OK graduates. Let me begin. I have something to offer you. I wanna make you a deal. Now, listen very closely. I want to offer each of you a $10M check in exchange for your high school diploma – today. Here’s the deal. You give me your diploma, and I’ll give you the check. How’s that?

But, I have one question…what are you gonna do with the money? I need to hear your answers. On the count of three yell out what you plan to do with the money. ONE….TWO…I wanna hear you!!! THREEEEE!!!!!! Hold on a second. I didn’t hear any of you say you’re gonna the give money to your parents…OK, here’s the point…

After today, many of you will further your education and one day start your career. Your career choice will likely be driven by how much money you will make. So I want to know. I really want to know what you would do with the $10M. Because for a few minutes I want to remove money from your decision-making process. I want you to consider how different your decisions would be if you had all the money you needed right now.

Now that you have the money, what drives you? What are you going to do with your life? Have you thought about what really matters? Let’s talk about WHAT REALLY MATTERS!

Now, all of the adults in the audience will agree with me when I say that if we had known at 18 what we know today, we would have made some different decisions. We probably would have done a few things differently. Well I want to share those insights with you today…..so that you don’t have to wait 20 years to learn them. Oh and by the way. My name is Nicole Jones. I am the Global Innovation Leader for Delta Air Lines and I looove my job. I work with incredible people who are doing incredible things. My job at Delta is to bring the future into the now. I wouldn’t trade my job for anything, but recently life taught me that my job isn’t what really matters.

Nicole Jones, Global Innovation Leader for Delta Airlines, gives the Commencement speech for Mount Vernon Presbyterian School’s Class of 2018.

Focus on What Matters Now

I was sitting there, struggling with a very painful decision. Should I go with the single or the double? Let me be more specific. Should I go with the single or the double mastectomy? It’s hard to explain just how difficult it was. Cancer! I was a young mother, young wife, young professional with tons of plans. I had things to do! How could this happen to me? I was one of the good ones I wanted to change the world for the better.

But life stopped me in my tracks, and caused me to focus on what really mattered. My health. This takes me to my first point, graduates. Make sure you focus now, on what really matters, before life forces you to do so later. Why do I say that? Let me explain…

My husband and I had conversations with my doctor, our close friends, and cancer survivors, and it was time to make a decision. When I looked at my children and my family, I realized, if I were not here, they were the ones who would ultimately suffer. I woke up! My mind was sobered. I decided, on the double mastectomy and thank God – that was the best decision I could have made. When you’re faced with cancer, you look at life differently. Every problem, every difficult teacher, every boyfriend or girlfriend disagreement becomes so much smaller because you have learned what really matters.

Now, I know. You will forget most of what I have shared today by the time you move the tassel from one side to the other. But you won’t forget that $10 million check now will you? It’s ok, I get it.

When you discover, and begin to focus on, what really matters in your life, you will be stronger. You will not be easily discouraged. I want to tell you what I mean by that. As you go about life, you will have dreams your heart tells you to follow. But others might try to discourage you from pursuing your dreams. They might say to you….

THAT’S IMPOSSIBLE
THAT’S CRAZY
THAT CAN’T BE DONE
TAKES TOO MUCH WORK
TOO EXPENSIVE
WHY DON’T YOU GET A REAL JOB?
LISTEN TO YOUR HEART.

FOCUS ON WHAT YOU HAVE IN YOUR HEART

My second point graduates is…
YOUR DREAMS ARE YOUR OWN, SO BELIEVE IN THEM NO MATTER WHAT ANYONE ELSE SAYS. Let me tell you a story.

I have a dear friend. He and I were very close growing up. And although our decisions led us down very different paths, we are still very close. I love him dearly, he loves me. He still calls me Big Head, more than 40 years later. Which is so weird because my head isn’t that big! I mean look at it.

Each time we speak, he says one thing over and over, he says “I am a product of my environment.” What he means is …he is a product of those around him and the choices he has made. He believes he was forced to live the life he is now living. I always tell him he is wrong. Think about this. Ever go see a movie in the theater and you liked it so much you bought the movie? It’s not until you are watching the movie at home that you realize the director made alternate endings. Just when you thought the movie was over and you thought you knew the ending, you realized that the ending could change if you had watched the other versions.

In many ways, life is the same. You are going down a certain path. But along the way you can change paths and ultimately change the outcome. You can be anyone you choose to become, it is up to you. You don’t have to choose the path that others have in mind for you. The pilot can become a doctor, the nurse can become a veterinarian, the business owner can become a pastor. The decision is yours. Focus on what you have in your heart. When you do, you can change the world.

Let me tell you a little more about my friend. His name is Brian, and well, he’s more than a friend, he is my brother. Every time he calls, he calls collect. That’s how it works, when you’re in prison. We grew up in the same house, with the same parents, but we took very different paths. What path will you choose?

There was a time when I would have stood here and told you to prepare for the world, but things have changed. The world is now preparing for you. Your generation has two brains, one in your head and one in your phone, and with your phone alone you can communicate with the world in seconds.

