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Sen. Kyl gives graduates five guiding principles

Retired U.S. Sen. Jon Kyl has decades of experience as a public servant, but he spoke to Thunderbird graduates on a more personal level as commencement keynote speaker on Dec. 13, 2013. “No father or grandfather can resist giving advice,” he told the group of 197 graduates from 26 countries. Kyl, who received an honorary doctorate of international law from Thunderbird prior to his remarks, focused on five guiding principles for aspiring global leaders.

1. Be true. Ethical challenges come with globalization and new technology, which means the need is greater than ever for leaders to commit at the start of their careers to act with honesty and integrity. “Those commitments will carry consequences throughout your life,” Kyl said. “They mean you will have to think about thinking about things.”

2. Be humble. People look to leaders for guidance and direction, but those in power should be careful when they presume to know how others should act. “In all we do, we should apply a large dose of humility,” Kyl said. “We are all human beings with limitations.”

3. Be ambitious. Humility can coexist with ambition. The key is to find the balance between the traits. “You each have talents, which you have an obligation to maximize,” Kyl said. “We all need to make the most of what God has given us.”

4. Be flexible. The speed of change in the 21st century means that global leaders cannot always wait for full clarity before taking action. “You need not chart right now every future turn,” Kyl said.

5. Be diligent. Success or failure is sometimes a matter of luck, but leaders can improve their odds through their industry. “Make your own luck by being prepared and working hard,” Kyl said.

In its nearly 70-year history, Thunderbird has bestowed just 41 honorary degrees. Previous recipients include former Colombian President Álvaro Uribe, former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, and  former Coca-Cola Chairman and CEO Douglas Daft.

Kyl served Arizona in the U.S. Senate for 18 years, following eight years in the U.S. House of Representatives. He currently serves as senior adviser at Covington and Burling, LLP, and is a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.

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