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2009 Speeches

Robert W. Lane     Robert W. Lane Living Your Life Through Service to Others
Moline, Illinois
St. Ambrose University Commencement
Remarks by Robert W. Lane
Chairman & Chief Executive Officer
Deere & Company
May 09, 2009

Thank you Craig. It's a great privilege to be here with you on this happy occasion. Why? First, because of the excellent, multi-faceted education St. Ambrose offers. I applaud the faculty and administration on the difference your work makes for individuals and communities.

Second, it's inspiring to reflect on the accomplishment that today represents for you graduates and your families. I salute the class of 2009 for the extraordinary effort you've made in earning your degrees – and in so many cases – while you dealt with life's numerous responsibilities.

No doubt, many of you are graduating with substantial debt and after great personal sacrifice. You should feel an incredible sense of accomplishment. And parents, as a father and father-in-law of five college graduates, I have a pretty good idea how proud you must be at this moment!

My sincere congratulations to you all!

Although many of you graduates already have significant life experiences beyond your formal college education, this brief talk this afternoon is about your choices at this stage of your lives – about where you next decide to channel your energy as you progress along life's journey.

Your job search – if you're not already employed in your chosen field – is, without question, very difficult this year. Although I can offer no special insight into when our economy will turn around, be assured that the benefits of a liberal arts education are never wasted. In addition to the great intrinsic value of such an experience, over time, you'll also be able to put to good use the valuable skills and lessons gained at St. Ambrose.

Regardless of how you spend your time after leaving St. Ambrose, please recall one simple phrase that captures the richness and complexity of what you've learned here. That is: life is a calling of service to others. It is in caring for others that, as a derivative, you'll also find your own life enriched.

This is clearly not a foreign concept to you. St. Ambrose's very mission and vision speak to enriching the lives of others and committing to social justice and service. As a by-product, this creates a great life for you!

If life is a calling of service to others, it doesn't just mean in your spare time. Serving others encompasses more than volunteering for worthy projects or writing a check to commendable organizations.

While those actions are vitally important, please do recognize that your daily activities can be embedded with service to others. This starts with an appreciation of the God-given dignity and worth of each individual – and how you incorporate this attitude throughout every hour of your day, whether working for pay or not.

For example, my primary service is in effectively doing my job, which in recent years has been leading a global company.

I make it a point, whenever practical, to look in the eye of each employee and customer, and to shake their hands. From the janitor sweeping a factory floor in China, to the Brazilian landowner buying a fleet of combines for his 25,000-acre farm. Not that I do it perfectly, but this is my aim.

For example, once in India, someone asked me why I needed to take the time to shake hands with dozens of poor, but hard-working farmers who sadly, couldn't read or write, let alone ever likely afford a John Deere tractor.

What my colleague didn't understand was that it wasn't about "needing" to do anything – it was about recognizing that these farmers, like you and me, were created in God's image and had inherent dignity.

Remembering each individual's value and worth is the first step toward service to others.

In addition to embedding service in your daily tasks and work, you have fine examples right here of how to enrich your lives with direct service to the needy.


  • Athletic Director Ray Shovlain requires each one of his 600-plus athletes to participate in community service projects, saying "I want our student-athletes to have opportunities that become a habit in life."
  • And student Laura Siddall has recruited more than 50 students, faculty and staff, including Sister Joan, to build a Habitat for Humanity house this spring. That home, by the way, was just dedicated this morning in Davenport.

There's a wonderful term you hear on campus called Ambrosian – the act of being, as Sister Joan says, "other-directed." Why not commit to being Ambrosian for the rest of your life as you practice – and are fulfilled by – service to others?

For your generation, access to a shrinking globe affords one of the greatest opportunities for service. Thanks to technology breakthroughs in communications among other things, you are much more likely to be working with, making friends with, respecting and learning from Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims – and people of no particular faith.

Embrace these opportunities! That will help you view the world through different lenses while enhancing your understanding and compassion toward others. Plus, you'll have fun doing it!

For me, a favorite scripture passage is from Galatians, chapter 5, in which the apostle Paul calls on us to live by the Spirit, thereby producing its fruit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, faithfulness, gentleness, goodness, and self-control.

I ask God for common grace that all those wonderful qualities be developed in me, and although deeply flawed, I aspire to find those qualities in everyone I meet, regardless of their culture or background. If you choose to develop these qualities as part of your own life's journey, you will find that your deepest joy comes from sincere and selfless service to humanity.

Giving of oneself is more than a responsibility. It is a privilege. It is evidence of your faith. And when you submit to something larger than yourself, you will realize your true potential, finding real happiness and fulfillment through service to others.

Thank you for listening and for inviting me to be part of this wonderful day.