The World is Preparing for You

Look at what your peers in Parkland Florida and around the world have been able to do in just a few months. They have done more to raise awareness of gun violence in two months, than politicians have been able to do in 30 years. The world is YOURS. What are you going to do with it? WHAT REALLY MATTERS TO YOU?

The truth is…..graduates… today is great, but every day won’t be like this. Every day won’t be sunshine…Life is funny like that. There’s gonna be some rain. When the doctor called to tell me about breast cancer, I was 38. I had no prior family history and I was in the prime of both my personal and professional life. I will never forget that phone call. My doctor tried to deliver the news in the best way she could by saying “of all types of cancer, you have stage zero which is the best kind to have,” but her words just didn’t sit well with me. I wasn’t ready to share the news with anyone outside my immediate circle. I confided in my immediate family and my closest friends. But I wanted to appear as “normal” as possible because I didn’t want anyone to feel sorry for me. But deep down I was feeling sorry for myself.

I cried until I had no tears to cry. I began wondering “why now?” Is this God’s way of telling me that my work here is done? Is this the beginning of my last days on earth? When you’re faced with such information you know what happens? Your job, and your promotion fade. You stop thinking about being cute, well, actually I still was kinda cute…but you get my point. What I learned was what I’m telling you today. I learned to focus on what really matters. Your health, your passion, your family, your dreams. When you do, everything else will work itself out.

On a day when I was totally depressed by my cancer diagnosis, I told a close friend that I wasn’t sure if I wanted to continue living. The burden was just too heavy to bear. My friend told me the world needed me because I was awesome…. she said the world needed me because I was awesome.

The World Needs You, Because You Are Awesome

MUSTANGS! One day you might be faced with a burden that feels too heavy to bear. If that day comes, I want you to remember what my friend told me. The world needs you because you are awesome! Let me say that again. Don’t give up. The world needs you because you are awesome.

This leads me to my third and final point. When you have difficult days, when you fail, learn to FAIL Properly. This is the next stage beyond your current mantra to Fail Up. To fail properly means you must try to do things that you are guaranteed to fail at. Sounds weird, doesn’t it…let me explain. When you do something no one else will do. When you try something and the odds are stacked against you, this is….what will happen.

At first they will laugh, then they will respect your efforts, then they will pay you for your advice. Try nothing small. Go big because when you do….. even if you fail, you win. Fighting cancer was big. Some said it was impossible for me to overcome because it was too difficult, it was too much work, treatment was too expensive. In spite of this, I made it. No matter what you face from this day forward, take it from me Mustangs, you’re gonna make it.

Oh and I have some good news and some bad news. The bad news is, I don’t have a $10M check for you today. The good news is you will make it! With the talent in this room, I have no doubt you will make it on your own because when you focus on what really matters, great things happen. And that’s why as I stand before you today, I know you are about to change the world. When I return to Delta on Monday, I will tell everyone that I have seen the future! Because on May 19, 2018, the future graduated from
Mount Vernon Presbyterian School.

Congratulations Mount Vernon graduates. Make us proud!

Nicole Jones is a business leader whose work exemplifies cutting edge innovation day in and day out. She serves as the Global Innovation Leader for Delta Airlines, metro Atlanta’s largest employer. In this role, Nicole oversees innovation and ideas that harness research, design and technology to improve Delta’s customer experience and operational performance. In addition, Nicole leads engagement for Delta’s strategic partnership with the Georgia Institute of Technology, comprised of research, user experience and design, architecture, development, performance analytics and culture transformation.

Nicole joined Delta in July of 2012 as the General Manager of Delta Sky Media. In this role, she established and managed the day-to-day operations of Delta’s global media publishing platform. Throughout her tenure with Delta, she has played a vital role in leading marketing initiatives that drive revenue growth, elevate digital customer experiences, increase digital customer acquisition, and drive increased customer engagement. Among her many accomplishments, she launched the industry-leading Delta Studio in-flight entertainment platform, increased readership and premium quality advertising for Sky magazine and launched Delta Artist Spotlight, a music discovery platform for new and emerging artists.

Prior to joining Delta, Nicole served as Senior Director of Network Strategy for Turner Entertainment Networks, where she built an impressive record of achievements through a series of increasingly responsible positions, enabling cable networks to realize incremental growth and increase viewership. Prior to her time at Turner, Nicole served as eCommerce manager for Macy’s Systems and Technology, where she was responsible for the operations, support, and testing of Macys.com, Bloomingdales.com, and WeddingChannel.com. Nicole began her career as a consultant with Price Waterhouse Coopers LLP, where she was acknowledged for successfully implementing Oracle Applications for numerous Fortune 500 companies.

Nicole earned her Bachelor of Science Degree from Spelman College in Atlanta and her MBA from the Goizueta Business School of Emory University.

Enhancing Nicole’s commitment to professional excellence is her focus on community and family. She serves on the Board for Imhotep Foundation, Inc. and is an advisor to the Board of Directors for Essential2Life, a leadership and life skills development initiative for at-risk high school students.

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