  That is, first (1st), I care about you, you matter or I love you, or second, (2nd) simply thank you for being a great kid…for helping…for showing up…for your effort…for your improvement…

Poignantly, several years ago, a young woman and her 20s found her way to me to counsel with me on some problems she was having.  During the meeting, I felt impressed to ask her, HAS ANYONE EVER TOLD YOU THAT THEY LOVE YOU.  As our eyes met, and I could see tears streaming down her face, I knew the answer to my question.  She had served honorably in Afghanistan in the military.  She was a hard worker and an EMT.  She was so capable.  How could this be? I told her of the cadre of people including myself who cared about her and were impressed with what she had accomplished in her young life.  It meant the world to her. 

Make sure the people that you have the privilege of leading in your careers and the people within your families hear and feel, AND FEEL those two things from you.

1st I care about you, you matter, I love you or you are doing a great job

2nd Thank you…

I would have never said this years ago when I was younger, BUT…

Sometimes it is better to be kind than right.  We do not always need an intelligent mind that speaks, but a patient heart that listens.

Many times in your life at home, at work and in your communities, you will be faced with contentious difficult situations.  I encourage you not to follow the crowd and fan the flames of contention.  Instead, through your kindness and civility, seek to be a calming healing influence.  Seek to understand before being understood.  Rather than piling on, consider how you might heal a situation.

Kindness is not necessarily a grand design, but small acts of individual INDIVIDUAL kindness are what matter most.  Here are four some simple ways we can be kind:

  1. Remembering people’s names and becoming acquainted with them
  2. Showing concern and care for others without judging them
    1. Don’t judge…We want to say, they made their bed, now let them lay in it.  Instead, reach out your hand and lift another.
    2. Establish sincere friendship with people and visit them in the workplace or where they want to meet
      1. Include others when you go on a walk or dinner
      2. If you are a leader, listen to the people who do the work and recognize them for their efforts
      3. Strengthening them and express confidence in them
  • Dropping a note or calling them when you think about them
  • Encouraging them and expressing confidence when they have bridges to cross

You might think such things are “NO BIG DEAL”...  I want to assure you that they are a BIG DEAL...  I think they are the very essence of meaningful leadership and a meaningful life.  

Knowledge, ability, credentials and experience are of little avail in personal and professional success if kindness is lacking.  Kindness and courtesy are the passports that will be accepted without question in every land, in every home, in every office, in every heart of the world. For nothing commands itself so well as kindness, and courtesy is kindness. - George Powers

Shifting gears and in the few minutes I have left, I want you to whet your appetite with three basic financials principles that over decades, can change your life.

How many of you want to have more financial security? 

Just three simple principles

  1. Avoid unnecessary debt
    1. Interest never sleeps
    2. If you have a $2 thousand credit card bill after several years of college and all you have to show for it is some clothes from H&M (remember I am a father of girls) and some pizza, you might have just learned a valuable lesson.  Don’t despair; it is not the end of the world.  Most of us have done something similar.  Just learn from it and resolve to do better.
    3. Save for a rainy day
      1. Pay yourself first
      2. Put money into a retirement account – 401k etc.
      3. Live within your means
        1. Learn to live on a portion of your income
        2. Understand a want versus a need

You might think that there is a strong correlation between income and wealth.  You would be surprised.  That is not the case. 

Many people that have high incomes tend to spend almost all of it.

Many people that have modest incomes learn to save and have more wealth.

I am thinking about two friends for the last 25 years.  One is a doctor in Eastern PA.  He is older and has never begun a pattern of savings in his life.  He lives in a large home and likes really nice things that stretch his large income.  I talk candidly with him and encourage him financially.  He has no savings for retirement. 

The other friend is a middle school math teacher and football coach in Cleveland.  He worked summers painting houses.  He lives in a terrific smaller house.  Despite having five kids, he seems to have money and is contemplating retiring in his late 50s.  His kids are self-reliant and earn their own money.

Which one do you think is financially in better shape?

Remember, 1) Avoid unnecessary debt, 2) Save for a rainy day and for retirement, and 3) Live within your means…  Such an approach to your personal finances will give you choices later in your life.

Lastly, don't give up or become discouraged.

If you make mistakes, learn from them.

Do not be too hard on yourself or others.

Most change in life takes a little time, but you can do it.


Thank you, thank you, thank you…  What a privilege to share a few thoughts with you tonight.  I wish you life’s choicest blessings and a bright future.